Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Life in prison in 'Mr. Big' sting

Killer gets sentenced after RCMP undercover job

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DAUPHIN -- The Crown painted him as a ruthless, cold-blooded killer who had visions of becoming a professional hit man and showed no remorse.

The defence argued he was just a dumb, young kid who made a drunken mistake, panicked and then got in over his head.

So who is the real Christopher Shewchuk? A Manitoba judge believes he's likely somewhere in between the two vastly different pictures painted during a sentencing hearing involving a successful "Mr. Big" police sting operation.

Shewchuk, 32, was handed a life term behind bars for second-degree murder Thursday afternoon with no chance of parole for at least 13 years. Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin increased parole eligibility from the mandatory minimum of 10, but stopped short of the 15 years the Crown was seeking.

Notably, parole eligibility is not a guarantee of release, just the opportunity to apply.

"What you did, Mr. Shewchuk, was a cowardly, despicable act," Martin said.

'What you did, Mr. Shewchuk, was a cowardly, despicable act'

-- Justice Chris Martin, sentencing Shewchuk

Martin praised the "dogged determination" of RCMP investigators who broke open the 2003 disappearance of 25-year-old Derek Kembel with their elaborate undercover project in 2011. And he spoke personally to the victim's family members, who packed the courtroom and heard gruesome details about what occurred.

"I have heard your unimaginable pain and grief," said Martin.

Shewchuk pleaded guilty to second-degree murder just as his trial was set to begin earlier this month.

Court heard his audio and video confessions where he repeatedly boasted to undercover police officers about how he killed Kembel, then got away with it for years. He told a Mountie posing as a gang hit man how he "blasted' Kembel twice with a shotgun as the man pleaded for his life, then drove his body for an hour to a family farm, repeatedly burned it and then disposed of the remains while keeping the deadly secret.

"While this may not have been the perfect crime, it was good enough to cover this up for eight years," Martin said Thursday.

Shewchuk told the secret agent he decided to kill Kembel, a complete stranger, after seeing the man flirting with his ex-girlfriend at a Dauphin bar earlier that night.

'No question the undercover operation was ingenious. But many of the things he talked about just don't conform to the evidence'

-- Shewchuk's attorney, Jeff Gindin

"It's pulp fiction," defence lawyer Jeff Gindin said during his submission Thursday. He argued that much of what Shewchuk said during the Mr. Big sting can't be taken seriously because of how investigators seduced his client with the promise of a high-profile lifestyle if he were to admit his past sins.

"No question the undercover operation was ingenious. But many of the things he talked about just don't conform to the evidence," he said.

Gindin said his client is a simple, unsophisticated man with a Grade 8 education who grew up in a small town and was dazzled by the potential lifestyle RCMP enticed him with during the four-month operation. An undercover officer playing the role of a gang member first approached Shewchuk in a Dauphin bar in late 2010, asking him to help track someone down who had wronged him. It was the start of a well-planned trap that included 58 different scenarios for Shewchuk.

"It was carefully orchestrated. Lots of promises were made. Lots of money was shown. It's a brilliant creation for what it was intended to achieve," said Gindin.

Shewchuk was paid more than $20,000 for work he completed on behalf of the "gang," including bag drops and pickups. He was taken on trips to Vancouver and Montreal, treated to fancy dinners and was a frequent guest at strip clubs. Police even used tactics such as staged fights and seemingly "buying off" the police during a staged traffic stop to show Shewchuk how much power this supposed gang had.

"Money was being flashed all over the place," said Gindin, noting his client had no prior criminal record. "This was all new to him."

As a result, Shewchuk made himself out to be more dangerous and deadly than he really was, Gindin said. He claims his client really only shot Kembel once, not twice as he told police. And burning the body was not part of some calculated plan.

"In a state of shock he panicked. An instinct kicked in," said Gindin. "It was a terrible loss of control. These were the actions of a (then) 21-year-old kid who was drunk. And who was jealous."

The Crown saw it differently, saying Shewchuk's actions are closer to first-degree murder given how deliberate both the killing, and the coverup, truly were. Shewchuk also told undercover officers he'd been willing to kill again for the group if required.

During the sting, police learned Shewchuk had broken up with his girlfriend, whom he saw flirting with Kembel hours before the murder as they socialized together at a bar. Kembel accepted the woman's invitation to go back to her apartment to continue drinking -- only to arrive to find Shewchuk was there.

Shewchuk was angry with Kembel, whom he didn't previously know. After the woman fell asleep, Shewchuk offered Kembel a ride home, drove him to a secluded area and killed him before burning the body.

"I'm sorry for what I put the family through," Shewchuk said Thursday when asked if he had anything to say. The judge questioned whether he realized the "enormity" of what he'd done and asked what he was thinking, both during the murder and in the years that followed.

"I'm embarrassed by my actions. I'm embarrassed by the whole situation. I feel remorse for the family," said Shewchuk.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 A3


Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 7:30 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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