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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Domestic violence victim recounts beating that nearly left her dead as judge sentences ex-boyfriend

Sapphire Mattson was unable to hold back a steady stream of tears.

Standing feet away from her attacker for the first time in 10 months, the young mother recounted in court the profound effect an afternoon in July had on her life and that of her son.

“I don’t know how to sum it up and I don’t know how to put it into words,” she said, facing the judge from a podium. “I will never forget the day that this happened.”

Sonny Cannella, a 43-year-old drifter from Georgia who on Friday pleaded guilty to first-degree domestic assault, sat quietly and stared solemnly forward. By the end of the hearing, Cannella would be sentenced to 100 months in prison, with credit for time served.

Cannella was accused of beating Mattson last July while the couple was in the midst of making dinner. According to court records, Cannella attacked Mattson suddenly and violently, bashing her face into the kitchen counter and punching her repeatedly.

As a result, Mattson said she suffers from brain damage, including problems with her memory and eyesight. Doctors apparently told her she was lucky to be alive.

After the attack, authorities say he fled in her car, never to be seen by Mattson again until Friday, when she spoke in protest at his sentencing hearing after prosecutors and his defense attorney reached a plea deal rather than going to trial.

Mattson told judge Kevin Korsmo about having to wash the walls and carpet when she returned from the hospital. There was so much blood, she said, that she had to strip the paint before brushing on new coats.

She still needs to realign her jaw.

She talked about the trauma her son Quintin experienced, when he witnessed his mother crawling into his room, bloodied, screaming and begging him to call 911.

The family played the short tape in court, in which a scared, out-of-breath 10-year-old tries to put into words what he’s seeing.

“My mom just got beat,” he’s heard telling a 911 operator. “There’s blood all over the house.”

Mattson said since that day, her son has struggled with depression. He’s scared to sleep at night and he relives the day over and over.

“Ever since that has happened, I can’t get the image out of my head,” the 11-year-old told the court. “I can’t imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t come into my room asking for me to call 911.”

Cannella’s attorney Dave Hamlin said his client had always intended to take responsibility for the crime, even if he couldn’t remember much of what happened. The lawyer theorized undiagnosed mental health issues could have played a factor in his seemingly random outburst, though he admitted and doctors told him it wasn’t the cause.

Still, he told Judge Korsmo that it was important to Cannella that he set the record straight.

“Mr. Cannella has always stated he wants to take responsibility for what he’s done,” he said. “He knows she has to live with this every day and every night.”

Cannella, who agreed to speak before his sentence was handed down, prepared a letter and read it aloud. It summarized his battle with alcoholism, his fight with mental illness and the demons he’s still working to rid himself of.

But mostly it was an apology to Mattson and her son.

“I want her to know I will never forgive myself,” he said. “I’ve never been so sorry for anything in my life. Sapphire, I’m so sorry. None of this is supposed to happen. If I could turn back time, I would.”

Judge Korsmo said he was sympathetic to Mattson, saying he’d lost a family member to a beating with a bat. He called her son brave for calling 911 – an act that “likely saved her life.”

But he also recognized the effort by Cannella to confess and to be honest with the court.

“There are no winners,” he said. “It just happens that way.”