Steven Edward Mueller has been sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2018 death of Shawnn Patrick Cotter in Cloverdale.
Justice James Williams, in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, noted the maximum for manslaughter is life in prison but accepted “unreservedly” that Mueller is “genuinely remorseful” for his crime.
There is no minimum sentence for the offence.
“The case before this court is tragic,” Williams said. “It involves two men – so near as I can tell, decent men, but in the throes of substance abuse and all the madness that entails. As I have observed, the evidence makes clear that Mr. Cotter was a good person. So, too, I find Mr. Mueller is essentially a good person, and yet here we are in a criminal court, one man dead, another whose life has changed dramatically and who is about to be sentenced to a term in prison.”
The judge stressed the distinction between manslaughter and murder. “The difference is important. Murder entails an intention to cause death. Manslaughter describes a situation where an act that results in death where there is no such intent proven,” he said. “I have no basis to find he intended to cause the death of Mr. Cotter, but it is also clear that the death was caused in a material way by the unlawful act of Mr. Mueller.”
Williams in his judgment, released March 31, noted the two men became friends at a substance abuse treatment centre in Abbotsford in 2017 and after they were discharged went their own way. Mueller rented a house in Surrey and Cotter moved in as a sub-tenant after returning from B.C.’s Interior, they relapsed and began using drugs and alcohol again.
“There were cascading problems from that,” the judge said, with Cotter losing his job, money problems and tension over rent issues. Cotter also blamed Mueller for his dog Cheeko getting killed after running out of the house and onto the street.
Cotter died on Jan. 6, 2018. Close to midnight, the court heard, Mueller telephoned his mother from a gas station near the house, told her “something bad had happened,” and she came over. She and her son confirmed Cotter wasn’t breathing, called 911 and police and other emergency responders found him on his back, with no shirt on the living room floor.
“The room was in disarray and furniture was spread about, some of it broken,” Williams noted. Cotter could not be revived and was pronounced dead at 1:17 a.m.
Mueller was arrested and taken to the police station, where he explained in a statement that he and Cotter had been getting “pretty high and pretty drunk” that night and started wrestling. He was released without charge. Roughly two weeks later, he was taken to Surrey Memorial Hospital after a car hit him while he was walking.
“On admission, he was expressing suicidal thoughts. He told the staff at the hospital about the physical altercation with his roommate and that the roommate had died, and expressed that he felt guilty for what had happened,” the judge said. “Mr. Mueller then said words to the effect that it would be better if he fell asleep and did not wake up.”
Mueller was discharged a few days later. Meantime, a post-mortem on Cotter revealed he had a significant amount of liquor and cocaine in his system and the pathologist concluded he died of blunt-force head trauma, suffered a brain bleed, and his intoxication contributed to his death.
Mueller was charged with manslaughter in September 2019 and was released on bail. He told the court he broke a CD player over Cotter’s head.
He had no prior criminal record.
“The victim impact statements were moving,” the judge said. “It is apparent to me that Mr. Cotter was essentially a good and decent man. He was loved and valued by many. His death, his loss has had repercussions in this world. The Court appreciates those statements having been made and views them as being important to this process.”
Williams noted there are no winners here.
“This process, with the imposition of the court’s sentence, will not make anything magically better. Mr. Cotter will not be brought back. Those who survive him will still have their pain and loss,” he said.