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Appeal court upholds conviction for northern B.C. campground attack

Casey Dawn Morgan serving a six year sentence for August 2018 assault near Liard Hot Springs

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt to overturn a conviction for a man serving a six-year sentence for attacking a woman while she was sleeping at a northern B.C. campground.

Casey Dawn Morgan, born 1980, was issued the term in September 2021 in Prince George Provincial Court, a year after he was found guilty of breaking and entering and committing assault for the Aug. 17, 2018, incident near Liard Hot Springs.

Morgan had originally been charged with breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offence but after defence closed its case during the trial, Crown successfully applied to amend the count to allege an offence had been committed.

In doing so, the charge had been changed from a specific to a general intent offence, rendering a defence of advanced intoxication irrelevant.

In law, advanced intoxication is recognized as a mental state where impairment is extensive enough to raise a reasonable doubt about whether the accused had the foresight to recognize the consequence of their actions.

Had the charge alleged a general intent offence at the outset, Morgan may not have testified, the BCCA was told. As well, Morgan's counsel argued the intoxication offence still held for a count of uttering threats and that the judge erred in finding that he was not intoxicated.

In a decision issued Monday, the BCCA turned down Morgan's appeal. In part, the judges found the Crown's case was "overwhelming and, as a practical matter, it would not have been open to him to refrain from testifying in these circumstances."

The woman testified she was sleeping in a rooftop tent atop her SUV when she felt someone on top of her and a hand over her mouth. She bit down hard and screamed loudly when the hand was lifted. The attacker's hands around her throat, she reached for an air horn she kept in a "safety kit" and when it was knocked out of her hand, she reached for a knife she also stored in the kit.

A struggle ended when she was able to fall out of the tent and run towards a couple who had heard her screams.

Morgan, meanwhile, admitted to climbing into the tent, saying he woke her up because she wanted to have a drink with someone and invite him to his fire pit. Morgan said his hand was badly cut when he grabbed the knife and maintained he did not try to choke the woman, place a cloth over her mouth, hold her down or prevent her from screaming.

The sentencing judge "rejected virtually every aspect of his evidence," and described his assertion that he had unzipped the tent flap to see if the woman was awake as "incredible."

The BCCA judges agreed that the evidence that Morgan was in a state of "advanced" intoxication was "very thin" and conversely that his "general memory of events and the sequence in which they occurred was good."

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