I always cringe when I hear Winnipeg called the "Murder Capital Of Canada" – if for no other reason than it’s an inaccurate reflection of how our justice system usually deals with homicides.
If recent history is any indication, we actually have very few murders in this city. But we sure have a ton of manslaughters, which might actually make us the "Sorry I didn’t really mean to/couldn’t for the necessary intent to murder you" capital of the country.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Take the past week, in which we’ve seen three local murder cases wiped off the books and reduced to manslaughter:
1) A young mother with a history of neglecting her children gets another chance to parent her two-year-old daughter under the supervision of Child and Family Services. While living in a women’s shelter, the woman spends several days severely abusing the little girl. She inflicts more than 30 separate injuries, including bite marks to her legs and kicks to the child’s vagina which leave a permanent foot impression behind. With the child crying and in obvious distress, the woman places her hand over the girl’s mouth and holds it there for nearly two minutes until her body goes limp. She then places the girl in her crib, covers her with a blanket, turns off the light and shuts the door, spending the next few hours alone in the quiet of her home. Police and paramedics only learn about the incident later that night when the woman’s boyfriend – who is in prison – calls them for help after speaking with the woman and finding out what happened.
The Crown has accepted a plea to manslaughter, providing no explanation for the reduced charge. Sentencing has been adjourned until a later date. Hopefully we will find out a lot more about the rational for what appears to be a pretty puzzling decision.
2) Angry after a fight with his girlfriend, Jason McDowell grabs a shotgun, loads it and fires a single blast at the woman, striking her in the face. Samantha Zeemel is still alive. He then reload, fires a second shot in the back of her head, killing her. McDowell then flees the house and spends a couple days on the run before turning himself in.
The Crown accepted a plea to manslaughter, telling court McDowell was too impaired by a four-day cocaine binge to really know what he was doing when he brutally killed the woman he supposedly loved and planned to spend the rest of his life with. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison under a joint-recommendation from lawyers.
3) Thanks to alcohol, Michael Kerr apparently has no clue what prompted him to repeatedly stick a knife into a stranger’s chest. Kerr was living inside the Garrick Hotel in downtown Winnipeg in early 2008 when he met Leonard Delorme, shared a few drinks...and then killed him. Delorme’s body was later found on a fifth-floor fire escape, having bled out hours earlier. Kerr was arrested after forensic evidence tied him to the slaying, including a garbage bag he was seen throwing out which contained the knife and a blood-soaked piece of carpet from his room.
The Crown accepted a plea to manslaughter, telling court that Kerr would have been too blitzed to really know what he was doing. They even cite the evidence of a hotel employee who saw him staggering down the hallway around the time of the killing, his jeans soaked with his own urine. His lawyer told court there is "no greater indicator" of how drunk his client was than the fact he had soiled himself. The Crown is seeking 15 years for Kerr, while his lawyers have asked for nine years. The judge will give her decision later this week.
Throw in the jury’s decision last week to acquit Shaun Nodrick of any wrongdoing in the death of an elderly man he admits to robbing and leaving alone in a field, and you have four very recent examples of murder cases which really weren’t, at least in the true legal sense of the word.
Is it justice? I suspect the families of all these victims, and likely a large degree of the public, will say it’s not. But it is certainly reality, especially in a very crowded legal system in which the daily dockets seem to be filled with violent crimes often triggered by drugs and alcohol.
So get used to seeing plenty more of these type of plea bargains – and maybe it’s time to find a new slogan for the city.