Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What is the moral high ground?

Incarceration for long-ago crime may be best thing that ever happened to killer

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The May long weekend of 1990 saw highways filled with the usual migration of campers and cottagers leaving their city worries behind. And sometime before their mass return from campsites and cabins, Winnipeg would record a murder, a horrific sex slaying, that shook Fort Rouge and River Heights to the core.

Shirley Andronowich, a wife and mother, was walking by herself near her home on Ebby Street in the late, dark hours that long-weekend Saturday. A man, 27, some 15 years her junior, approached her. He would be the last person she'd ever see.

When he was finished, Shirley's clothes were twisted and pulled, a purse strap wrapped around her neck. Unspeakable mutilation mixed with sexual frenzy characterized her killing, as did the 55-pound chunk of concrete curbing that erased her face. A surreal scene left for an early morning walker to find behind Grant Park High School.

A random killing. A pathologist catalogued the violence. A family left in shambles. A maze of theories and dead ends.

The killer was an ordinary nobody; his name, Mark Jarman.

His arrest a year later was just as ordinary. He gave a longish exhale before his detailed confession to my partner and me. It was an unremarkable recounting that seemed to belie the crime's brutality and began with a ditty about two ships passing in the night. Mixed into those calm waters was his peculiar curiosity about the latent similarities between him and any suspect profile we may have had.

Before his arrest, Jarman's life, mired in addiction, spiralled out of control. His secret haunted him. Months after the slaying, he made boozy, oblique references to murder in front of people. That, and his erratic behaviour with a gun, ate away at a good buddy's conscience -- until a first anniversary media blitz.

A call to the police from the buddy and the painstaking, meticulous work by Winnipeg and other forensic experts 12 months earlier paid off.

Dentistry, DNA, fingerprints and even geology solidified the buddy's worst suspicions. Jarman was tracked to a jail where he was serving time for some petty crime. It was there that we heard the tale of two ships.

He got the maximum and the minimum -- 25 years before the possibility of parole (he's got about seven left) but he landed in a British Columbia prison with a pet cat where, a few years ago, he discovered art.

Volunteer workers developed a program called Inside Art. Stacey Corriveau, the program's co-ordinator with a background in art adjudication, was convinced of his raw talent and, with her business savvy, helped to develop it along with its marketability.

Funding issues suspended the art program and Jarman, Corriveau says, was later transferred to a minimum security, no walls, cottage-type facility, also in B.C.

She also says that somewhere along the way, he found religion and now occupies his days doing chapel maintenance.

Corriveau maintains some contact with him and says he is a changed man. That his debt is paid. Corriveau's stalwart belief that he deserves early release -- "enough is enough" -- finds support in some studies and even in funding circles.

A monstrous crime and a killer who was maybe more ordinary than monster. Should that matter?

Should his ordinariness, artistic ability, or seeing the face of Jesus in his soup have any bearing on imprisonment? Should a measure of worthiness, a favourably assessed danger level or talk of inmate housing costs end in a shrug sprinkled with mercy?

Should sympathy trump the permanency of Shirley Andronowich's last minutes?

What and where is the moral high ground?

Incarceration for that long-ago crime may be the best thing that ever happened to Jarman. And maybe he knows that. Despite those backing his early release, he has made no play to affect one.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2008 a10

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