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Man acquitted of murder pleads guilty to aggravated assault of separate victim

Patrick O’Keese, who was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of Brayden Moonias, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for an attack on a man in the same area that left the victim blind.
Patrick O'Keese
Patrick O'Keese was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Brayden Moonias. (File).

Warning: This story contains details readers may find disturbing

THUNDER BAY- Patrick O’Keese, who was acquitted of second-degree murder in the 2017 death of 18-year-old Brayden Moonias, has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for an attack on a separate individual around the same time and near the same location where Moonias’ body was found.

O’Keese, 26, appeared before Justice Tracey Nieckarz in a Thunder Bay Courtroom on Friday where he pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault.

According to an agreed statement of facts read into the court record, officers with the Thunder Bay Police Service were dispatched to an area near the Marina Park overpass the morning of Aug. 6, 2017 after receiving reports of a body, later identified as Brayden Moonias, being found near the beach.

Arriving officers observed another man crawling on the road with injuries to his eyes. Paramedics were called and the man was transported to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

According to the victim, he was on a bench in the Freedom Park area during what he believed to be the morning when another man approached him.

The victim said he recognized the man as Patrick O’Keese from a time when someone had pointed out O’Keese to him previously.  

O’Keese kicked the man in the chest and then stabbed him in both eyes with what the victim believed was a pen. The injuries resulted in the victim permanently losing sight in both eyes.

Police arrested O’Keese in September 2017 and charged him with second-degree murder in connection to the death of Moonias and aggravated assault for the attack on the other victim.

During the second-degree murder trial, testimony revealed that DNA from the victim in Freedom Park was found on several items belonging to O’Keese.

The eight-day trial held before Justice Nieckarz in October 2021 ended with O’Keese being acquitted of second-degree murder.

Nieckarz said in her ruling that the evidence was suspicious for O’Keese’s involvement in Moonias’ death, but she could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the assault on Moonias that resulted in his death.

The charge of aggravated assault involving the other victim was dealt with separately from the murder trial.

A pre-sentence and Gladue report were presented to the court on behalf of O’Keese. Defense counsel Kevin Matthews highlighted for the court some of the challenges O’Keese faced growing up, including being exposed to substance abuse at an early age and struggling with addiction and anger issues.

“I can genuinely say he is remorseful and regrets what occurred,” Matthews said.

Matthews added that O’Keese plans to return to his home community of Eabametoong First Nation and help his parents, see his children, and work in the community.

Crown attorney Jane Ann McGill told the court that a significant aggravating factor in the case was that the victim was a vulnerable individual who is also Indigenous.

“The loss to him cannot be made right, and he is in the situation he is in now for the rest of his life,” she said.

Matthews and McGill presented a joint submission to Justice Nieckarz, calling for a sentence of seven years to be followed by 18 months probation.

Justice Nieckarz agreed with the joint submission and said it is on the higher end of the spectrum for a conviction on a charge of aggravated assault.

While Justice Nieckarz cited the guilty plea as a mitigating factor for sparing the victim from having to testify before the court again, she noted that it was also a “random and vicious attack” on a vulnerable Indigenous person.

With pre-sentence custody of four years and six months of actual time, enhanced to six years and nine months, O’Keese will serve an additional two months and seven days in custody to be followed by 18 months probation.

O’Keese is also required to submit a DNA sample and is subject to a 10-year weapons prohibition with an exemption for traditional or sustenance hunting in the presence of his father.

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