An armoured car guard who gunned down four crewmates on the job has been handed the toughest sentence in Canada since the country’s last execution, but it’s not enough for some family members of his victims.
An Edmonton judge agreed Wednesday to a plea deal that gives 22-year-old Travis Baumgartner a life sentence with no chance of parole for 40 years.
It’s a first under a new federal law allowing consecutive parole ineligibilty periods in mass murder cases. Before, offenders faced a maximum 25 years before getting a crack at more freedom.
“Call it justice — sure. My way of justice is back in the old days — hang him,” Joseph Rejano, brother of murdered guard Eddie Rejano, 39, told reporters outside court while running his hand through his fatherless nephew’s hair.
“That’s justice for what he did.”
Victor Shegelski, whose new bride Michelle Shegelski, 26, was the most senior guard on the crew, said he understands 40 years was the best the courts could do in the case, considering the death penalty was repealed back in 1962.
“I think he should just be taken out behind the shed and put down, personally,” Shegelski said before leaving the courthouse. “My wife is still dead.”
Janet Stosky, aunt of murdered guard Brian Ilesic, 35, said her family believes the Crown prosecutor’s office worked hard on the case and the 40-year wait for a parole opportunity honours the victims.
“I am not sure, when you are going through this level of pain, if you can ever feel satisfied with the justice that is available,” she said.
The lone survivor from the crew, Matthew Schuman, now 26, is still recovering from a brain injury and did not attend court for fear of being retraumatized.
Justice John Rooke had the option of imposing a parole wait of up to 75 years but told a packed courtroom that experienced Crown and defence lawyers had done their homework on the case. He ruled it would be contrary to public interest to change the deal.
Rooke said he had to make sure that Baumgartner never hurts anyone again, but also give him some hope for freedom to ensure good behaviour behind bars.
Baumgartner sat slumped in prisoner’s box with his arms crossing his chest. The judge described him as a greedy coward and cold-blooded killer who basically executed the co-workers he had sworn to protect.
“Why didn’t he just take the money and run?” the judge asked. “What was he possibly thinking?
“It’s difficult to describe the revulsion of society and this court and the public.”
Baumgartner was a new employee with security company G4S and was struggling with debt. He owed friends money and argued with his mother about paying her rent hours before the shooting on June 15, 2012.
He had come up with a plan to rob his employer during a routine night shift reloading ATMs across the city. Somewhere along the line, the scheme turned deadly.
He shot three of his fellow guards in their heads after they turned their backs on him to fill a cash machine at the University of Alberta. He then rushed out to their parked armoured truck, reloading his gun along the way, and ambushed the fourth crew member waiting there.
He drove off with about $400,000 in cash, left some on the kitchen table for his mom and made a run in his pickup truck the U.S. border. Officials caught their prime suspect the next day in British Columbia.
It hadn’t been much of a plan. The judge called it unsophisticated.
At the start of his trial this week, Baumgartner pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and a charge of attempted murder. He had originally faced three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths.
Crown prosecutor Steve Bilodeau told court that while Baumgartner had planned the robbery, there was doubt about whether he had planned beforehand to kill the guards as they were reloading the ATM. Evidence proved, though, that he intended to kill the guard waiting in the truck.
The judge called the killings executions “by surprise, shock and ambush.”
Rooke said the pleas prevented the survivor and the families of the dead guards of having to endure a lengthy trial, but their lives are forever ruined.
Schuman wrote in a victim impact statement that the bullet to his head created vision and memory loss and he has had to learn to read and write again. His disabilities have also cost him his relationship with his fiancee and his career as a firefighter in the military — the security gig was a second job.
John Ernst, an uncle of Shegelski, said everyone in his family has a hole in their heart that will never be filled. The young woman hadn’t even gone through her wedding photos before she was killed.
“Michelle’s death made all of us into victims,” he said.
“Not having to think about the possibility of parole for Travis Baumgartner for 40 years takes away a burden that no one should have to bear.”