An Edmonton man found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife and dumping her body in a ditch nearly 15 years ago maintained his innocence Wednesday as he successfully sought permission to spend unsupervised time with the couple’s now-adult daughter.
Michael White told a Parole Board of Canada panel he did not kill Liana White in July 2005, but said his distress at her disappearance made him act in a way that drew police suspicion.
“During this time … I was not thinking clearly,” White told the two-member panel at an afternoon hearing at the Beaver Creek Institution, the central Ontario federal prison where he is currently held.
White and several family members, including his 18-year-old daughter, appeared relieved when the panel agreed to grant him four 72-hour unescorted temporary absences over nine months, one of which is earmarked for family time.
The remaining three will be dedicated to helping White familiarize himself with the city of Barrie, Ont., and a halfway house there.
The panel did not explain the decision, as the board typically releases its reasons in the days or weeks following a hearing.
But panel member Bruce Malcolm commended White for taking part in programming related to his convictions while behind bars, which Malcolm said few who claim innocence do.
Aside from his daughter, White is not to contact any other victims during his absences, the board said. He is also barred from seeing his girlfriend — a condition recommended by his parole officer — and must report any new relationships.
Panellist Maureen Gauci expressed concerns Wednesday about White’s behaviour in his new relationship, pressing him on an incident she said raised questions about his treatment of women and his ability to respect boundaries at a time when he should be on his best behaviour.
No further details were revealed, but White acknowledged he and his girlfriend were caught “in a heated moment of passion,” contravening the institution’s rules.
“It just got out of hand,” he said.
The former mechanic, who also served in the military for more than six years, is considered at low risk for recidivism, though his parole officer noted he tested high on a risk assessment for spousal abuse.
White was convicted in 2006 of second-degree murder and offering an indignity to a dead body in the killing of his wife.
He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 17 years. White later appealed the verdict, but his bid was unanimously rejected by Alberta’s highest court in 2009.
The panel heard Wednesday he has run out of legal avenues to challenge his convictions and has approached Innocence Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates for the wrongfully convicted.
Liana White was four months pregnant with the couple’s second child when she was stabbed to death in July 2005.
She was reported missing after her SUV was discovered in a park near the White home. Days later, a search party that included her mother and husband found her badly decomposed body in a ditch.
Court documents say security footage from a local pub showed the SUV heading towards the park around 5 a.m. the day of Liana White’s disappearance and, about 11 minutes later, a man closely matching her husband’s description jogging from the park towards the couple’s home.
A forensics expert testified that a product used to detect the presence of blood showed a trail from the couple’s bedroom to the hallway, down the stairs and into the garage. The expert said there was also evidence consistent with blood having been cleaned up in several areas of the house.
A forensic pathologist told the court Liana White likely died from her throat being cut or stabbed, but the expert could not be completely certain given the body’s decomposed state. Other injuries suggested White’s body had been dragged over a rough surface after her death, court heard.
Court also heard police saw Michael White retrieving two garbage bags from an area on the city’s outskirts two days after his wife’s disappearance, and later putting them out for garbage pickup.
Investigators obtained the bags and found they contained clothing, paper towels and latex gloves that had Liana White’s blood on them, as well as a broken lamp and other items. Some also had Michael White’s DNA on them.
White told the panel Wednesday he was baffled by his decision to fetch the bags, believing it to be what led police to view him as the killer.
He said he acted out of fear that his neighbours, who had paid him to dispose of their garbage, would be mad at him if they found out he had been dumping it at the site.
“My mind was all over the place,” he said.