Over the past fourteen months you may have forced it out of your head or perhaps it easily floated out of your thoughts, but the imminent release of three Sault Ste. Marie men initially arrested on charges of first degree murder and causing indignity to a human body in the January 7th, 2011 death of Wesley Hallam, may jar your memory.
The July 28th, 2016 Superior Court of Justice verdict based on a plea bargain accepted by the Crown -unwitting of the police investigative team, that reduced first degree murder charges against three men arrested in the death and dismemberment of Wesley Hallam to manslaughter and resulted in a 10-year sentence. Prior to sentencing, Ron Mitchell spoke words of remorse, while Eric Mearow and Dylan Jocko expressed no comment.
With credit for time served for Ron Mitchell, he will be released back into the community October 17th, 2017. With credit for time served as well as adjustments in consideration of Aboriginal heritage, Eric Mearow and Dylan Jocko will be released back into the community November 28th, 2017.
The ruling incited an outcry among the community, and induced a public renunciation of the Crown’s actions by Sault Ste. Marie chief of police, Robert Keetch, who requested of the Ministry of the Attorney General, a third party review concerning the “totality of the Hallam outcome”.
“A third party review would be in the best interests of the community and all involved,” stated Keetch in his July 2016 statement to the community on the heels of the verdict earlier that day.
Keetch remarked that there were two aspects which concerned him.
“First, is the process of negotiating a plea agreement to a Crown office,” remarked Keetch. “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.”
Information provided by myriad sources indicates that on April 21st, 2016 John Luczak -director of Crown operations for the north region, Paul McDermott- Toronto Crown Attorney, Susan Stothart –Sudbury Crown Attorney, Dan Mitchell –Thunder Bay Crown Attorney, and Kelly Weeks –Sault Ste. Marie Crown Attorney, cast a vote to accept the plea of manslaughter and the associated terms as far back as April. As numerous sources have indicated to me, though the vote was not unanimous, the majority agreed that the plea should be accepted. Paul McDermott, though declining to comment for this article, believed that the original charges of first degree murder should have been argued before a jury.
Keetch also took issue with the Agreed Statement of Facts read out in that courtroom July 28th, 2016.
“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,” he remarked to a room
full of reporters.
Sources indicate that the Statement of Facts was written by the defence and accepted by the Crown- an issue that has created, as suggested by sources, a festering tension and mistrust between local police and the Chief Crown Attorney, Kelly Weeks. I have come to learn that despite efforts to downplay the initial reactions by local police through prepared press events and releases, that the betrayal felt by many officers involved in the investigation, as well as their colleagues, still stings, deeply.
And for Wesley and his family, there has been no justice. Sandra Hallam, mother of Wesley, expressed to me a longing that the truth of the events surrounding her son’s death that January evening be known to the general public. Wesley was murdered, dismembered and decapitated at a well attended party at 30 Wellington Street East in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. His torso was dumped that night along Landslide Road in Coldwater Creek. His severed head, feet and hands were dumped in a garbage bin behind the Station Mall and later some of these remains were recovered from the Dafter Sanitary Landfill in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Sandra has found her truth about the murder of her son through a brief of the investigation provided to her by the police investigative team. Below is a comparison of the most salient discrepancies between what the Sault Police disclosed to Sandra -as well as the Chief Crown, Kelly Weeks, and the Agreed Statement of Facts that shaped the plea bargain between the defence and the Crown last July.
Some have said of the shocking plea bargain, the police investigative team served the Crown first degree murder on a silver platter.
As a side note, I would like to clarify that I attended much of the preliminary hearing, my first day beginning October 1, 2012. A publication ban prevented the reporting of evidence, though I sat through much of the prelim and kept thorough notes. I would like to go on the record and say that much of what the police brief provided through an investigation that cost the taxpayers approximately 4.3 million dollars was revealed through witness testimony during the preliminary hearings. I will also go on the record to say that many who had knowledge of the events leading to Wesley’s murder, may say that much of the information in the Agreed Statement of Facts was contrived. I will remind the reader, that it was in fact, Chief of Police Robert Keetch who stated, “…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.” (A copy of the Agreed Statement of Facts can be found at the bottom of this previously published article,)
It has been noted with irony that an argument in accepting the plea bargain was the mitigating factor that excessive alcohol and drugs were consumed that night, and the accused were intoxicated as were the witnesses, though levels of intoxication were never established- it would have been impossible to do so. The irony exists in the point that it is the recollection of the accused that informed the Agreed Statement of Facts –intoxicated, or otherwise, the night Hallam was murdered.
The defence also argued and presented in the Agreed Statement of Facts that there was a sundry of illicit substances present and used that night though the investigation only found that alcohol, marijuana and cocaine were present.
So, it all began with a party.
At some point late in the evening Wesley Hallam, Ron Mitchell, Dylan Jocko and two youth moved to an upstairs bedroom to chop up a few lines of cocaine. A verbal disagreement between Hallam and Mitchell occurred and Hallam called Mitchell a ‘goof’. The Statement of Facts (par. 24) indicates that in Hallam and Mitchell’s world, ‘goof’ is an egregious term likening a person to a ‘rat’ or a ‘child molester’, and the use of this word escalated the argument. However, the police investigation, through a wire tap, found the term ‘goof’ used casually among these peers 281 times.
A fight between Hallam and Mitchell ensued. The Statement of Fact (par.27) indicates that Hallam maintained the upper hand in the fight and that observers of the fight shouted at Hallam to stop. The police brief found no evidence that Hallam neither maintained the upper hand nor did observers shout at Hallam to stop.
The Statement of Facts (par.28) indicates that Eric Mearow attempted to break up the fight. However, the police brief did not find evidence of that.
Both Hallam and Mitchell pulled knives. Dylan Jocko entered the fight, punching Hallam in the back of the head. Mearow entered the fight, punching Hallam around the head. Two witnesses observed Hallam fall backwards and land on the floor.
The Statement of Facts (par.33) states that one witness “saw blood on Hallam’s head and neck and that Hallam looked unsteady and disoriented. The witness asked Hallam if he was ‘ok’ and the response from Hallam was ‘yes’ and then he requested a cigarette and a beer. The witness complied. However, the police brief indicates that not only did this witness speak with Hallam but this witness also tended to Hallam’s injuries. According to the police brief the witness observed blood coming from the back of Hallam’s head and placed a towel there, and when speaking with him this witness did not observe that Hallam was unsteady or disoriented. The Statement of Facts (par.34) has Mearow observing blood soaking Wesley’s jacket and pooling on the floor. However, the police in their investigation found no evidence that Mearow observed this.
SPOILER: The significance in the discrepancy between par. 33 and 34 in the Statement of Facts and the police brief is the difference between 1st degree murder and manslaughter. The Agreed Statement of Facts places the fatal stab at the tip of Ron Mitchell’s knife . The Criminal Code of Canada 232 (1) provides that “culpable homicide that otherwise would be murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who committed it did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation
According to the Statement of Facts (par. 35-36) Mearow directed Mitchell and Jocko to help move Hallam to the bathroom and that Hallam began to convulse and shake as they neared the bathroom. The witness that held a towel to Wesley’s injuries screamed that the men stop and ran downstairs. The men “saw the stab wound bleeding heavily” and put Hallam in the bathtub, closed the bathroom door. Hallam was momentarily combative and then fell into unconsciousness. However, the police brief provides a different version procured through their evidence. It was not found in their investigation that any evidence existed to indicate that Hallam was convulsing and shaking as the men dragged him to the bathroom. Police evidence found that witnesses observed Hallam fighting and resisting as Mearow, Mitchell and Jocko dragged him to the bathroom. Several witnesses heard Hallam pleading for his life, many repeating that they heard Hallam crying out “why are you doing this”, “you can’t take me out like this”, “Eric, why are you doing this to me”, “I don’t want to be taken out”, “please bro, stop”. One witness that had been using drugs in a separate bedroom walked by the bathroom after the door was shut and heard Hallam’s voice. This witness described Hallam’s voice as “terrified” and he was saying repeatedly, “please no, please don’t”.
SPOILER: The significance in the discrepancy between par.35 and 36 in the Statement of Facts and the police brief is the difference between 1st degree and manslaughter. The Criminal Code of Canada defines first degree murder as acts that were planned and deliberate. The Code also provides that “irrespective of whether a murder is planned and deliberate on the part of any person, murder is first degree murder in respect of a person when the death is caused by that person while committing or attempting to commit an offence under…” various sections including section 279 where “kidnapping or confinement results in death.” The Statement of Facts suggests that the three men were aiding Hallam, evidence produced through the police investigation indicates that the three men were confining Hallam.
According to the Statement of Facts (par. 38) once Hallam was in the bathtub, Mearow checked for a pulse and found none and pronounced that he believed Hallam was dead. The three men then argued about what to do. However, according to evidence procured through the police investigation Dylan Jocko provided a different version of what he saw happen in the bathroom that night. In his recorded testimony before the police, portions of which were viewed during the preliminary hearing, Jocko recounts that Hallam was alive in the tub, pleading for
his life, begging “help me, help me”. Jocko recalled Mearow saying “no help for you” before bending over and cutting Hallam’s throat. The police investigation also found minimal blood evidence in the bedroom where the fight took place but did discover a significant amount of blood evidence in the bathroom.
As well, expert testimony from Dr. Scott I. Fairgrieve and Dr. Martin Queen provided that 35 incised linear marks created by a
blade were drawn across the left arm with force – 11 impressions to the ulna, 24 to the radius. A large wound was identified on Wesley’s right forearm –an opening in the flesh that proceeded to the bone located just below Wesley’s tattoo. Injuries also included scratches, blunt force trauma, 1 stab wound to the right shoulder and 1 stab wound to the lateral right clavicle, injuries above the left buttock and mid back. Wesley’s head presented 6 other stab wounds- 5 to the head and one to the neck, that were not life-threatening. The fatal wounds were the result of two stab wounds to the neck that severed the carotid artery and jugular vein. All of Hallam’s major blood vessels were exsanguinated, and lack of blood flow to the sever points on the neck, wrists and ankles suggested that Wesley had fortunately passed when dismemberment and decapitation occurred. Both doctors observed that two knives- not one, was used in the attack against Wesley Hallam that night.
SPOILER: Evidence provided by witnesses suggests that the fatal injury of which one was a downward stab and went through Hallam’s external left ear, travelling left to right, severing the carotid artery and jugular vein was not observed by any witness in the bedroom or by any witness who observed Hallam being dragged through the hallway by the three accused. The majority of blood evidence was also found in the bathroom, not the bedroom. These factors suggest that the fatal injury did not occur in the bedroom. As well, Jocko’s testimony to the police has Hallam alive and pleading for his life in the bathtub, and Jocko identifies that Mearow sliced Hallam’s throat while Hallam was alive in the bathtub. Contrary to the Statement of Facts that pins Mitchell down for manslaughter, witness evidence and expert testimony places the fatal stab at the tip of Eric Mearow’s knife, not Ron Mitchell’s knife.
And if you add up all of these spoilers you end up with 1st degree murder –on a silver platter.
A few other points to consider:
Melissa Elkin, one of three women charged in Wesley Hallam’s death, testified that Jocko disclosed to her that Hallam was asking for help and Mearow said, “I’m not f*cking helping you” and then Mearow slit Hallam’s throat. Elkin also testified that she overheard a conversation between Mitchell and Jocko where they recalled Hallam pleading for his life, that they were shocked by what had happened, that it was disgusting and they couldn’t believe it had happened. Jaclyn MacIntyre and Kayla Elie were also charged in relation to events they were a party to the night Hallam was killed.
Early in the preliminary hearing I learned that it was the opinion of some that the Crown should have worked out a separate plea bargain for Dylan Jocko who was the only one of the three accused that provided an account of what happened behind that closed bathroom door. It was suggested that Jocko could have been a “star witness” throughout the preliminary hearing- and eventually, a trial. I have also learned that just prior to accepting the plea bargain that reduced charges down to manslaughter for all three, the Crown and police were discussing an arrangement with Jocko that would lessen his charges and put him on the stand against Mearow and Mitchell. This obviously never came to be. Neither did it come to be that a third option was pursued- a charge of second degree, though at one time the Crown had stated that they were considering the possibility, as I have come to learn.
Over the course of the preliminary hearing I observed inappropriate behaviour from the accused with little reprimand from the Courts. The trio were often laughing and sniggering throughout the testimony, glaring at the Hallam family, and often when the Court was in recess or adjourning for the day, making vulgar gestures and mouthing off towards Sandra Hallam and her daughter Shannon. And from the Hallam family I heard repeatedly of their frustration with the Crown, Kelly Weeks, expressing they felt mistreated throughout this protracted preliminary hearing.
I have spoken with individuals who are frustrated and feel that the office of the Crown washed their hands of the police investigation and allowed the Statement of Facts to be untruthful. At the end of day, the judge –in this case, Justice I.S. McMillan, must base his ruling upon the Agreed Statement of Facts.
And what of putting officers on the stand to testify before the accused in June 2016? It was disclosed to family and witness that the Crown knew the plea bargain was to be the outcome in April 2016. The reader may recall that the police learned of the plea bargain in July 2016 not from the Crown but from the three accused who were chattering about the arrangement as they were being transported to court by police. Ridiculous.
I have ranted at least one, two, three times about what I feel is an overly generous application of publication bans in the courtroom. Anyone can attend court but who does? Do you? The media attends court but publication bans prevent us from keeping you informed. (Evidence of that by clicking here.) And publishers won’t waste pennies on reporters that can’t report anything from the courtroom. The courtroom is full of professionals, not the general public, and what kind of transparency is that? Who is holding the Courts, the Crowns accountable? On that judgement day July 28th, 2016, over one-hundred and fifty people flooded the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse to support the Hallam family and justice for Wesley in response to my piece that informed the public that the Crown had accepted a plea –a nice gesture but too late. I believe that had a quarter of those present on that day made a commitment to attend the preliminary hearing the outcome in Mearow, Mitchell and Jocko’s verdict would be quite different. This case would have been heard before a jury.
So here we are today. Families, witnesses and no doubt police officers are putting into place safety plans in anticipation of the release of these three men. And all that the rest of us can do now is sit back and wait. Will these men turn their lives around or return to a life of crime?