The Murder of Wesley Hallam: Police Frustrated with Crown, Plea and Ruling, Seeks Third Party Review

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Following the ruling of manslaughter and the sentencing of Ronald Mitchell, Eric Mearow and Dylan Jocko in Wesley Hallam’s horrific murder and dismemberment in January 2011, the mother of Wesley, Sandra Hallam, and Sault Ste. Marie Chief of Police, Bob Keetch, issued formal statements to the public.

Keetch was diplomatic as he articulated his concern with the local Crown Office’s behaviour that entailed a secretive plea bargain which whittled charges of First Degree Murder all the way down to a Manslaughter charge with flimsy terms attached.

And to add insult to injury, the Sault Ste. Marie Police Department had to learn about the copped plea from the accused men. Officers transporting the three men back and forth between the jail and Court overheard their chatter about the plea bargain and alerted Deputy Chief, Sean Sparling, to the information. Sparling initiated discussions with the local Crown and regional Crown. It was upon confirming the details of the plea that the police insisted to the Crown that the family be notified of the decision. Though the plea was struck back in April 2016, the Crown did not notify the family of the decision until July 15th – and did so only upon the instance of the Deputy Chief.

Chief Keetch expressed specific concerns with the events that led to the plea bargain. “There are two aspects that concern me. First, is the process of negotiating a plea agreement to a Crown office. Outside Crowns were involved to review the case, which was done well in advance of the plea, but any members of the investigative officers on the case were not involved. That concerns me. These are the officers that know the case, know the frailties and know the witnesses the best. They were excluded. Second- I’ve had time to reflect on the Agreed Statement of Facts and there is certainly evidence that was presented in the court that didn’t necessarily reflect the true crime that was committed in relation to the murder of Mr. Hallam.”

An Agreed Statement of Facts does not contain all of the evidence that is gathered and presented throughout the preliminary hearing process.

Chief Keetch has spoken in length with the Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General – as well as the local Crown office. “The relationship between the Crown Attorney and this police service has been identified as an issue,” remarked Keetch adding, “Both the Crown Attorney, Kelly Weeks, and I have committed to attempt to fix this.”

While it would not influence the result of yesterday’s sentencing, Keetch is seeking a third party review of the entire process that led up to the plea deal and conclusion of this homicide case. “From my perspective I’m looking to the future. I don’t want to see what took place in regard to this case, replicated in the future and I think that we can do that through a third party review of the totality of the Hallam outcome before the courts today. A third party review would be in the best interests of the community and all involved.”

Keetch also commented that a third party review of this matter would not be precedent setting but such reviews are not commonplace.

Chief Keetch, who was present for the entire courtroom proceeding on Thursday, acknowledged the high emotions expressed in the courtroom on the heels of the judges light sentencing of the three men who murdered and dismembered Wesley of his head, feet and hands. All three will be released back into the community in a couple of years.

“There is genuine concern from a community perspective for the potential risk that these individuals will present to our community when they are ultimately released from custody. That will be the responsibility of us as a police service to attempt to minimize, mitigate and manage that risk.”

Below are the public statements issued by Sandra Hallam and Chief Keetch from the Sault Ste. Marie Police office on Thursday evening.

Sandra

Sandra Hallam, mother of Wesley

Sandra Hallam, prepared statement:

Good evening, I want to first say that today should be a happy day for my family. However we are devastated. We should be happy that the people responsible for murdering my son were convicted of a crime. But we are far from happy.

I would like to thank the Sault Ste. Marie Police and the OPP for all their hard work and time they put into my son’s case. It is no reflection on them that an injustice has occurred today. I am horrified that these three men will walk back into our community sometime soon. I think the City of Sault Ste. Marie should be afraid. These men committed murder and will soon walk free while my son’s friends and we the family have received a true life sentence.

I struggle to make sense of the Crown’s decision to accept a plea deal. I feel horrified that it is at the expense of my son’s life and my family’s lives.

Thank you to all who have shown us support. We the family would now like some time to heal because this five and a half year journey has been exhausting for all of us.

Thank you.

SSM Chief of Police, Bob Keetch

Sault Ste. Marie Chief of Police, Bob Keetch

Chief Bob Keetch, prepared statement:

Earlier today, charges against Ronald Mitchell, Dylan Jocko and Eric Mearow, the accused parties involved in the gruesome murder of Wesley Hallam, were presented before the courts. They plead guilty to manslaughter and offering an indignity to a human body. The proceedings brought concluding judgements to one of the most horrific crimes ever committed within this community.

First, I want to extend condolences to the Hallam family on behalf of the members of the Police Service. I can’t even imagine the mental pain and suffering you have endured throughout this process. Nobody should lose a loved one under such circumstances. The manner in which Wesley’s life ended, and the indignities he suffered, was disturbing to us all, to say the least.

Now that this matter is concluded, I hope that you –Sandra, and your family can finally have some peace heal and somehow find a way to put this horrendous crime behind you. We will continue to support you as long as you need us.

Next, I would like to convey that we, as a Police Service, are as disappointed with today’s outcome as is the Hallam family.

To the people of Sault Ste. Marie, I wish to stress that we take our responsibility for community safety and well-being, and our role in investigating crimes that occur within this community very seriously. The results of this case in no way reflects the work done by Police.

The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police; who jointly investigated the Hallam homicide, committed significant resources (both manpower and financial) to conduct a thorough and competent investigation. Approximately 200 officers were involved, over 200 witnesses were interviewed, and a crown brief in excess of 90,000 pages was compiled; all to support First-Degree murder charges. I would like to publically recognize the tremendous work which was conducted by all (officers and civilians) assigned to this case. Your compassion, commitment and dedication have not gone unnoticed and are not properly reflected in a conviction for manslaughter. To all the witnesses who had the courage to come forward, provide testimony and participate in the judicial proceedings, thank you. I know this has taken courage and been a difficult process for you.

Throughout the entire investigation, preliminary inquiry and pre-trial motions, members of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service and our Local Crown Attorney’s Office maintained a well-established, effective and valued relationship which was based on mutual respect and a shared responsibility for a thorough investigation and prosecution in the Hallam murder. The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service was committed to the upcoming trial of all three accused, and prepared to dedicate significant resources to support it.

However, once a criminal charge is laid and the matter is before the courts, it becomes the responsibility of the Ministry of the Attorney General. We were not aware of any discussions regarding a proposed resolution or a reduction of charges for the Hallam homicide, nor did we have any input.

Again, today brought a conclusion to one of the most sensational and horrific cases in Sault Ste. Marie’s history, and regrettably, a disappointing one. Any questions regarding the convictions should be directed to representatives of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

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  • Sodone

    “Chief Keetch has spoken in length with the Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General – as well as the local Crown office. “The relationship between the Crown Attorney and this police service has been identified as an issue,” remarked Keetch adding, “Both the Crown Attorney, Kelly Weeks, and I have committed to attempt to fix this.”” What is this statement referring to??

  • 4thjet

    The crown didn’t confer with the cops over the plea deal, they just discussed amongst themselves and the accused lawyers and then agreed to the plea. They should have included the cops in this discussion.

  • superior87

    Would you prefer they go through an entire trial and end up at manslaughter, being that it is common knowledge how difficult a trial can be on the victim (or in this case, victim’s family)? I don’t think there has been a very good job done by the media (on this site or elsewhere) in explaining to the general public exactly what the legal definition of 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder and manslaughter really is. The general public seems to think that any time someone dies due to another person that it is murder.

    Plea deals are done only after reviewing all of the evidence. If the Crown does not have the evidence to prove 1st or 2nd degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt then it is not the correct action to proceed to a trial.

  • Sodone

    Murder, as defined by the criminal code, is when the offender either:

    1) means to cause the death of the other person;

    2) means to cause bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause death, and is reckless as to whether death is caused of not;

    3) means to cause death or bodily harm that he know is likely to result in death to one person, but ends up killing someone else (i.e. a gun shot misses the intended target and kills a bystander);

    4) is in the commission of an offense and does something he knows or ought to know may cause death (even if death is not intended).

    Murder is thus not limited to crimes where the offender actually intends to kill the other person. Simply intending to cause significant bodily harm can meet the definition.

    Murder is classified as either 1st degree or 2nd degree. While both carry an automatic “life” sentence, the distinction is relevant in determining the minimum number of years that are required to be served in prison before the offender is eligible for parole.

    He was stabbed in the neck… that would be bodily harm that is likely to cause death!!! How can you say the media hasn’t done its job properly? And if they didn’t think it could cause death… the act of cutting up his body surely would have… so where do you see manslaughter being even close to justice, or even a hint of a question in what the judgement SHOULD have been?

  • superior87

    “He was stabbed in the neck… that would be bodily harm that is likely to cause death!!! ”

    Yes, the Crown is aware of what the definition of murder is and what murder is. If it was as cut-and-dry as you suggest then the Crown would have gone through with a trial. This is not a unique situation – the Crown looks at all of the evidence and looks where there are issues with the evidence.

    Murder is a charge that requires “specific intent” to kill. Intoxication is a defence to “specific intent” defences. Therefore an acquittal for a “specific intent” offence on the basis of intoxication still permits a conviction on the lesser and included general intent offence, such as manslaughter. An acquittal for murder could result in a finding of guilt for manslaughter.

    If the Crown was not certain that their case would end up with a conviction for murder, but were able to enter into a plea deal to ensure a conviction for manslaughter (and save the family the emotional toll of a trial, not to mention the millions of $$ in taxpayer money a trial of this size would cost) then it is smart practice to enter the manslaughter conviction.

    There will never be enough justice where a human being has lost their life. No matter how many years a person goes to jail it will not change what happened, there is no specific number of years that would result in justice. The Crown has to weigh all of the issues and potential problems – whereas the public seems to simply read that they are accused of murder, reads some gory details, and think that the court should simply convict them right then and there. It does not work like that and you would not want it to work like that if you were charged with an offence.

  • Sodone

    I do agree with your sentiment “It does not work like that and you would not want it to work like that if you were charged with an offence.” However, the Judge and all officials that have worked on this case are well aware that these men are likely to re-offend in a violent manner… in fact evidence was brought to their attention early on that confirms not only the fact that the INTEND to re-offend, but they INTEND to hurt people once they are released, here is a small part of the documents pertaining to this evidence:

    “Violation of Court orders by the accused and their Continuing Ability to exert control over others while in Custody

    [44] A second reason for coming to the conclusion that the contact information should not be released is based on evidence before the court that the accused have consistently violated the non-communication orders which have been imposed on them while they are in custody. It has also become apparent that they have a continuing ability to exert influence over certain individuals while in custody. Constable Coccimiglio’s affidavit contains numerous examples.

    [45] The evidence is that for a period of 60 days following their arrest on these charges, the three accused were the subject of a wiretap order while they were in custody. During that period of time, the three accused breached their non-communication orders a combined total of 896 times. Mr. Mearow breached it 410 times, Mr. Mitchell 119 times and Mr. Jocko 367 times.

    [46] Many of the breaches involved conversations with their girlfriends, and included threats of violence against both their girlfriends and other persons in the community. The conversations indicate that the accused are very resourceful and successful in maintaining contact and influence outside of the detention centre.”

    As you stated, and I agree… “There will never be enough justice where a human being has lost their life. No matter how many years a person goes to jail it will not change what happened, there is no specific number of years that would result in justice.” However, it is a blatant disregard for public safety that this matter was not allowed to follow through with appropriate charges! The Crown is, in my opinion, the one that will be responsible for these monsters actions once they are released… any more blood on their hands will also be on the hands of the Crown the Judge and the rest that allow this to happen! They are well aware that these men have zero remorse and fully intend to cause hurt to more people!

  • C.Aynslie

    Well said

  • Aecetia Reya

    Are you spun? Seriously? I could respond to this post with a more properly structured argument, which details my thoughts on the subject, but I think that outlines my sentiments quite nicely. Actually, just a couple of things:

    Firstly, it is very obvious that the plea bargain was not for the sake of the family, since the plea bargain has victimized this family and community yet again. Secondly, how much money has the courts already wasted of the tax persons money, within the 5 years they’very been dragging their feet? And finally, if the Crown had not felt the charge of murder would yield results, then why would they have not sought to add additional charges.

    You seemed to be very well versed in the legal system. Is it not illegal to threaten witnesses? Are there not any anti-gang legislations? Is there not any charges to be laid for the cover-up, i.e. the DISMEMBERMENT OF A BODY, the fact that they basically forced children to be the accessories of a gruesome crime? Have they not been caught tampering with the process of this case?

  • Mytwocents

    I don’t understand how they could not prove intent! The court just gave them permission to commit future violent crimes because why should they be afraid of what the repercussions would be? In fact, if someone from the community decides to take up vigilante justice against these 3, they would probably get a harsher sentence for the crime.

  • joy

    Appalling…blatant disregard for human life…crown and all involved in this plea bargain need to be held accountable…shame shame…no one in Sault Ste. Marie could possibly be happy about this outcome except the perpetrators …..take to the streets Saultites. .time to revolt. ..you’re losing your city!

  • NoMercyForTheWeak

    We need to look at the definition of FIRST degree murder.

    was planned and deliberate
    was contracted
    was committed against an identified peace officer
    while committing or attempting to commit the hijacking of an aircraft
    while committing or attempting to commit sexual assault
    while committing or attempting to commit sexual assault with a weapon
    while committing or attempting to commit aggravated sexual assault
    while committing or attempting to commit kidnapping and forcible confinement
    during a hostage taking
    while committing criminal harassment
    was committed during terrorist activity
    while using explosives in association with a criminal organization
    while committing intimidation.

    From the agreed-on statement of facts … it was a mutual fight between two individuals, that turned out really bad. The stab to the throat that killed him, does not fit the definition of 1st degree murder. for the Crown to risk prosecuting on this charge, they were really taking a huge risk of the three accused being acquitted of the charge that SSM police recommended.

    It is a heartbreaking case for the family of Hallam, but the Crown did what they had to do to secure a conviction rather than an OJ trial happening. The Defense could have easily argued the crime didnt fit the definition of 1st degree murder.

  • NoMercyForTheWeak

    Rather than reading articles on the internet, try reading law books, and maybe you will get a better understanding of how the judicial system works.

  • NoMercyForTheWeak

    The crown doesnt have to confer with the Police, once the case goes to the Crown, the police have no further involvement except to testify in court. The lawyers are the ones that need to argue the law, the police only enforce the law. Police officers do not go to law school for 6 years to learn to interpret the law.

  • Mytwocents

    I think he/she(acetia reya) got it right from what I read too. Is Northern Hoot lying? Is CanLII lying? Are the witness statement lies? Are the police lying? Is it false, NoMercyForTheWeak? What do you know that we don’t know? Because it sounds like the police are pretty upset too.

  • david mark

    Ha! Now that is rich….this from a person that had no idea that a murder charge automatically is heard before a judge AND jury. Not only that but no idea what self defense is under Canadian law. Perhaps you should read a law book.

  • david mark

    You sure don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

  • david mark

    …and neither did you. Obviously.