A double-murder trial collapsed into angry shouts and obscenities Friday when the Crown dropped the charges after a judge ruled that undercover police had coerced a confession from the accused teenager.
At least six peace officers rushed into the courtroom as members of the two victims’ families stood up and loudly and repeatedly cursed the teen, his lawyer and the judge. Queen’s Bench Justice Brian Burrows left during the verbal fusillade without formally adjourning court, leaving lawyers to ask each other: “Are we done?”
The outrage was a chaotic coda to the Crown’s decision to abandon a case that began almost four years ago, when the accused was 14, and ended on the day of his 18th birthday.
“This was a confession-driven case,” prosecutor William Wister told the judge. “The confession’s gone. We close our case.”
The teen was originally charged with two counts of second-degree murder shortly after the killings of Barry Boenke, 68, and his friend Susan Trudel, 50. The pair were found beaten and shot to death on their rural property east of Edmonton in June 2009.
He was arrested with another teen after they had escaped from a group home and were found driving Boenke’s stolen truck. The accused confessed to police, but during pretrial hearings a judge ruled the statement inadmissible. Without that key piece of evidence, the Crown stayed the charges.
No forensic evidence linked the boys to the killings. Their DNA was not found at the scene and there was no blood or gunshot residue on their clothes. The gun that killed Boenke and Trudel has not been recovered.
Last May, the Crown reactivated the case against one teen after RCMP targeted both boys in a “Mr. Big” sting in which undercover officers pretended to be members of an organized crime syndicate.
Such stings try to win a subject’s trust with the hope of getting information on a crime as the suspect seeks to win the favour of fake gangsters.
Burrows, in a harshly worded 84-page judgment, ruled the confession obtained by the sting in this case was inadmissible.
“I conclude (the accused’s) statements were coerced,” said the judge, who was hearing the case without a jury.
Burrows pointed out the sting had been run on a 16-year-old boy who had no father, an absent mother and a history of sexual abuse by an uncle. The teen had been living in a series of group homes, and had been diagnosed with numerous psychological problems, including an attention-deficit disorder and a probable case of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Undercover officers befriended him, gave him money, beer, access to a condo, tickets to a hockey game and a rock concert and a snowboarding trip to the mountains. The youth had every reason to tell his new friends what he thought they wanted to hear to keep the good times rolling, wrote Burrows.
“Who in their right mind would risk returning to the hell represented by (the accused’s) life away from the Mr. Big operation?” the judge asked.
Burrows concluded that the undercover officers had such a hold over the boy that he was effectively in custody. As a result, his confession violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
The judgment, which is subject to a possible appeal, also found the teen had every reason to embellish his story to people he believed were benefactors.
“That (the accused’s) statements were made while he was functionally detained, subject to coercion by inducement, and in a circumstance where he believed that no harm and only good would come to him by confessing, all create a real prospect that his confession to Mr. Big was unreliable.”
Burrows pointed out that everything in the confession could have been drawn from information presented at the original pretrial hearings.
“There is not one detail in (the accused’s) statement that he could not have learned by listening to the evidence as it was presented at the preliminary inquiry,” Burrows wrote.
Defence lawyer Mona Duckett conceded guilt on charges related to the theft of Boenke’s truck and to two break and enters — one at a convenience store and the other at Boenke’s trailer. The youth is to serve 12 months probation for those crimes.
Anger at the outcome spilled from the courtroom to the sidewalk outside.
“This is bullshit and we all know it’s bullshit,” said Judy Brietkrietz, Boenke’s former wife. “And if we don’t start doing something and making these damn lawyers responsible for their actions ....
“It is truly horrifying. Not only is it disgusting, it’s absolute idiocy.
“The police did an outstanding job and nobody supports them.”
Duckett called Burrows’s ruling “a very bold decision.”
She had previously accused the police of “tunnel vision” and argued they focused their investigation on the boys despite the presence of other physical evidence at the scene.
“Why other followup steps were not taken, I can’t answer that.”
The consequences of the investigation are felt on both sides of the court, said Duckett.
“The young man, who was rearrested and whose charges continued, spent one year in custody as a result of that rearrest.
“Two grieving families who are looking for answers have been led to believe that this was the killer. It’s a shame that they have not been given the answers that they are entitled to.”
RCMP released a brief statement that said the force was satisfied that it had conducted a thorough investigation and would not be seeking other suspects.
“The RCMP will not be providing further comment due to ongoing legal matters involving the young person in this case and the possibility of an appeal of today’s ruling.
“Please note: calls to RCMP media relations on this matter will not be returned.”