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Let’s Make A Deal

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If you're looking for a killer deal these days, Manitoba Justice seems to be the place to go shopping.

There have been a wave of "plea bargains" going down at the Winnipeg courthouse in which seemingly everyone but the criminal is walking away unhappy with the result.

The most recent example came Thursday, when a man was let out of jail after admitting his role in the random beating death of a teenage visitor to the city.

Daniel Henderson, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for officials dropping a more serious charge of second-degree murder.

He was given credit for two-and-a-half years of time spent in custody, which magically became five years on paper under the now-outlawed practice of awarding double-time credit.

(A quick note. Although the federal government announced legislative changes earlier this year which prohibits 2-for-1 discounts, anyone who was arrested prior to the amendments still qualifies).

But unlike other recent deals - some of which I wrote about in this blog post - the Crown attorney took the rare step of providing extremely detailed reasons for why it was happening.

And for that he should be applauded.

"Are we comfortable with this recommendation? No, we are not," prosecutor Dale Harvey told court, the frustration evidence in his voice.

Harvey explained why making a deal with Henderson was a necessary evil that actually came with the blessing of the victim's family.

He said there was a strong chance the Crown would have lost its case entirely had they gone to trial, meaning Henderson wouldn't even have a conviction on his record. Two key witnesses drastically changed their stories and would have come under serious attack in cross-examination, which could have resulted in a jury finding Henderson not guilty of any crime.

"We had to compromise our position so a guilty party didn't walk away. It's one of the big dilemmas for Crown counsel," Harvey said.

Harvey said his department consulted the victim's family and explained the situation. He said the sentence for Henderson will not be used as a precedent for future cases, including a co-accused who has yet to be sentenced and likely faces a stiffer sanction.

"The (family) has forgiven the offender and are glad they're not having to come to court," Harvey said.

I'm sure there are plenty of people rolling their eyes at this explanation and questioning what the Crown had to lose by taking their chances at trial - especially since Henderson was immediately let out of jail this week.

But Harvey told court that, at the very least, Henderson now has a manslaughter conviction on his record which will be used against him "should he ever return to the courts."

For the family, there is the acknowledgment that Henderson played a role in their son's death, he said.

A loss at trial and neither of those would have occurred.

Whether you agree with the decision or not, at least justice officials attempted to explain it to the public.

Let's hope that continues to happen in the future as "Let's Make A Deal" continues to be played by our justice system.

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About Mike McIntyre

Journalist, national radio show host, author, pundit and cruise director ... Mike McIntyre loves to keep busy.

Mike is the justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, where he has worked since 1997. He produces and hosts the weekly talk radio show Crime and Punishment, which runs on the Corus Radio Network in several Canadian cities.

Born and bred in Winnipeg, Mike graduated from River East Collegiate and completed his journalism studies in the Creative Communications program at Red River College.

He and his wife, Chassity, have two children.

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