A Beacon Hill Park camper choked, suffocated and strangled his common-law partner almost every day for six months, in a campaign of violence that left her “bruised, battered and emotionally destroyed.”
That information was revealed Thursday at Joshua Miller’s sentencing hearing in Victoria provincial court. The 35-year-old homeless man pleaded guilty to assaulting the victim from Jan. 1 to July 12, 2020, and threatening to kill her during the same time period.
“The facts are truly horrendous,” said provincial court Judge Mayland McKimm as he sentenced Miller to nine months in jail, followed by three years of probation.
“On a daily basis, Mr. Miller would threaten, terrorize and assault the victim and, by his own admission, committed acts of violence that were atrocious and disgusting.”
Crown prosecutor Paul Pearson told the court that Miller had been in a relationship with the woman, whose identity is protected by a court order, since 2018. Before she met him, the victim had a job and money in her bank account. Their relationship was fraught with conflict and violence, and she ended up living with Miller in a tent in Beacon Hill Park from early 2020 into the summer.
Almost every day, Miller would assault her, putting the weight of his body on hers, his hands around her throat, and strangling her, said Pearson. Twice, she lost control of her bladder and almost lost consciousness.
“He would not stop strangling her, even when she screamed for help,” said Pearson. “She had bruises all over the body … Every day, he would grab her by the side of the throat or put his fist up to the side of her head and use his fist to dig into her face or her body to hurt her.”
When she tried to phone police, Miller would stop her, he said.
The couple was provided housing in the Travelodge at 123 Gorge Rd. East, one of the hotels leased by the province as emergency housing for people living in homeless encampments.
But the assaults continued — there were so many complaints about Miller’s abuse of the victim that he was barred from the building, said Pearson. That didn’t stop Miller, who continued to come into the building and physically assault and threaten the victim, the prosecutor said.
Victoria police became aware of the situation and began to investigate. The victim gave a statement to police, then recanted after being pressured by Miller. After he was arrested, she confirmed her original statement.
Miller came from an abusive background, said Pearson. His father abused him and he was sexually abused by another adult. He left home at 12, and had been working at The Keg, but said he left that job to devote more time to the victim.
Miller saw himself as a leader and provider for many in the homeless community during the pandemic, but he was heavily addicted to alcohol and using street narcotics on a regular basis. When he drank, he would lose control and his behaviour would escalate, said Pearson.
“It’s certainly concerning that he has no ability to control his level of violence.”
Defence lawyer Stephen Suntock, who has represented Miller since 2014, said his client understands the “outrageous” nature of his behaviour. “When he came into custody, he indicated he did not wish to seek bail and would be pleading guilty. He was sickened by what he had done to [the victim] and is genuinely remorseful for his behaviour.”
Substance abuse underlies all Miller’s violent behaviour, said Suntock.
In her victim impact statement, the young woman told the judge Miller’s physical, emotional and mental abuse made her question her own sanity, saying he told her repeatedly that she was crazy.
She said she continues to be terrified that he will try to find her and kill her. “It got to the point where Josh was strangling me daily. I would beg for my life and he would respond that he was going to make sure I died,” she said. “I have no reason to believe he won’t try to hurt me.”
The accused told the judge he would leave Vancouver Island and never contact the victim again.
McKimm said Miller’s serious history of violence is an aggravating factor in the case — of his 12 prior convictions for assault, all but two involve intimate partners. But the judge noted that the accused has accepted responsibility for his actions.
“His remorse is as genuine as the terror he inflicted,” he said.
McKimm reluctantly accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defence of a nine-month sentence, saying a sentence of 12 to 18 months would be more appropriate.
During his probation, Miller must have no contact with the victim or her family, or be anywhere on Vancouver Island south of the Malahat. He is not allowed to use drugs or alcohol and must obey a curfew of 9 p.m to 6 a.m. for the first year, even if he is in a tent.
He must not enter into or continue any relationship until his partner has been told by his probation officer about his convictions.
Miller is required to take counselling and treatment for anger management, violence prevention, alcohol or drug abuse, spousal abuse prevention and mental health, and must attend forensic psychiatric services, as directed by his probation officer.
McKimm also imposed a lifetime weapons and firearms prohibition.