Silent No More: Families Speak Up for Witnesses in Preliminary Hearing of Wesley Hallam’s Murder

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Editor’s Note: The decision to publish this story was influenced by the belief that the public should access information in a timely manner, allowing opportunity to provide criticisms about the judicial process. For five years the public has been denied information about the death, decapitation and dismemberment of Wesley Hallam. Though a plea deal of manslaughter for the three men accused in Wesley’s death, decapitation and dismemberment has been accepted by the Crown Attorney, a publication ban on the evidence presented in one of the longest- if not the longest, running preliminary hearing, remains in effect until a judge lifts the ban. Though attempts were made to acquire comment from one of the accused’s’ lawyer as well as Sault Ste. Marie Crown Attorney, none were received before the time of publication. The article below has been informed by the mothers of three young witnesses involved in the trials of the three co-accused in Wesley Hallam’s murder. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the witnesses.

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Over the past five years, the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse has hosted a steady stream of witnesses –sixty or so, appearing before the Bench on the matter of Wesley Hallam’s murder. Just like the family of Wesley, and of course the media, all of these witnesses were held hostage to a publication ban. Some may argue that publication bans are a vital component to the delivery of justice though the Supreme Court of Canada has reiterated that such bans must be reserved unless absolutely necessary.

It is all too apparent that publication bans are overused resulting in the exclusion of the public in the courtroom and therefore the publics ability to scrutinize the judicial process. This weekend the family of Wesley Hallam and witnesses involved in the investigation were informed that after five and a half years of investigation, 60 witnesses, hundreds of hours invested in a preliminary hearing and 3 million dollars towards all of these costs, a handful of Crown Attorneys took a vote that resulted in accepting a plea of manslaughter -10 years, including time served, for three men –Dylan Jocko, Ronald Mitchell and Eric Mearow, charged in the death, decapitation and dismemberment of Wesley Hallam on January 7th/8th, 2011.

Ann, Rose and Lynn are the mothers of three young people who were hauled before the Court to provide testimony evidence throughout the preliminary hearing. In 2011, Ann’s child was 15 yrs., Rose’s child was 18 yrs. and Lynn’s child was 15 yrs. Upon receiving the news that the Crowns accepted a plea deal, these women reached out to each other to break the silence.

“It’s been five and a half years and we’ve been so scared to talk to each other,” remarked Ann. “And why can’t people be allowed to hear about all of this? The publication ban takes away from the citizens of the community to know what is happening where they live. And that isn’t right.”

All three women expressed outrage over what they feel was a dirty back room deal wielded by a bunch of suits that perverted the mechanisms of justice.

The role of the Crown is to represent the best interests of the state. The Crown is required to review charges in a criminal case to determine if there is a prospect of conviction and if it is in the public interest to proceed. This includes evaluating the evidence of each witness. The Crown has a duty to assess the strength of a case throughout a prosecution and is duty bound to withdraw charges if there is not a prospect of a conviction –or if it is not in the public interest to proceed.

Information provided by the three mothers 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. Though the vote was not unanimous, the majority agreed that the plea should be accepted.

“This reduced charge of manslaughter is absurd,” remarked Rose. “Does this make any kind of sense that a publication ban should be strictly adhered to when the law and the actions of the Crowns are as messed up as this crime? I am horrified. How this decision is even remotely justified when 3 women had initially been charged with “Accessory After the Fact to First Degree Murder” is beyond me!”

“As a citizen that pays taxes where are the minutes of that meeting?” questioned a livid Ann. “I want to know what was said and how this was decided! I have the right as a Canadian citizen to be able to view those records! We’ve all been through a level below hell. The silence is over.”

“This can’t be happening in our town.” Lynn speaks softly. “You watch these stories of murder cases on T.V. but it doesn’t happen in our town. We can’t let this happen. We’re fighting for our kids, we’re fighting for us…”

“…and we’re fighting for Wes to be heard,” interjected Ann adding, “We’ve talked about the evidence in this case. There’s so much of it! We want all the evidence on the judge’s table.”

Should the three co-accused be released back into society do these mothers fear for the safety of their children? Themselves? The community?

“Yes.”

“Definitely.”

“Yes. And when they get out, why do they get to come back to Sault Ste. Marie? Why do we have to leave? Why can’t they be placed somewhere else?” questioned Lynn.

“Does it even matter if they are banned from the Sault,” remarked Rose who quoted her child who questioned is it not against the law to commit murder. “The release of these hardened criminals, represent a danger to the community where no one will be safe.”

These mothers emphasized that the loss they have experienced because of this tragedy could not be as great as the ultimate loss of another mother, Sandra Hallam, but they publicly disclosed for the first time, the anguish this terrifying event has brought into their lives. All of these mothers fear for the loss of their children’s lives- by their own hand, should these men be released back into the community within 22 months.

Each mother tearfully spoke about their child’s risk to suicide and dependence on drugs to self-medicate. These families expressed a deficit in resources to support victims of crime, often having to reach into their own threadbare pockets to try to cover the costs of counselling for their children. The 10 hours of therapy provided through the Victim and Witness Assistance Program just isn’t enough. As a result these mothers had to maintain suicide watches over their children.

“The potential for suicide was very real,” shared Rose. “These young people felt they had very little recourse. My child couldn’t go into a bathroom with a bathtub in it for the longest period of time. The traumatic impact was so unshakeable, it took years for my child to be able to smile again. In truth, my child having a child of her own is what saved my child’s life. Finally, the horror of that experience had to be put on the back burner, because having a child somehow forces one to focus on the now, and in this case, being the best parent one can be for that child. And now this happened and this has reopened a whole can of worms. This young person has said that ‘if these guys are released I will no longer be able to live in this town, relocating with my child is my only option’.”

“My child is talking about suicide again. All last week there were rumors flying around and I discounted them. He told me if they got out he would commit suicide.” Ann’s voice cracked. “He’s scared. He’s walking the halls again at night, not sleeping until 5 or 6 in the morning. Through all of this my child became a fentanyl abuser, a coke addict. We’ve lost everything through this. This fucking year, 2016, we’re just getting our lives back together. My child’s been drug free for almost a year- and now this happens?”

“My child talks about suicide often too,” Lynn whispers. “When we were getting ready to meet with the police this weekend we thought it was going to be good news. But then the bomb dropped. I haven’t cried like that for years. Today my child smoked a fentanyl patch, he coughs all the time, he says he needs the fix to get those horrifying images and memories off his brain. And all those horrifying sleeps he has… He can’t keep a job because of this too. It was funny because two weeks ago he called his counsellor, he was ready to get back on his feet again, but there was no funding. Now we have to deal with this all over again. He says he’ll leave town if these guys get out. He can’t leave town on his own, so we have to leave town? With our family? Because of the people that did this?”

All of their children have experienced threats, intimidation and physical attacks associated with Wesley’s murder. All three mothers are saddened that their children have been connected to the men accused in this most heinous crime.

“Our children suffered extreme stigmatization from both sides of this grisly murder. Hated, despised and threatened for not having the power to bounce quickly from the shock and horror of their experience to report this crime, and fearing for the lives of themselves and their families for being ‘rats’,” remarked Rose.

“Our kids were looked at as part of the freak show, they were monsters,” commented Ann.

“These children were confronted by people that were very demonic in their behaviour,” added Rose. “I don’t think these children should be judged so harshly for not being strong enough to stand up against these three people that were crazy enough to do this sort of thing. But still, with time they came forth, as we prompted them to do so, trusted in our judicial system, and provided testimony.”

Though these three mothers were compelled by the timing of this situation to speak out on behalf of their children, these women were equally passionate about publicly extending love and support to the Hallam family- something they have wanted to do for five and a half years.

“Every one of us wanted to reach out to Ms. Hallam,” admitted Ann. “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to approach her, we just honestly didn’t know what to say. Condolences and sympathies have no meaning in such an awful matter such as this.”

“And our children have always been on the Hallam’s side. It is unfortunate that we have arrived to this point but perhaps now we can use this as an opportunity to really be here together to fully support one another and hopefully the Hallams will want to accept that support,” said Rose gently.

According to these three moms conversations with local authorities have encouraged distraught witnesses and their families that they are not powerless to attempt to change the outcome- or at least have their voices heard.

With her voice climbing to the point of a crescendo Ann fervently articulated the mother’s expectations of what they would like to see happen. “Police officers are hoping that with enough community support in all shapes, forms and ways –including the victim impact statements, that we can convince that judge that it was not manslaughter and that the community will not accept manslaughter. In this horrific case where a young person lost their life in such a horrible way there’s got to be a saner consequence than manslaughter! We want first degree murder for justice! For Wesley Hallam! And we want those three men to be banned from Sault Ste. Marie should they ever be released.”

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On Saturday, July 16th, 2016 these women were separately informed about the Crown’s decision. On Sunday evening, these women finally reached out to one another and met for the first time. These moms contacted the Northern Hoot on Sunday night seeking a platform for their voice. After concluding their interview with the Northern Hoot these women whipped out a petition calling for justice for Wesley Hallam. At the time of publication the petition had nearly 2,000 signatures. Since publishing an article featuring the concerns and outrage of Wesley Hallam’s mom, Sandra, on Monday the community sprang into action. A Facebook page ‘Justice for Wesley and Family’ has been developed and plans to protest the Crown Attorney office and Courthouse are underfoot.

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