Warning: this article contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some readers.
Damien Starrett gave his account of what happened the night his son Ares died.
The 33-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan is facing a second-degree murder charge after allegedly killing one-year-old Ares and assaulting his five-year-old daughter in 2019.
On Tuesday (Mar. 29), he took the stand and recounted the day it happened. Starrett remembers waking up at around 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 23, going downstairs and seeing the kids playing in the living room while his wife at the time, Ashton Bishop, was in the kitchen.
"Just a normal Saturday."
Starrett recalled feeling like he had the flu and considerable back pain, so he took two Percocet tablets at around 9 a.m.
While downstairs, he and Bishop got into a fight about money. She wanted him to quit smoking because they couldn't afford it and he got upset and threw a plate at the wall. Bishop left for work later that morning.
Starrett remembers learning that a neighbour's son, 15-year-old Jessie McPhee, was killed in a vehicle collision earlier that morning. He said he spent a lot of the day on the couch trying to help organize a vigil through Facebook and watching movies with the kids.
At around noon, he took two more pills.
Bishop came home at one point to have lunch before going to work her second shift. Starrett took another couple of pills at 2 p.m. and laid on the couch again. He said the last thing he remembered was being on his phone with his daughter next to him and Ares playing on the ground.
Starrett told the court the next thing he knew he was up and staring at the stairwell. He looked to his right and saw his daughter curled up in a ball, scared, and when he asked her what happened, she told him that he hit Ares.
He saw Ares laying on the ground with a dent in his head and said he was confused at first because he was unsure what happened. While in shock, he reported accidentally calling a family friend before calling Bishop and telling her what happened. He then called 911.
The 911 call was played for the court. Starrett tells the operator, "My son is dead," and she starts asking him questions about if Ares is awake or breathing.
Starrett starts screaming on the tape and his daughter can be heard crying in the background. Eventually, the operator gets him to listen to her instructions and begins chest compressions.
Bishop gets home during the call and she and Starrett begin yelling at each other. She then takes over the compressions and speaks to the operator while Starrett goes outside to direct the ambulance.
According to Starrett, he doesn't remember a lot from this time. After being told he couldn't ride to the hospital with Ares, he went inside and sat on the couch for a period of time before police officers arrived and arrested him.
Starrett was eventually sent to the Edmonton Remand Centre. He added that less than two days after arriving, he was getting poor treatment from the guards and inmates. He described an incident where the inmates poured faeces in his cell and the guards allegedly made him sit in it. He also said tear gas was used on him and he was verbally abused by inmates and guards.
Starrett was let out on bail in April of 2020 and stayed with his foster family in Fort Saskatchewan.
Defence lawyer Rory Ziv asked about his childhood. Starrett was born in Edmonton in 1989 and grew up with a foster family in Fort Saskatchewan, along with his older brother. He described it as a "normal childhood" where he played with his brother, went on family trips and attended Fort Elementary.
Starrett didn't graduate high school, falling a few credits short. After school, he noted that he worked a few labourer jobs near Redwater before starting his carpenter career with his brother.
Then, Ziv turned to his sleeping habits. The defence is pursuing a 'not criminally responsible' action, claiming he was in an automaton-like sleep state at the time of the incident. This could result in Starrett being sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of being criminally convicted.
"I've had insomnia my whole life," Starrett told the court.
He claims he has a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. Now, he also suffers from night terrors. He said he has been getting better but needs to have his bedroom door locked when he goes to bed.
"I'm scared this could happen again."
Starrett has visited many doctors over the years and has been on a variety of different medications.
One of Starrett's issues was a "creepy-crawly feeling" he would often get when trying to sleep. When speaking with some doctors that were brought in to discuss his medical history, they revealed this most likely was Restless Leg Syndrome.
"It's torture. Pure torture," Starrett said, describing it as your bones not belonging in your body.
He reportedly tried to kill himself a few years ago by overdosing on alcohol and drugs, which had him admitted to a hospital. He was given new medication to help with his insomnia and anxiety.
Since Ares' death, Starrett has seen a forensic phycologist and a sleep specialist who ran multiple tests on him.
The defence asked for a break after Starrett testified for about two hours. They will resume his testimony on Wednesday (Mar. 30).