Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Responding to Laurie Bell's family
A reader has taken me to task for my recent blog on Laurie Bell.As you may have read in the post below, a woman named Lynn - who happens to be a relative of the convicted police killer - has expressed concerns about many aspects of my coverage.I feel the need to respond to some of Lynn's points - and to invite other readers to do the same.First, here's a recap of what Lynn had to say (you can read the full blog about Laurie Bell by scanning down)"Ive had a real eye-opener concerning the media. Some reporters are using a very real tragedy to create their own fictional accounts and scenarios for their own personal gain and profit. Perhaps writing a book? Sensationalizing and using half truths and calling this reporting is wrong. Anyone checking the facts would know that during the trial, the judge repeatedly told the jury that listening to jailhouse informants is dangerous. That this so called “informant”, admitted that she lies. That Laurie Bell was not the person charged with throwing urine. That the parole board asked the 5 foot 95 pound girl if she found she needed to defend herself against bigger inmates because of her small stature. I don’t believe she is a violent person by nature. The public only hears what reporters want to write and that will sell newspapers. No one wants to hear how she has grown and matured. Or that she has used the programs available to her and has acquired her G.E.D. You cant believe everything you see on tv or in this case, read about."
Before I respond, a couple notes.It is true I wrote a book on the Dennis Strongquill case, which certainly explored the role Laurie Bell played in his December 2001 death - from the Crown's theory to the ultimate finding by the jury.In researching "Nowhere To Run"
during the summer/fall of 2003, I extended numerous offers to the Bell family to speak candidly about the young woman. Although a handful of distant relatives, along with numerous friends and associates, agreed to speak out, Laurie's inner circle of family refused. As did Laurie herself. That was certainly their right, but I always made it clear that they were missing out on a golden opportunity to share details on this troubled young woman's life.I would still welcome, now five years later, the opportunity to interview Laurie Bell and her family. That door still remains open.In the meantime, I will speak to the family in this forum, since they have chosen to initiate contact.*****Lynn,I feel the need to respond to your post.I'm happy to hear that Laurie Bell has apparently "grown and matured", as you write. Unfortunately, those words were not included in the National Parole Board report which, among other things, finds her to be an "undue risk" to commit a violent crime upon release from prison.I truly hope she has reformed - society is a much better place when convicted criminals are able to re-enter society and make a clean start of it.The recent story about Laurie's case was a summary of the concerns expressed by the NPB. Perhaps they will end up being unfounded. Only time will tell.But to suggest the story has been "fictionalized" is false.I think it is clear to everyone that Laurie Bell was convicted of manslaughter, not murder. (Otherwise, we certainly wouldn't even be talking about parole at this stage) The Crown's theory was that she played a much more active role in Dennis Strongquill's death. Jurors clearly rejected that theory, which was largely based on the testimony of a jailhouse informant. That has been reported, clearly and accurately, from day one.No doubt there are many people - Strongquill's family included - who believe Laurie "got away with murder". That is their right.I have no doubt Laurie has had a difficult time in prison. Contrary to what many Canadians think, jail is no holiday for most.Hopefully she has used her time behind bars wisely and the grim prognosis for her success proves to be a false alarm.I would happily write that story one day.In the meantime, I am very proud of the work I did on Nowhere To Run and certainly stand by it. I did not fictionalize any aspect of the story and believe Laurie Bell was presented in a fair and very accurate way, based on all the information that was available to me about her background.I've always believed - and stated in countless interviews - that I believe Laurie was a naive, impressionable young woman who was somewhat manipulated by the Sand brothers and got in way over her head. And I honestly believe the jury's verdict was a fair one - and the one I would have reached after hearing all the evidence against her.But I also strongly disagree with Laurie's claim to parole board officials that she's somehow gotten a bad deal here and done far more time for her crime than she deserves.The fact is, spending seven years in prison for her role in such a horrific killing should be considered a break.She's going to get her second chance. Dennis Strongquill never will.www.mikeoncrime.com