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'Our hearts hurt': Man apologizes for fatal purse-snatching

'You decided her life was worth $40 and a couple of lottery tickets,' says niece of Collingwood senior to man who mugged her in 2019
Marion Fenwick, front left, with members of her family. Fenwick died after being mugged on a Collingwood street. Her attacker pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.

Putting his scripted apology aside in the prisoner’s box, Caleb Burgler turned to Marion Fenwick’s family members sitting in a Barrie courtroom and told them he never meant to hurt the elderly woman.

“I am sorry,” he said repeatedly, the last time in tears. “Ultimately for the loss of Miss Fenwick’s life.

“I hope you can find it within your hearts to accept my apology.”

Burgler snatched the 86-year-old woman’s purse as he rode a bike past her on Sept. 14, 2019, on Market Lane near her Collingwood apartment, and she fell to the ground. Days after undergoing emergency hip surgery for injuries she received when she fell, she died of pneumonia.

Burgler, 33, earlier pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.

During the sentencing hearing Wednesday the Crown attorneys suggested a seven-year penitentiary sentence while defence lawyer Michael Moon urged something closer to five years.

“We are obligated to say with the sentencing we take this seriously,” Crown attorney Mary Anne Alexander told Ontario Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst. “What you have to look for is the degree of moral blame-worthiness.

“He left her behind despite her cries for help.”

Moon called the Crown’s suggestion excessive and not justified for Burgler, a first-time offender, describing it as vengeance, not renunciation.

He said the time Burgler has spent in jail since his arrest should result in a credit of about four years and five months with “a few months remaining” for him to serve a five-and-a-half-year sentence. No sentence, he added, will bring Fenwick back to her family.

He described Burgler as a drug addict who has tried to get help for his “own personal struggle.”

During Burgler’s time in jail, there have been 335 full days of lockdown, representing one-third of his time there, along with another 25 days of half-day lockdowns. 

The judge acknowledged that even before the pandemic, jails were experiencing staff shortages resulting in lockdowns and limiting the movement of individuals within the jails. That has since been complicated by the pandemic.

As a result, courts have been granting enhanced or additional credit for time served for harsh conditions.

Fenwick’s niece described her as a vital thread in the tapestry of the life of the family. Fenwick had never married and had no kids, but was close with her three nieces, who were all in the courtroom.

“The thread of your life can never be removed,” Jennifer Lougheed said, reading the family’s victim impact statement to the court. “Our hearts hurt.”

This coming September, instead of celebrating Fenwick’s 90th birthday, they will quietly mark four years since her death.

“You decided her life was worth $40 and a couple of lottery tickets,” she said addressing Burgler.

She told him she hoped he would be able to turn his life around so that two lives aren’t wasted.

Burgler returns to court May 30 for sentencing.

Outside the courthouse his mother, Lori Houtzager, expressed sadness over the entire event which led to Fenwick’s death.

“I want to acknowledge what the family of Marion Fenwick has gone through and I apologize for that deeply. I can only imagine what that loss was like for them and what they’re going through,” she said. “Caleb is my son and I love him, that doesn’t diminish in my mind what their family is going through.”

She said her son rode by the elderly lady on his bike, grabbed the purse and never looked back and didn’t realize she was injured. 

“He caused her death, but he did not intentionally mean her any harm," said Houtzager.