- Mark Bonokoski - Year's relief for mom - Mark Bonokoski - Year's relief for mom

July 27, 2005

Year's relief for mom


KINGSTON, Ont. -- After watching her son's killer have his bid for early release denied by the National Parole Board, a relieved Paulette Moffitt left the Bath medium-security prison yesterday and headed home to Brockville.

"Home for a good night's sleep. At last," she said. "I will sleep well knowing he's behind bars where he belongs.

It was a surreal setting. There was Henry Danninger, flanked by his lawyer and his parole officer, sitting before the parole board panel at the far end of the prison's visiting area adjacent to a children's playground area.

A mural of cartoon characters overlooked the proceedings. There was Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Bert and Ernie, Bugs Bunny and Homer Simpson -- all looking down at the 31-year-old man who, after numerous parole-hearing postponements, was now facing his victim's family and friends, and vying for day parole and transfer to an Ottawa halfway house.

And with cartoons as a backdrop.

What Henry Danninger did on the eve of Christmas Eve, 1998, however, was not G-rated. What he did was arm himself with what he called a "bad-ass knife," and then he headed off to the Coyote Bar in a section of Ottawa called Sandy Hill in order to confront a former roommate he suspected of scooping his stash of drugs and being cruel to his pets.

In the melee that ensued, following a sugar-filled beer bottle being smashed over a head, and a patron being kneed twice in the groin, Andy Moffitt -- a computer whiz celebrating the end of exams -- stepped forward as an innocent peacemaker and was fatally stabbed through the heart.

The act of courage that cost the young man his life saw him being posthumously awarded the Governor General's Medal of Bravery in 2003.

As he faced the parole panel yesterday, however, the 31-year-old Danninger -- having eventually copped a guilty plea to manslaughter in exchange for five years in prison, now looked like a cartoon character himself, and a far cry from the heavy-set thug he was, cigarette dangling from his mouth, when he was photographed standing on the steps of an Ottawa courthouse almost five years ago.

Drug dealer-turn-killer

His hair is now shaven down to his skull. His skin is sallow. And he has lost some 80 pounds while in prison.

Back in April, Paulette Moffitt had the phone ring at her family's home a little after 8 p.m. -- leaving her thinking it was a little too late in the day to be anyone but family or friend to be calling.

As it turned out, however, it was neither.

Instead, it was the National Parole Board's Carol Sparling, calling to inform the Moffitts that their heroic son's killer had asked for yet another postponement of his parole hearing -- a hearing that was slated to be heard the next week.

For the fifth time now, this time near the 11th hour, a drug dealer-turned-killer named Henry Danninger had been given leave to bring more turmoil to his victim's family.

Now they will have to circle July 26 on their calendar.

And again start counting the days.

"This is truly eating away at us," Paulette Moffitt said at the time. "I really think I have an ulcer. I haven't slept through one night in the last two weeks thinking about next week's hearing and, when I get up, I get a migraine so bad that it turns my stomach. And now this phone call comes.

"This is no way to live. It's hell on earth -- hell for me, hell for my husband, and hell for our other two sons.

"Imagine how they must feel," she said.

Yesterday, the parole board got to hear how they felt, as various family members and friends read victim impact statements. There was best friend, Craig Wells, who had held the dying Andy Moffitt in his arms.

"I placed my hand over his chest with a T-shirt in a futile attempt to stop the torrent of blood," he said. "And I felt his heart stop and restart as we tried to keep him alive."

There was brother, Rod; cousin, Emily Smith; and good friend Karen Visser. All delivering heart-wrenching words.

And then there was Paulette Moffitt, telling of how her now 18-year-old son Michael's life has turned to turmoil.

He was only 11 when the policeman stood at their door, and told his family that his brother would not be coming home -- not just for Christmas, but forever.

"Please do not release Henry Danninger," the mother pleaded. "Please give Michael a chance to lead a healthy productive life. Let him see the world is not a cruel and cold-hearted place."

In the end, Paulette Moffitt got her wish, but not because the parole board was thinking of Michael's future.

They were thinking, instead, of Henry Danninger and how he could not explain his actions, at least not enough to earn some freedom -- even with only a year to go.

Even if Henry Danninger never again applies for parole, he will be out on statutory release in August of next year.

"Surprisingly, I have a better life here," he said, comparing his days in prison to his house arrest awaiting trial.

"I've lost 80 pounds, and I don't smoke."

   Letter to the Media
   Bill C-393
   Our Angel
   Thank You
   Mike's Speech
   Memorial Speech
   Andy's Story
   Our Brother