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‘I’m a sociopath,’ man says in explaining why he killed cellmate

Convicted serial killer Michael Wayne McGray is escorted into provincial court in Halifax in May, 2001.

ANDREW VAUGHAN/The Canadian Press

As he sat in handcuffs and explained to police why he strangled his cellmate, serial killer Michael McGray seemed incredulous that he even had the opportunity, that he had recently been transferred to a medium-security prison.

He had already been convicted of six murders. In an interview with The Globe and Mail in 2000, he said of killing: "I got very good at it."

Mr. McGray was transferred to Mountain federal penitentiary in Agassiz, B.C., and in November, 2010, found himself sharing a cell with a man by the name of Jeremy Phillips.

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Mr. Phillips was serving a sentence for aggravated assault and was no slouch physically. But his cellmate's reputation preceded him and Mr. Phillips feared for his safety, his concerns going unanswered.

A coroner's inquest into Mr. Phillips's death opened Monday, with video of Mr. McGray's interview with two police officers the day after the killing.

Mr. McGray, a stocky man dressed in a prison-issued green jumpsuit, described himself as a master manipulator who coerced Mr. Phillips into the plot that ended his life. He said he had to kill to fulfill a desire, a desire that remains.

"I'm a sociopath. I'm a serial killer," he said bluntly.

Mr. McGray's demeanour changed frequently during the hour-long interview. At times he expressed sympathy for Mr. Phillips's family. He said his cellmate had done nothing to draw his wrath and he had heard Mr. Phillips was "a good guy."

At other times Mr. McGray was boastful. He repeatedly said there was no excuse for what he did, though that didn't stop him from heaping blame on others, including those who put him in a medium-security facility in the first place.

Mr. McGray, who said he is "not a medium inmate," said he and Mr. Phillips hatched a plan that would see the former sent back to a maximum security facility. As part of the plan, he said Mr. Phillips agreed to play the part of Mr. McGray's hostage.

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It was only when Mr. Phillips had been bound with ripped bedsheets and gagged with a sock, Mr. Phillips said, that he could have known his life was about to end. He said he strangled him with a ligature for more than five minutes, then punched him to make sure he was dead.

When asked why he went after Mr. Phillips, Mr. McGray said it wasn't an elaborate plan – more a crime of opportunity.

"I didn't have any problem with Jeremy," he said.

Mr. McGray said it is agonizing for him not to kill and that he has untreated mental health issues.

"I'm not going to ... stop," he said.

Mr. McGray pleaded guilty to the killing in November, 2011.

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The B.C. Coroners Service called the inquest to examine issues surrounding the safety of prison inmates. The five-person inquest jury cannot make findings of legal responsibility. It can make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Several people testified Monday after the video was shown. Bonita Greening, a prison nurse, said she had wondered why Mr. McGray was in a medium-security facility and that she was told not to be alone with him.

Dwight Mater, who has worked for the Corrections Service of Canada for nearly 30 years, said the department uses a series of tools and guiding principles to determine placement. He said Mr. McGray was given a score that barely put him in the medium-security classification. Mr. Mater said he approved a parole officer's decision to make the transfer, but the decision was not made lightly.

Mr. Phillips's mother is scheduled to testify Tuesday, the final day of the inquest. The family filed a lawsuit against the Correctional Service after the killing. The family's lawyer said the parties settled earlier this year. Terms were not disclosed.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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