A man police suspected of preying on and killing multiple missing Winnipeg women will serve 20 years behind bars with no chance of parole for nearly a decade.
Shawn Cameron Lamb, 54, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter Thursday for the deaths of Carolyn Sinclair, 25, and Lorna Blacksmith, 18.
Second-degree murder charges were dropped.
And while the public and the families of his victims may rest easier knowing Lamb will be locked away for years, it almost never happened.
He nearly walked free.
COLLARED by police on an unrelated matter in June 2012, Lamb, a career criminal, made a startling admission: He knew where to find a body.
This led investigators to the grim discovery of Blacksmith's remains at the rear of a vacant home at 797 Simcoe St., partially covered by pallets and a metal cot.
She had been missing for about six months. Her body was wrapped in plastic and in an advanced state of decomposition.
The cause of her death could not be determined beyond a finding she died of "unspecified homicidal violence."
On June 22 and 23 -- after allegedly being paid cash by police to cough up more information -- Lamb gave a series of statements implicating himself in not only Blacksmith's death, but also that of another unsolved case of a missing woman.
Carolyn Sinclair's remains were found March 31, 2012, wrapped in plastic inside a duffle bag near a garbage can on Notre Dame Avenue.
Lamb admitted to killing both women and detailed how he did it.
He and Sinclair met on Dec. 18, 2011, bought crack cocaine and returned to his suite at 822 Notre Dame Ave.
At some point, Sinclair grabbed the remaining drugs and locked herself in the bathroom. Lamb responded by bashing the door with an axe handle until she opened it.
"What the f are you doing... why are you stealing this s ?," he said, before hitting her in the head several times with the handle and then choking the life out of her.
Lamb smoked some more crack and went to buy beer. He left her body for several days before disposing of it in the back lane. She died of blunt force trauma to her head.
Blacksmith also died in a drug-related dispute with Lamb, just three weeks after he killed Sinclair, police were told.
He grew angry after she grabbed his phone to call a drug dealer and he knocked her down and choked her with an electrical cord.
He said he tried to revive her but couldn't. He wrapped her in layers of plastic stolen from a nearby construction site and left her behind the home on Simcoe.
A statement of facts presented in court said the only forensic evidence police found was Sinclair's DNA in Lamb's bathroom.
And if Lamb's statement didn't hold up in court, the DNA was essentially meaningless in terms of proving a criminal charge.
Lamb was remanded into custody and never made a bail application.
Police also charged him with murder in connection with the death of a third woman who had been declared missing, Tanya Nepinak, but that did not form part of Thursday's court hearing.
That case is still pending in provincial court. "Stay tuned," is all Lamb's lawyer would say about it after court.
The plea deal
AFTER months of extensive discussions, a deal was recently reached whereby Lamb would admit guilt to lesser charges of manslaughter, court heard.
"There were no eyewitnesses to the killings and despite the best efforts of police, only limited forensic evidence is available to be put before the court," Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rick Saull.
"Consequently, the description of the killing of both women is taken solely from... Lamb's statement," said Leinburd.
The Crown would take a huge risk by putting the case to trial, she added.
Leinburd said the Crown was faced with the "likely exclusion" of Lamb's police statement if he challenged it as inadmissible evidence.
If so, there would be "little if any" prospect of holding Lamb accountable, Leinburd said.
He could have been acquitted.
"This is, in fact, the quintessential instance of a true quid pro quo (meaning 'this for that')," she said.
LAMB knew full well he had a shot at beating the charges, but agreed to plead guilty to fulfil a promise made at his mother's gravesite sometime after the killings, defence lawyer Martin Glazer said. "Police were faced with a windfall because they had no clue he was involved," said Glazer. "He provided the answers they needed... today he stands up in court and stands by his confession."
Glazer said it "was obvious" Lamb's statement would have been tossed out at trial. " 'I told the police I did it, I'm not taking it back,' " the lawyer says Lamb told him.
"How many people in his shoes would do that?" Glazer asked. He also pointed to apology letters Lamb wrote to his victims' families and to "the public" on the day he confessed.
Glazer relayed to the court how Lamb has had a horrendous drug addiction since he was 12 -- a factor that's played a major role in how he's earned his pages-long criminal record.
"Shawn is the first to admit he wasted most of his life abusing substances," Glazer said. "With treatment (in custody) he can become law-abiding... there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Taken from his aboriginal family and adopted into an abusive Barrie, Ont., home at a young age, Lamb's loss of contact with his heritage put him on a path to serious personal problems, court heard.
With his age, poor health and the often-hostile jailhouse environment he lives in, Lamb may die in prison, Glazer said.
"In effect, it is a life sentence. He will be in his 70s when he does get released -- if he lives that long," he told Saull.
Offered a chance to speak, Lamb caused a stir when he initially signalled he wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas after the word "sociopath" was used to describe him in a report he says he never saw or read. "That is enough to make me want to rescind my pleas," Lamb said, his voice gruff and low.
He later changed his mind. Lamb spoke at length to Saull, saying he never wanted to fight the case at trial.
"I wanted to take responsibility," he said. Apologizing isn't going to do any good, he said. "An apology is nothing. It doesn't change what happened."
"I am sorry, and I mean that," said Lamb. "I have empathy and I have remorse, for sure. I've taken responsibility," he said.
"I left the door open for my addiction to take control. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol... I turn into a monster at times."
The court's decision
AFTER taking about two hours to think over the prison sentence proposed by the Crown and defence, Saull returned to court and endorsed it.
He refused to recite the facts of Lamb's crimes, saying he wanted to spare the family and friends of the victims in court the angst of hearing them again.
People need to understand, Saull said: Despite the immense publicity Lamb's case has generated outside his courtroom, it wouldn't be accounted for in his decision.
"I must stress that I'm confined to consideration of what was put before me today and nothing that was... printed in the media or has been circulated by word of mouth," the judge said.
"I cannot say that following the recommendation before me would bring the administration of justice into disrepute nor would be contrary to the public interest," said Saull. "That is the test. And I say this not just for the benefit of the accused, but for the benefit of the interested parties in this courtroom."
Saull credited Lamb for two years of time already served, but set his eligibility to request parole at nine years.
If he doesn't receive parole, Lamb's sentence won't expire until he's 72.
"He may never see the outside of a prison again given his age, his maladies," Saull said.
Saull recommended Lamb serve his time in prisons outside the Prairies, as requested by Glazer.
Did the Crown make the right decision to cut a deal with Shaun Lamb to make certain he went to prison? Join the conversation in the comments below