Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
She played a key role in one of the most shocking murders in Manitoba history.And now, just a little over seven years after RCMP Const. Dennis Strongquill was ambushed on the highway and gunned down in cold blood, Laurie Bell is about to regain her freedom.
As I report in Wednesday's Free Press
, Bell will be given statutory release in mid-March after serving two-thirds of her sentence for manslaughter. Her co-accused ex-boyfriend, Robert Sand, continues to serve his life sentence for first-degree murder.
Bell's release is coming with all kinds of controversy. And it certainly has brought up some memories for me, having written extensively about Bell and Sand in my 2003 true crime book "Nowhere To Run: The Killing of Const. Dennis Strongquill"
She has been deemed a serious risk to re-offend, has refused to attend treatment programs behind bars, has been in numerous violent and sexual encounters with other inmates, has been caught using intoxicants while in custody and has displayed a lack of insight and remorse for her crimes, according to parole documents obtained this week.Other than that, she's a model inmate!
(She also claims she "lights a candle" on the anniversary of Strongquill's death every year and has discovered the Muslim faith while behind bars)And yet despite all these warning signs, Bell is being sprung from prison with more than two full years remaining on her sentence - albeit with several special conditions imposed on her which hopefully reduces the risk to public safety.The National Parole Board says its hands are tied. And they're correct.That's because this is strictly the call of another government agency - the Correctional Service of Canada - who do have the ability to overrule the two-thirds release in exceptional cases and keep an inmate until their full sentence expires.But apparently Bell's crime and background doesn't meet their criteria and no such action is being taken.And so she will be allowed to resume her life, while the rest of society hopes and prays another innocent victim doesn't have to pay the ultimate price.Bell's release comes just weeks after a CSC review board publicly released some shocking figures about the large volume of inmates given statutory release - try two out of every three! - who re-offend. At least one in 10 commits a serious offence such as murder.Lovely.The board has also recommended the Conservative government scrap statutory release in favour of something called "earned parole", which would make it far more challenging for a criminal to get out after two-thirds.Of course, this would also require an estimated $70 million per year - over 10 years - in government funding for all the additional prison space that would be required.Will Laurie Bell's name soon be added to that statistic. Or will she surprise everyone and make a decent, law-abiding life for herself?Bell has reportedly claimed to prison officials she got a raw deal from the justice system, that her sentence was too long and that people who do far worse have gotten far less.I'm not sure which planet Bell lives on, but in my view doing just over seven years total for your role in killing an innocent, unsuspecting police officer qualifies as nothing short of a love tap from the justice system.I'd love to know where you stand on this.
What do you think the odds are of Bell re-offending? Should statutory release be scrapped as the review board suggests? Should $700 million be spent on additional prison space? Should a person convicted of killing a police officer even be eligible for parole?Post your thoughts below. You can also click HERE
to vote on this issue in my latest website jury poll.