Winnipeg police say desperation to bring closure to grieving families drove them to pay off accused serial killer Shawn Lamb -- a move that's under legal scrutiny and could have sunk the case against him.
Full details emerged Friday of the $1,500 deal, one day after Lamb's defence lawyer first raised eyebrows by accusing police of crossing a line and essentially buying a confession from his client, which likely would have been ruled inadmissible at trial.
Supt. Danny Smyth of the criminal investigations unit defended the decision, saying officers had the tough job of trying to break open a high-profile and sensitive investigation.
"This is an extraordinary measure we considered," said Smyth. "The Winnipeg Police Service is sensitive to the fact there are many missing and murdered women in Manitoba and in Canada. These investigations are a priority for us. In this case, the investigators explored all available options in the interest of justice and public safety."
Lamb, 54, struck a plea bargain with the Crown to plead guilty Thursday to two counts of manslaughter and receive a 20-year sentence. The Crown dropped more serious murder charges and a mandatory life sentence.
'In my time, this is the first time I can recall us going to that kind of a measure' -- Supt. Danny Smyth of the criminal investigations unit
Police outlined in detail Friday how their contact and payment to Lamb came about.
"I would say this is very unusual. In my time, this is the first time I can recall us going to that kind of a measure," said Smyth.
Lamb was initially arrested on a sexual assault unrelated to any homicide. While being processed, "Mr. Lamb indicated he knew where a body was. This statement triggered a homicide investigation," said Smyth.
Police were eventually led to the body of Carolyn Sinclair, 25. Her remains were found March 31, 2012, wrapped in plastic inside a duffel bag near a garbage can on Notre Dame Avenue.
But Lamb refused to co-operate further and did not give a formal statement. There was no evidence against him and he was not charged with Sinclair's killing at that time.
Lamb was eventually released on bail, only to return to custody months later. In June 2012, he broke his silence and told police he wanted to broker a deal.
"He indicated he had more information to relate about the homicide and other crimes he committed," said Smyth.
Police consulted the Crown about how to proceed and set up a special "canteen fund" at the Winnipeg Remand Centre for Lamb. An initial $600 was deposited, which Lamb could use to buy personal items such as snacks and magazines.
Smyth said it's important to note police were still treating Lamb as a potential informant at that time, not as a suspect. Investigators then sat down with Lamb, who had plenty to say.
He not only confessed to killing Sinclair, but also slaying Lorna Blacksmith. At the time, Blacksmith was still listed as a missing person. Lamb led investigators to her body, just as he'd done with Sinclair.
Lamb was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, but told police he wanted to keep talking -- for a price. "He continued to contact investigators, indicating he would provide more information about other homicides he was involved in," Smyth said.
Police met with Lamb on two further occasions, depositing another $600 and then $300 into his account.
"Neither provided investigators with any additional evidence," said Smyth.
The issue hit the legislature Friday when Progressive Conservative justice critic Reg Helwer said the government needs to review whether it's appropriate to pay criminals to solve crimes they commit.
"The other real issue is, did the justice minister approve this beforehand?" Helwer said. "It's a very distressing way to go about prosecuting a crime if the only way that we can prove guilt is by paying the criminal himself or herself. Is that the direction that our justice system is supposed to operate?"
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Andrew Swan confirmed the Crown attorney's office advised police after they made a request.
Smyth said police were put in a difficult position, knowing there would be no case without Lamb's co-operation. "This brought closure to the families of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith," said Smyth. "It was hoped subsequent information would be forthcoming to bring closure to the families of other victims that Mr. Lamb may have been involved in."
-- with files from Bruce Owen