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Undercover police manipulated a man into falsely confessing he killed a 12-year-old girl in British Columbia over 40 years ago and the Crown has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, a defence lawyer says.

Patrick Angly told jurors in closing arguments Friday in B.C. Supreme Court that a boss of a fictitious criminal organization provided and promised inducements to Garry Handlen during a so-called Mr. Big operation that police began in Minden, Ont., in early 2014.

“Mr. Handlen was a victim of a very sophisticated, very focused psychological manipulation, a manipulation that drew him into the organization and set him up,” Angly said.

It was in Handlen’s best interest to confess because he faced losing the security of a lifestyle that came with his job in the organization, which court has heard included selling counterfeit goods, such as cigarettes, loan sharking and repossessing vehicles.

“The law recognizes the targets of Mr. Big operations can falsely confess to crimes,” Angly said.

He said there are concerns about the reliability and credibility of confessions made during such practices, which involve a supposedly wealthy and well-connected crime boss who builds up people’s dreams and surrounds them with a “band of brothers.”

In Handlen’s case, his new-found friends “laughed at his jokes,” suggested he’d get help buying a new truck and supported him as he spoke about his common-law wife’s cancer as well as his own health problems that included a shoulder injury, Angly said.

“They manipulated him into believing he had a perfect family and a perfect future.”

Handlen has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Monica Jack, who disappeared near a highway pullout while riding her bike in Merritt on May 6, 1978.

He confessed because he feared losing everything he’d gained in what was portrayed as a massive, well-managed crime group that had paid him over $11,000, with promises of a promotion to middle management, Angly said.

“The police created a false reality, a wonderful false reality, and then they threatened to snatch it away.”

However, the Crown has said Handlen had a partner for over 30 years, plenty of buddies and was so busy with jobs, including fixing decks at cottages, that he could work for the organization only during evenings and weekends.

Crown counsel Gordon Matei argued Thursday that Handlen was not a “yes man” and came across as a suspicious person who even asked if he was being recorded before his alleged confession, which was captured by a hidden video camera.

The trial heard that in November 2014, Handlen told an officer posing as a crime boss that he abducted Jack from the pullout, threw her bike into Nicola Lake, put her in the bathroom of his camper and drove up a mountain where he sexually assaulted her and burned her clothes before driving off in his pickup truck.

Jack’s body was found in the area in June 1995 and identified through dental records.

However, Angly said none of the details Handlen provided to police were new or could be proven to be accurate, there was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime after police searched his home and camper in 1978, and Jack’s bike was found the day after she disappeared near the lake, not in it.

He also questioned “shortcomings” in police record-keeping practices in the early part of the investigation and said officers were uncertain about details, including which of Jack’s brothers they spoke to and instructions on what to do with her bike.

“We have a general understanding of what the police did in the early days,” he said. “This is the Crown’s problem, not Mr. Handlen’s.”

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