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A 62-year-old man who raped and killed two Toronto women nearly 40 years ago but was only caught recently was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 21 years.

Joseph George Sutherland killed Susan Tice, 45, and Erin Gilmour, 22, in 1983. He confessed after being confronted by Toronto Police Service cold-case detectives who ran his DNA through a genealogy database in 2022.

Mr. Sutherland became one of about a half-dozen killers convicted in Canadian courts after authorities used a new DNA technique known as investigative genetic genealogy to solve crimes that traditional techniques could not resolve.

Mr. Sutherland pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder last fall. The murder convictions carried an automatic life sentence, so the only question before the court was his parole eligibility.

Crown prosecutors had asked that Mr. Sutherland serve about 22 years in prison before he could be considered eligible for parole. Defence lawyers had urged that he be eligible at 18 years.

In a ruling Friday, Justice Maureen Forestell ruled that the exceptionally violent nature of Mr. Sutherland’s crimes deserved condemnation.

“I have concluded that the gravity of these offences calls for a period of parole ineligibility in the highest range,” she said.

“I find that the aggravating features – including the vulnerability of the victims, the violations of their homes, and their bodies, and the brutal nature of the killings – call for a period of parole ineligibility that will clearly denounce the conduct and deter others.”

In August, 1983, he broke into the house of Ms. Tice, stabbing the mother of four 13 times as he raped her. That December, just days after he turned 22, he broke into the home of Ms. Gilmour, bound her hands and stabbed her in the chest. Ms. Gilmour was the daughter of David Gilmour, who co-founded the mining company Barrick Gold.

In 2021, police using the new DNA techniques concluded that the killer could only be one of five brothers hailing from a remote community in Northern Ontario.

The discovery set off a nearly two-year-long investigation to determine which sibling was the killer. Undercover officers shadowed several of the brothers over many months to gather DNA from discarded items, such as pop cans and a COVID-19 mask.

Mr. Sutherland’s lawyers had argued in court earlier this month that Justice Forestell should give him a degree of leniency because of the childhood trauma he suffered as an Indigenous boy forced to attend a residential school.

The defence filed a report saying that Mr. Sutherland was born in Fort Albany, Ont., a fly-in Cree community on James Bay. When his father died, he was seven years old and made to attend the Sisters of St. Anne’s residential school, where an unnamed teacher used to routinely choke him and other students.

But in handing out the sentence, the judge focused on the horrific murders that occurred after Mr. Sutherland moved to Toronto at age 21.

Family members told the court during victim-impact statements earlier this month that they had waited decades for justice. They said their lives had been irrevocably shattered by the violent deaths of women they had known as mothers, sisters and aunts.

“I have nothing but hatred for you,” Sean McCowan said, glaring at Mr. Sutherland, earlier this month. He was 13 when his sister, Ms. Gilmour, was slain.

Ben Tice told Mr. Sutherland: “Why did you take the life of my mother? … Why? I truly want to know why. Why take from this world? What right did you have?”

Toronto police are using new investigative genetic genealogy techniques to help crack cold cases, including historical homicides. In November 2022, detectives said they used these methods to identify a suspect in a Northern Ontario community in connection with two 1983 killings in Toronto.

The Globe and Mail

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