It appears a great miscarriage of justice and a betrayal of the community will unfold in this city on July 28.
That is when, it has been learned, Crown attorneys and the defence will place a plea bargain before Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan that will see, if McMillan goes along with it, Eric Mearow, Dylan Jocko and Ronald Mitchell sentenced to 10 years in penitentiary for the murder of Wesley Hallam and the dismembering of his body in January 2011.
The charges of first-degree murder against the three are to be dropped in favour of the much-weaker charges of manslaughter and they are to be given credit for the five and half years they have been in custody, which means they could be out in two.
All this, of course, is a slap in the face to the Hallam family, the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service and Ontario provincial police who conducted the lengthy and thorough investigation to bring the three to what should have been justice, and the community at large.
The plea bargain came to light on Tuesday when Steffanie Petroni, editor of the online website Northern Hoot, reported getting the word from Hallam’s mother, Sandra, that John Luczak, director of Crown operations for the north region, and local Chief Crown Attorney Kelly Weeks visited her home a week ago Friday to break the news.
Two city police officers were also there but on Hallam’s behalf.
“We were devastated,” Hallam said of receiving the news. “How can the Crown just dismiss my son like that? It’s OK to kill my son? It’s OK to cut up my son into pieces? The Crown said that the case had too many frailties because these monsters were drunk when they did that to my son.”
Hallam told me the same story she did Petroni in regard to Luczak and Weeks bringing up the intoxication defence and I, like Petroni, find myself questioning how intoxication could play a role since police did not arrest the three for some time after the killing. This means there were no breath samples taken so we are left to conclude the Crown is simply taking the word of the accused that they were too drunk to form the intent to kill.
I can see one person claiming such a thing. I can’t see three doing it. And I especially can’t see the Crown, if it has any thought for those it serves at all, accepting it.
In 2007, in a 5-4 decision upholding the conviction of a Regina man who said he was too drunk to intend murder when he fatally stabbed his wife, the Supreme Court of Canada listed eight elements a trial judge’s instructions to the jury on advanced intoxication should cover.
It closed out the list with the following comment:
“The trial judge must make it clear to the jury that the issue before them is whether the Crown has satisfied them beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had the requisite intent. In the case of murder the issue is whether the accused intended to kill or cause bodily harm with the foresight that the likely consequence was death.”
Since Wesley Hallam’s head was cut off, I think it is safe to say that the likely consequence of death would have been foreseen, no matter how drunk the perpetrators may have been.
In an attempt to get some rationale for the Crown’s cave-in, I placed a call to Weeks. When I informed the receptionist who I was and what I wanted, I was told that all calls regarding the Hallam case were being handled by Brendan Crawley, senior coordinator, media relations, with the communications branch.
Crawley replied that he would get back to me as soon as possible, which wasn’t in time for this column.
Therefore I am left to surmise why the Crown believes its case is so weak that it has to capitulate without taking its case to a jury.
If it actually is because of the intoxication defence, as Sandra Hallam claims she was told, I say that’s not good enough.
Yet I certainly can’t see the Crown’s capitulation coming about because of shortcomings in the police investigation, the only other possibility.
City police chief Bob Keetch told me that in excess of 200 officers from the city force and OPP had been committed to the investigation over time.
“We interviewed in excess of 200 witnesses and the Crown brief exceeds 90,000 pages,” he said. “There was a thorough, competent and expensive investigation conducted which ultimately resulted in the three individuals being identified and charged with first-degree murder.”
He said he would be more able to provide additional information when the case comes to a resolution next week.
I think it is obvious the police did their jobs.
I find it disheartening that those in the Crown attorney’s office don’t seem prepared to do theirs.
So, it appears, our only hope is that the judge rejects the plea agreement and orders the case to proceed to trial before a jury, something that, considering the resources and time put into this case, surely should have been the plan all along.
Hallam, who has yet to bury her son as his body parts have been held as evidence, was not pleased with how she was told of the plea bargain by the Crown.
“It was like I don’t have a say,” she said. “There was not a sorry or anything.”
She and her daughter Shannon will present victim impact statements if McMillan accepts the plea bargain.
Petroni reported that an online petition calling for a trial by jury had 2,200 names on it.
“They will not face a jury where all the sick dehumanizing details of their heinous crime will be shared,” a portion of the petition reads. “The ideals that will be brought forward with this decision will prove that the destruction of a human life is worth only 10 years of incarceration. Public protection should be a much higher priority than the rights of these prisoners.”
Since Petroni broke the story of what appears to be a windup of the Hallam case, three mothers of witnesses, two 15 at the time of the murder and one 18, have approached her about the trauma their children faced.
They also shed some light on how the plea bargain came about.
“Information provided by the three mothers indicates that on April 21, Luczak, Weeks, Toronto Crown attorney Paul McDermott, Sudbury Crown attorney Susan Stothart and Thunder Bay Crown attorney Dan Mitchell took a vote on whether to accept the plea of manslaughter and the associated terms,” Petroni told me. “Though the vote was not unanimous, the majority agreed that the plea should be accepted.”
Great protectors of the public, this bunch.