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  • Was "evil rapist" doomed by circumstances?

    06/13/2013 12:36 PM

    Grave. Serious. Vulgar. Horrific.

    Those are just a few of the terms used by a judge to describe a random attack that saw a troubled Winnipeg teen break into a Fort Richmond home, confront the young female resident and then brutally sexually assault her as she pleaded for mercy.

    It was, without a doubt, one of the more chilling crime cases I've covered in my 18 years.

    On Wednesday, Judge Ray Wyant decided an adult sentence was needed for the youth to reflect the brutality of the crime. He concluded provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act are not sufficient to properly condemn what happened and protect society from the accused.

    It was a remarkable sentencing process, one which isn't done yet. Lawyers will return to court later this year to make final submissions on their proposed length of what will now be a penitentiary sentence. The Crown wants a double-digit term, which may represent the longest sentence ever given to a Manitoba youth for a non-homicide.

    This sentencing actually began last fall and continued sporadically over the past nine months as Wyant requested more and more information and Crown and defence lawyers provided further reports and evidence.

    Much of it was designed to learn what made this young man tick.

    We learned plenty about him: how he lived, as Wyant put it, a "lifestyle of anti-social values and attitudes"; how he has admitted gang ties, severe alcohol and drug issues, lives with attention deficit disorder and, likely, fetal alcohol syndrome; how he went through a traumatic childhood which included being made a permanent CFS ward as a child and placed in foster care; and how he continues to raise hell even while behind bars.

    None of this, of course, is designed to make anyone forgive or forget the terrible crime he committed. It was savage and senseless, and he must be punished severely.

    But attempting to gain a better understanding of the root causes of his abhorrent behavior is important to finding a potential treatment plan that will, hopefully, reduce his risk to society for the eventual day when he is released from custody. 

    It is far too easy to simply say this young man is "pure evil" and think nothing more of it. I'd like to think everyone is born with a fighting chance in life, but many — either through their own actions, the actions of others or a combination of both — eventually find themselves down for the count.

    And so I share with you a very revealing email I've just received from a woman who knows this offender well — who had a front-row seat to his upbringing and shares some very alarming details about what she observed.

    The only editing done to her note is to remove the name of the accused, as that can't be made public until his adult sentence is formally imposed.

    ---

    "Mike,

    "It's difficult to find the right adjectives to describe this brutal attack," says Judge Ray Wyant. What he should have said was "Its difficult to find the right adjectives to describe the way this child was brought into this world and raised"

    (The accused) lived across the street from me. I got to know him and sympathized with him as he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was in a foster home. In all the years he was there, not once did I ever see any of the foster family play ball, go for walks, or interact in any way with any of the children she had. When it came time for family gatherings, (the accused and three foster siblings) were sent out for respite. Boy, did they feel wanted or loved? Never. So lets ask the Judge, how in the hell is he supposed to feel? Humans destroyed him before he was born. There is no help for kids like him. You cannot possibly think that any program was going to help him. It would be like buying a bag of apples and finding one bad one in the bag and putting it on your counter and think its going to be OK, well news flash, it will just become more rotten. Its hopeless. He did make lots of money for the government though. Lots of useless programs employ lots of useless people who in turn pay taxes.

    Was it his fault? Nope, was it his parents fault? Nope. Was it gramma and grampas fault, possibly. They should have shot the people who took gramma and grampa away and sent them to residential schools. Yup, that’s where it all started. The natives were jailed if they tried to raise their kids other than the white man way. It was something the Indians knew nothing about and the way they were raising them was fine.

    After so many of them were murdered, raped, secluded, beaten, of course would you not turn to alcohol? They had their identities stolen, the same way my mother did. She was a lousy mother, but it was not till now that I understand why. Finding my relatives including my mothers brothers, they told me horror stories of what happened to my mom and my aunt in the residential schools not to mention what happened to them. They would sodomize the boys. Pretty sad eh? This is what the government ordered.

    Now we have to live with the consequences. (The accused) paid dearly for being born. As did his brothers and sisters who are all FAS. They will pay for what happened to their families. They say he showed no remorse, would you if this happened to your family? I would like to ask Wyant that question. I most certainly do not condone what (the accused) did in any way, my feelings go out to the lady. But with what the government did to (the accused's) family? Judge Wyant should know what goes around comes around and now the off spring of the residential school survivors, if you want to call them survivors, is here.

    Yes I had (the accused) in my home many times. Actually he was here that same year. Waiting for his foster mother to come home and let him in. I always told him he could wait at my house. He was always polite to me, he talked, little but we had conversations. My son felt sorry for him as well, and (the accused) would always visit with him and watch him when he was rebuilding a motor or whatever in the garage. Something no one ever did with him. He was an outcast in school, bullied, only the bad kids would hand out with him. That’s how he got into drugs.

    Mike, although I believe (the accused) would never be better, no one showed that kid love at all. He was a wage for the lady across the street. That’s all. Sad Eh? All the kids she had ended up in jail. (The foster mother) was pregnant at 13, kept the baby, then gave it up for adoption, and had another boy and kept him.

    These FAS children are doomed. There is no way to heal them. Its so unfortunate. The people who created his family situation should be hung. But I am guessing by now they died thinking they did the right thing with the residential schools. So now the government is paying dearly for their mistakes. They will be paying for many many years to come."

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  • Judge Giesbrecht was one of the good ones

    05/23/2013 2:48 PM

    I always knew it was going to be a long day when I'd walk into a Winnipeg courtroom and see Linda Giesbrecht sitting behind the bench.

    This is not meant to be taken as a criticism. In fact, far from it. Spend enough time at the downtown Law Courts and you are often left with the same feeling you get in line at the deli counter.

    "Next!"

    All too often it seems quantity, not quality, is the order of the day. And with massive dockets, it's hard to blame those who work in the system with trying to be as quick as possible. But it can often leave a bad taste in the mouths of victims, family members and yes, even the criminals, when such important, even life changing events feel rushed.

    Judge Giesbrecht was different. Thick docket be damned, she was going to take her sweet time. And that meant everyone sitting in her courtroom knew they were going to get a fair shake and have their voices be heard. It also meant getting a refresher on the Criminal Code, as she often read out long passages about the law to justify and explain her decisions.

    I'll never forget covering one of Giesbrecht's cases back in 2001. It was a terrible tragedy involving a man suffering from extreme fetal alcohol syndrome who beat his roommate to death in a fit of uncontrolled rage.

    Giesbrecht spent MONTHS with this file, remanding it numerous times as she kept asking Crown and defence lawyers for more detailed information and reports from various medial and social experts. She wanted to know as much as she could about the victim, the offender and what needed to be done to ensure he was both punished and treated for a condition that was imposed on him by his alcoholic mother.

    When Giesbrecht finally did impose a sentence - two years in jail followed by a unique three-year probation order - she still wasn't done.

    In a rare move, Giesbrecht moved beyond her regular sentencing duties and planted herself directly in the middle of the man's rehabilitation. She ordered him to appear before her on a continuing basis to discuss details of his probation to ensure he was on the right track.

    There were many ups and downs which followed, but Giesbrecht kept on top of the case in a way I've never seen a judge do.

    This was just one example, of course. But it perfectly illustrates how much care she put into her job. And it stuck with me throughout the years.

    I was sad to learn in 2010 that Judge Giesbrecht was retiring, as I knew Manitoba was losing one of the true "good ones."

    And I was stunned to learn this week that she had passed away suddenly, having been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of lymphoma just last month.

    Linda Giesbrecht was just 61. Her service is being held on Friday May 24 at 2 p.m. at the Winkler Sommerfeld Mennonite Church, 189-2nd Street. In lieu of  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Judge Giesbrecht's memory to CancerCare Manitoba, donate@cancercare.mb.ca or to Variety the Children's Charity, admin@varietymanitoba.com.

     

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  • Harper sends wrong message with tweet about missing person tragedy

    05/14/2013 5:37 PM

    On Tuesday, an eight-day missing person mystery came to a tragic end in Ontario when police discovered the remains of Tim Bosma at an undisclosed location in Waterloo.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined a chorus of people offering condolences online when he posted the following on his official Twitter account (@PMHarper): "My thoughts and prayers go out to Tim Bosma’s family during this difficult time."

    Last Thursday, a seven-year missing person mystery came to a tragic end in Winnipeg when police discovered the remains of Myrna Letandre buried inside a Point Douglas rooming house.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to post any comments or condolences about the case on his official Twitter account.

    (Ironically, Harper had an up-close view of the local tragedy: He happened to be in Winnipeg on Friday for an announcement on cyberbullying, which is the same day RCMP held a big news conference confirming Letandre’s death. Winnipeg wasn’t entirely forgotten, however. Harper’s Tweets last week did include wishing a "happy birthday" to Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge).

    Look, this isn’t meant to be a political rant. Nor is it meant to be a comparison of two terrible tragedies. But anyone with a set of eyes can’t help but notice the optics on this.

    And to be frank, the optics stink.

    There is a long, troubling and well-documented history in this country of vulnerable First Nations people like Letandre who have vanished without a trace. Some have eventually turned up dead. Many others remain missing.

    And there an equally long, troubling and well-documented perception that these types of cases barely get on the radar of the public, let alone police and politicians. It’s why we just went through an extremely damning public inquiry into the Robert Pickton serial killer case in B.C. It’s why joint-task forces have been set up in Alberta and Manitoba to study cases like Letandre’s.

    And it’s why someone with Stephen Harper’s clout should be very, very careful about the message he sends when he offers a personal note of sympathy to the family of a white man in Ontario who meets an awful demise – yet remains silent when a native woman from Manitoba who has been missing for seven years turns up dead in equally tragic circumstances.

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  • Failing Phoenix - Face To Face With Her Killers

    10/5/2012 2:19 PM

    Phoenix Sinclair was clearly failed on many levels. A public inquiry which began this week in Winnipeg is now tasked with finding out exactly where things went wrong - and what can be done to prevent future tragedies.

    But look beyond several levels of bureacuracy and you'll find where the ultimate responsibility lies - with the two parents who were supposed to love and care for her.

    Instead, Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay treated the little girl in the most cruel and despicable way imaginable.

    Both have refused to participate in the public inquiry as they serve life sentences with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

    But the pair had plenty to say when I sat down seperately with them, behind bars, shortly after their first-degree murder convictions in December 2008.

    Their words still ring as hollow today as they did back then.

    ***

    SAMANTHA KEMATCH

    I failed her," Samantha Kematch says, her eyes cast downward and showing a hint of tears.

    "She never deserved any of this to happen to her. She deserved better."

    It is the first public show of remorse from Kematch, who displayed no tangible emotion during her month-long trial, and made no apologies in her brief and bitter final remarks before being sentenced on Friday.

    Kematch wants the public to know she's not some heartless automaton.

    "You guys can sit there and say I have no feelings. Well, everyone shows their emotions in different ways. Not everyone cries. I'm one to hold their tears," Kematch says.

    "I'm not the type to freak out. I control my crying. But I hurt inside."

    Saying sorry isn't the only reason Kematch is speaking out. She wants to explain her courtroom comments, in which she told the judge that people will likely "never know the truth" and accused her former lover, McKay, of wrongly taking her down with him.

    "I didn't kill my daughter, I didn't do these things to her like everyone says I did," Kematch says.

    "What did I do to her? I loved her."

    Jurors were told during the trial they could find McKay and Kematch guilty of murder based on acts of commission or omission, which likely applied more to Kematch's role in the tragedy.

    Admitting she's "not the best parent in the world or anything," Kematch insists she was powerless to stop an abusive McKay from slowly taking Phoenix's life. And she paints herself as a victim as well, claiming McKay would often take out his anger on her.

    "I tried to stop it. That's where I failed. I failed her, I failed myself. But I tried to stop (McKay) from doing things to her. I would even take a beating so she wouldn't take it," she says.

    In a videotaped interview with police, McKay said Kematch treated Phoenix "like an animal."

    "She really disliked the girl from since I met her," he said in the police videotape.

    McKay admitted that he would administer "a licking" to Phoenix's bottom occasionally, but denied wrongdoing, saying it was Kematch who abused her the most, refusing to give her food, constantly yelling at her and insisting she remain in the basement.

    McKay told police that once they realized Phoenix was dead, they took her body back to the basement. He said that Kematch instructed him to wrap Phoenix's body in a sheet of polyvinyl, taped it tightly and then wrapped an old yellow raincoat around her before driving to the reserve dump and burying Phoenix in a shallow grave.

    McKay said that when they returned home, Kematch was obsessed with removing any trace that the child had been there. He said she initially wanted to return to the dump site to chop off the child's head in the belief that would eliminate DNA evidence.

    He said Kematch later told him to scrub the basement floor with bleach to remove blood and other stains, and he later painted the entire floor.

    On Sunday, Kematch had this to say: "I get so frustrated. He's only trying to make himself look good. I loved Phoenix and I cared for Phoenix. He's just sitting there, denying that he did anything."

    She admits to having thoughts about attacking McKay in the witness box they shared during the trial. Those thoughts intensified after Friday's verdict and led to a sheriff's officer having to sit between them.

    "I was really angry, I was shaking," she says.

    Under questioning Sunday, Kematch admitted she passed up many opportunities when she was alone with Phoenix and could have fled the home, call police, contact a friend or family member or take the injured girl to a hospital.

    "If I could go back and change all of this from happening, I'd do it in a second. A lot of people don't understand how these kinds of relationships work. The relationship was abuse, controlling, possessive. When you're in an abusive relationship it's not like you can just get up and leave. It's not easy to walk away," she says.

    Jurors heard about McKay's violent past, which includes convictions for beating the mother of his two teenage sons, who went to police in 2006 to report what they'd witnessed happening to Phoenix inside the Fisher River home.

    The boys were key witnesses for the Crown and described McKay and Kematch as equal partners in abusing Phoenix, which included frequent beatings, making her sleep naked in the cold basement, confining her to a makeshift pen, shooting her with a pellet gun, refusing to let her use the bathroom and making her eat her own vomit.

    On Sunday, Kematch admitted she was strict with Phoenix at times, but claimed McKay did all the physical damage.

    One of the most damning pieces of evidence against Kematch was the fact she tried to hide Phoenix's death by pretending another little girl was her daughter during a meeting with child welfare officials.

    "I didn't want to go and pass off someone else's kid to hide the fact she was gone. It was (McKay's) idea to start doing s--t like that," Kematch says.

    "I wanted to tell them about this but he said no."

    She says McKay was also behind her registering for child benefits in Phoenix's name, even after the girl had been killed.

    Kematch says Phoenix would still be alive today if McKay, a longtime friend of her mother, hadn't entered their lives. He began asking her out after they met in December 2003.

    "I didn't really want to go out with him. I was single and I wanted to enjoy it for a while. Plus he was so much older than me (20 years)," Kematch says.

    She eventually agreed, and the pair went on to have two children together prior to their arrest in March 2006.

    "(Before McKay), Phoenix and I were good. We laughed, had fun, we'd play. We'd say we loved each other, hug each other. That was life for me and Phoenix before he came into the picture," she says.

    Being convicted of her daughter's killing is just the latest in a long line of tragedies for Kematch.

    When she was a child, her alcoholic father died after falling down a flight of stairs. Her oldest brother committed suicide in Swan River when she was 12. She and her two other brothers bounced around in foster care because their mother was unfit to care for them. She only finished her Grade 9 and has a spotty employment history. She admits she had problems with drugs and alcohol in the past.

    Kematch says the reality of her conviction hasn't hit her yet. Barring a successful appeal, she isn't eligible for parole until 2031, when she will be 50 years old.

    "I don't really feel like it's happened yet. I guess I'm feeling mixed emotions about it. I feel better in a way that this case is done so that (Phoenix) can rest," Kematch says.

    "But of course I'm going to appeal. This isn't right."

    ***

    KARL MCKAY

    Karl McKay knows his words will likely ring hollow -- but that isn't stopping the convicted killer from speaking out about his role in the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.

    "I know I'm the most hated person in this province and probably the whole country," McKay told the Free Press Thursday in an exclusive print interview at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

    "(Phoenix) didn't deserve this. It was a tragedy. I'm so very sorry. I can't turn back the clock. I just wish it never happened."

    McKay said he wanted to set the record straight about his feelings toward Phoenix and allegations made against him by his former lover and co-accused, Samantha Kematch.

    Jurors found McKay and Kematch guilty as charged last week, handing them automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. The pair had been seeking convictions on the reduced charge of manslaughter. They are both expected to file appeals.

    It was revealed during the month-long trial how Phoenix was repeatedly abused and neglected for several months, ending with her death in June 2005 inside a home on the Fisher River First Nation. McKay and Kematch then buried her body near the local garbage dump and hid the death months before McKay's two teenage sons went to police in March 2006. Police were eventually led to the burial site by McKay.Phoenix's remains were found there once the ground thawed.

    Kematch spoke out first earlier this week, telling the Free Press she loved Phoenix but was powerless to save her from the controlling, abusive McKay. She denied abusing Phoenix and claimed McKay was the real culprit.

    "That's BS," said McKay.

    "Samantha hated Phoenix. I know this because I was around. She's just trying to clear her name."

    McKay, a long-distance trucker by trade, claims Phoenix was always terrified when he'd hit the road and leave her alone with Kematch. McKay said his biggest mistake was staying in a relationship with Kematch, who he claims was responsible for Phoenix's death.

    "I should have listened to my heart and not her," he said. "I can't imagine a mother would be that evil."

    McKay denied Kematch's claims that he was physically abusive towards her, noting there are no records of police reports. McKay admits he has abused other women in previous relationships but said he was a different person back then, largely because of excessive alcohol use.

    "People change, people can change overnight. I was a drinker back then, I had many binge blackouts. But that was then, this is now," he said.

    McKay admits his own two teenage sons provided key evidence at trial against him, including claims that he would frequently hit Phoenix with his fists and other objects, force her to sleep naked on a cold basement floor, shoot her with a pellet gun for fun and confine her to a makeshift pen he built. Under his lawyer's advice, McKay declined to talk about the testimony of his sons or why they'd say things he claims are untrue because of the likelihood of an appeal.

    He said it was also Kematch's idea to pass off a young relative as Phoenix once child-welfare officials began investigating the case. He said Kematch was "white as a ghost" when she realized the truth was about to emerge and was desperate not to have her other two children by McKay taken from her.

    McKay said he is happy a provincial inquest will be held into Phoenix's case.

    "People, in general, should love their children. This is a wake-up call to love your child," said McKay."I just don't want this to happen to another child. It's just not right."

    ***

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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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