A London, Ont. man has pleaded guilty to the brutal assault of a convenience store owner in October 2017.
Jessie Aaron McConnell, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault after Rajaie “Roger” El Shorafa was beaten outside his convenience store at 216 Horton St. last fall.
The Oct. 21 assault left El Shorafa in need of life-saving surgery to treat multiple brain bleeds and facial fractures. His family describes his progress since then as miraculous, but his convience store, Horton Variety, has been shuttered.
Justice Jeannine Leroy sentenced McConnell to 3.5 years in prison Tuesday morning, saying he’d “robbed” El Shorafa of his life.
“The victim in this case has suffered immeasurably,” she said.
“He can no longer do the thing that he did every day of his life, by being a productive member of society for our community for over two decades. You have caused him not only the loss of his livelihood and his career, but of a fundamental sense of safety and well being.”
Crown attorney Jason Miller and defence lawyer Ko Bhamra gave a joint submission, suggesting the 3.5 year sentence. They also agreed on the facts of what happened that night.
McConnell and some other people had been drinking and socializing in the apartment above the store, before going outside, said Miller.
El Shorafa came outside with a phone in his hand, and asked the individuals to leave because they were blocking the entrance to his shop, the court heard.
McConnell approached El Shorafa, who “pushed Mr. McConnell away from him, swung at him one time, not connecting.”
Miller said McConnell then punched El Shorafa in the face, three times, knocking him out.
“ took a header to the sidewalk, slamming the top of his head and face area into the concrete. From that point, Mr. El Shorafa is motionless,” said Miller.
McConnell “turned and ran,” and Miller said it was unclear from surveillance footage whether he even saw El Shorafa hit the sidewalk.
“He didn’t realize how serious the incident was until he saw it on the news.”
El Shorafa spent five months in hospital and in rehabilitation at Parkwood Institute. He’s been living on ODSP and Canada pension, and has an acrylic plate in his head.
After about three weeks on the lam, McConnell was arrested by Waterloo Regional Police.
The court heard the young man lived with his mother until he was about five years old, and then lived with his father until he was taken away by the Children’s Aid Society at age 11.
Bhamra said he was exposed to substance use, alcohol, and violence when he was little.
“We can’t solve our problems with violence, because these unintended consequences, you’re still responsible for them and you’re still going to face serious sanctions for it,” said Miller.
“The level of initial assault perpetrated was not neccessarily indicative of the consequences that end up occurring to the victim.”
While both counsels and the judge agreed that the 3.5 year sentence was just, the El Shorafa family is left feeling frustrated.
“It means what? Nothing,” said El Shorafa’s sister.
“He destroyed the family.”
Samar El Shorafa says her brother can’t spend much time with his three-year-old and seven-year-old children because he can’t handle loud noise.
“This is not fair. not going to learn from two years or three years. But at the same time, what are we going to do?”
The assault sparked an outpouring of support for El Shorafa and his family. Yasser Ali, who works at Shelby’s Food Express across the street, came to his rescue the night El Shorafa was assaulted and later helped organize a GoFundMe page that raised over $12,000. A community benefit concert held at Call The Office raised about $8,000.
People came from as far as Grand Bend and Port Stanley to offer their support.
El Shorafa emigrated to London from the Middle East in 1994. He operated the convenience store for two decades, working seven days a week as the sole breadwinner for his wife and three kids.
After factoring in time already served, McConnell has about 2.5 years left to his sentence.
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