Pam Sawler was in Grade 9 when she learned her father had been murdered with eight other men in a Yellowknife mine bombing, and now she expects bad news at every turn.
While Ms. Sawler awaits phantom phone calls from hospital or police, her mother Bonnie says her own emotional pain is multiplied a thousandfold with every milestone she can’t share with her husband.
Roger Warren has been serving a life sentence for the mass murder inside the Giant Mine 21 years ago. On Tuesday, the federal parole board granted him conditional release into the community. Mr. Warren, 70, listened to the daughter and mother weep as they urged the board to keep him locked up until he dies. Then a board member asked him if he was prepared for day parole.
“I’m sure I’d probably feel the same way. That’s the worst thing.… I always prayed people wouldn’t waste their life hating me,” said Mr. Warren, soon choking back his sobs. “All I can say is, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused.’”
Mr. Warren was 49 when he conspired to further shake up a volatile labour dispute at the mine, which had already seen two smaller bombings and a riot. Nine replacement workers died in September, 1992, when their ore car tripped a wire Mr. Warren had rigged to set off dynamite hundreds of metres underground. Thirteen months later, he confessed to setting the bomb. He retracted that confession at trial, was convicted in 1995, and finally admitted his guilt again years later in prison.
After a two-hour hearing on Tuesday, the two parole board members ruled that Mr. Warren did not pose an “undue risk” to the community and they agreed to his release from the Mission Minimum Institute, east of Vancouver.
Board member Bent Andersen said Mr. Warren has taken responsibility for his actions, has shown remorse and has a track record of good behaviour.
Mr. Warren will live in a halfway house during his release, which will come up for renewal in six months. It’s not clear where that will be, but he’s not expected to return to Yellowknife. He must abide by several conditions, including abstaining from alcohol, attending counselling sessions and not contacting families of the men who died.
Mr. Warren has already been on about 400 escorted trips into the community and has completed a 120-day work term away from the prison. He has volunteered at a community garden and delivered its produce to food banks, and he regularly attends church.
Now a thin, balding man who used a hearing aid during the proceedings, he was asked to describe his crime in detail during the review. He recalled collecting gear for several days before sneaking down the shaft and walking kilometres with a half bag of explosive powder and sticks to set up the bomb.
“I’ll admit it was hair-brained stupid,” he said, saying he never intended to kill anyone, although he recognized someone might get hurt. Mr. Warren, who started at the mine in 1978, was interviewed several times after the explosion, but was considered a peripheral figure before he confessed, he said. He told the board that guilt and the fear someone else would be punished prompted his first confession. “I was in shock for days. I still am. I think about it every day.”
He then recanted out of shame and cowardice, he said. “I couldn’t bear to have my family think I could do such a stupid thing.”
Mr. Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder in 1995 and maintained his innocence until 2003.
“I just found myself a despicable person and then I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I take the full responsibility for it and I have for quite a while.”
Board spokesman Patrick Storey said Mr. Warren will remain under the supervision of federal corrections officers for the rest of his life.