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Officer's passion creates optimism

His dedication to Phoenix case moving

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The testimony of police, whose dedication and passion solved the murder of Phoenix Sinclair and brought her killers to justice, was a beacon of hope to reporter James Turner, who doesn't often have such experiences on the job.

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The testimony of police, whose dedication and passion solved the murder of Phoenix Sinclair and brought her killers to justice, was a beacon of hope to reporter James Turner, who doesn't often have such experiences on the job.

I write about criminals, courts and crime for a living.

By virtue of this, a certain tolerance -- even curiosity -- regarding the depths of human misery and the darker side of humanity is required, even inherent in the job description.

I take no delight in the material I encounter, and I'd be lying if I said the things I choose to immerse myself in nearly daily didn't affect my view of the world in some not-so-great ways.

But it's very rare that I'm moved to near tears at what I hear and see. After all, I often remind myself, it wasn't me this horrible stuff happened to.

It isn't me, thank God, who's forced to deal with the wrenching emotional aftershocks and feelings of loss criminal acts more often than not leave in their wake. But there are moments at work where I'm simply moved as a human being by the passion and determination of others to find a measure of justice in the depths of awfulness.

This happened several times this year, but no one time more so than on a particular day of covering the interminable public inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death.

Specifically, it happened when the RCMP officer tasked with bringing this little child's despicable caregivers/killers to justice took the witness stand to describe the investigation he and his colleagues undertook -- well after it was too late to save her.

Initially, Cpl. Robert Baker said, there was hope for Phoenix -- hope the egregious complaint of child abuse he was tapped to investigate in March 2006 would be unfounded.

"It was almost, it was unimaginable," Baker testified of the terrifying information that set off the RCMP's probe. "And that part of me led me to hope that maybe it wasn't true, that perhaps we could, we could still find her," he said, frankly.

Without rehashing again the details of the vast police inquiry Phoenix's murder, Baker played a key role in helping set up a sting leading to the arrest of Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's mother.

From the moment her deception by trying to pass off another child as Phoenix was confirmed, the web of lies Kematch and boyfriend Karl McKay had long spun began to totally unravel under Baker's scrutiny.

Phoenix had been missing for about nine months at the time police were notified something was up. It took Baker and his colleagues about three days to put the major components of their challenging homicide investigation together.

The police findings were horrific, disturbing and completely deserving of the first-degree murder charges that were ultimately authorized by the Crown, and proven in court.

It's rare to hear a cop talk on the public record about how it felt to handle a major case. But Baker, when asked, didn't hesitate too much to offer up an answer.

"This case was extremely difficult for the police on a personal level," Baker said. "This case really tugged at everybody."

You could hear a pin drop in the dowdy hotel room the inquiry party had gathered in on this April day.

Like many things I observe, the substance of Baker's evidence filled me with a feeling of dread. But looking beyond that, seeing the work that went into it all, I felt pride.

I was sickened at hearing, yet again and in gory detail, what police uncovered in the case; how much work had to go into the interrogations of Kematch and McKay to get them to own up to what they did.

To be perfectly frank, it was this feeling of gratitude that brought me near tears.

Pride that these perfect strangers appeared to care more about this little girl than virtually anyone else ever seemed to.

I confess, I had to stop myself from approaching Baker after the hearing just to say "thanks" for the work he did for her.

I guess you could consider this article to be just that.

james.turner@freepress.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 A13

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Updated on Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM CST: Removes pull quote error

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