TORONTO -- For Moses Mihalal, defending his loved ones from a home intruder meant a terrifying year trapped in the justice system as he faced the possibility of 14 years in prison for aggravated assault.
On Thursday, that cloud was finally lifted in a downtown courtroom when the Crown attorney rose to withdraw the charges against him. "There is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction," David Fisher said. And with a relieved sigh and shy smile for his loyal girlfriend, Mahilal was finally free.
But it should never have gone this far.
"What was I supposed to do -- make him some tea and a sandwich?" asked Mahilal, 29, a slight, soft-spoken auto body worker.
"He should never have been charged in the first place," added his partner, Sarah Walsh.
It appears to have been a clear-cut case of self-defence.
On July 31, 2011, he and Walsh arrived home at 3 a.m. to find an unknown pair of men's running shoes at the bottom of the stairs. They called police, and then armed with a kitchen knife, Mahilal -- all 150 pounds of him stretched on a lanky frame -- ran upstairs and discovered a man in the bedroom of Walsh's sleeping mother.
In the ensuing confrontation with a man he'd later learn was Kino Johnson, Mahilal had to lash out at him three times before the strapping 6-foot-4, 200-pound convicted criminal finally fled the upscale house near Keele St. and Eglinton Ave. W. Johnson, 33, suffered a stab wound to his chest and cuts to his thigh and hand.
The long-time criminal has a lengthy rap sheet with 14 convictions, including robbery, assault and five for break-and-enter. In June, he pleaded guilty to breaking into Walsh's home and was sentenced to 20 months.
But to the couple's horror, Mahilal was arrested as well.
"He told me that in the police station half the cops were saying, 'We don't understand why you were charged'," said his lawyer Daniel Brown.
In his police statement, the mystified Mahilal was completely in shock. "I was more endangered than he was," he told the officers. "Me, my girlfriend and her mom were in danger; it doesn't make sense. All I did was defend myself."
For some inexplicable reason, the justice system didn't initially see it that way.
At his preliminary hearing, a judge found there was enough evidence to commit Mahilal to trial, but noted a serious credibility problem with Johnson -- the Crown's main witness. The thief told the court that he'd come to the house to pick up some weed and noticed the door was open so he let himself in and took off his shoes. He claimed he was stabbed repeatedly as he tried to explain why he was in the wrong house.
At long last, a sober review of the complainant's unbelievable story led the prosecution to withdraw the aggravated assault charge.
"This decision reaffirms that people have the right to defend themselves in their own homes, especially against unwanted intruders," Mahilal's lawyer said.
But getting to this day has taken a terrible toll. Mahilal almost lost his job and the strain has been wearing both emotionally and physically for the couple as they tried to prepare themselves for a trial. He's grateful it's now over, but he doesn't understand why it took so long.
"It took them over a year. I would have expected within a couple of months they would have realized the situation," Mahilal said.
"He should never have been charged in the first place," his girlfriend insisted. "It's been an absolutely terrifying experience. We need to be able to protect ourselves."
She has no doubt that her boyfriend did the only thing he could to do protect them that night. "My hero is here," Walsh said as she held Mahilal's hand tightly as they stood in the sunshine outside the courthouse. "You saved my life. Without him, I don't know where I'd be today. I know I probably wouldn't be around. I'm so thankful to you and I'm so sorry for what's happened."
Together, they will try and put this all behind them.
And the intruder? Last we heard, the audacious break-in artist was planning on applying for money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
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