After a week-long drama that transfixed the country last September, it took just six minutes for Randall Hopley to put it all behind him and plead guilty to the abduction of three-year-old Kienan Hebert.
Mr. Hopley’s plea, made during a brief B.C. Supreme Court hearing on Monday, eliminates the need for a long, draining trial likely to have caused renewed anguish for the close-knit Hebert family.
William Thorne, lawyer for the accused, said that was one of the motivating factors prompting his client to admit his guilt.
“One of the things he was concerned about, and so was I, was the fact of having to put the Heberts through this again,” said Mr. Thorne, outside the courtroom. “He did say he really did not want to do that.”
The two also discussed the evidence against him and how it would play out in a trial, Mr. Thorne added. “He decided to deal with it by way of a guilty plea.”
Kienan, one of six Hebert children staying at the large family home in Sparwood, went missing overnight from his bedroom last Sept. 7.
While hundreds of local residents and police searched for the freckled toddler, RCMP investigators began to focus on Mr. Hopley, a 46-year-old social misfit, also from Sparwood.
At the height of the frantic search, with police fearing the worst, Paul Hebert issued an emotional plea for the person who snatched his son to return him. Astonishingly, against all expectations, Kienan was returned safe and sound to his parents’ empty home a day later.
Three days after that, police nabbed Mr. Hopley, who had been hiding out in an abandoned cabin near a bible camp just across the B.C.-Alberta boundary.
Mr. Hopley pleaded guilty to two charges: abduction of a person under 14, and breaking and entering for the purpose of committing an indictable offence.
The abduction charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. A sentencing hearing for Mr. Hopley was scheduled for July 18 and 19.
Mr. Hopley, wearing his red prison garb, appeared in the courtroom via video camera from a jail in Kamloops where he has been held for months. Asked for his plea, Mr. Hopley replied “Guilty” in a firm voice to each of the two counts.
A charge of kidnapping, also laid against Mr. Hopley at the time of his arrest, will be stayed by the Crown, Mr. Thorne told the court.
Mr. Thorne said there was no real difference between abduction and kidnapping under the Criminal Code. “Both are very serious charges, but abduction of someone under 14 is more narrowed down than the rather general charge of kidnapping,” he said.
In an interview, Mr. Hebert said Mr. Hopley's guilt was “pretty well written in stone,” but he was nonetheless pleased by his guilty pleas. “It means that closure is coming up for us, and I'm just happy that he came forward, stepped up to the plate and held himself accountable. This has been painful for everybody.”
Kienan's father said he was not overly concerned by the length of time Mr. Hopley may serve for the abduction. “We don't want to be gloating about his punishment. I don't know whether 10 years is too short or too long. I just hope that Corrections actually corrects, and Randall comes out a better person.” Mr. Hebert said.
Mr. Hopley has a long history of skirmishes with the law, including a 1985 conviction for sexual assault against a five-year-old, numerous more minor convictions and an 18-month sentence received in 2008 for breaking and entering during a failed attempt to kidnap a 10-year-old boy from his foster parents.
Mr. Thorne said the fact young Kienan was returned safe and sound to the Hebert family was highly unusual.
“It’s all very puzzling, and I’m not prepared to comment on it more than that. More will be said at the sentencing hearing in July, which will be very extensive,” the Cranbrook lawyer said.
Kienan, meanwhile, turns four years old next week. His parents say he shows no ill effects at all from the four days he was in Mr. Hopley's custody.