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A former Alberta Mountie convicted of killing a man during a jailhouse shooting in 1999 hugged his wife, mother and sister-in-law yesterday after he was granted full parole.

"Overjoyed and relieved" was how Michael Ferguson described the decision of the National Parole Board after two of its members decided his release would not pose an undue risk to the community.

Mr. Ferguson, a 19-year RCMP veteran, had been serving a four-year sentence for manslaughter at the minimum-security William Head Institution near Victoria, since September.

"Today, we are granting you full parole," parole board member Bob Besner said. "We've concluded you won't be an undue risk to the community. We wish you well."

Darren John Varley, 26, was shot in the head and abdomen during a struggle with Mr. Ferguson at the Pincher Creek, Alta., RCMP detachment on Oct. 4, 1999.

After two hung juries, a third jury in Alberta found Mr. Ferguson guilty of manslaughter.

A female friend said Mr. Varley had gone to Pincher Creek hospital on Oct. 3 to visit a friend who had been beaten up outside a bar. Mr. Varley called police from hospital to report the fight.

Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Varley got into an altercation at the hospital and Mr. Ferguson arrested him for being drunk in public.

Back at the detachment cells, a second fight broke out and two shots were fired.

Members of Mr. Varley's family were at the parole hearing and read victim-impact statements opposing Mr. Ferguson's release.

Mr. Varley's sister-in-law, Connie Varley, said "the same system that just put him in jail about 70 days ago just let him back out. It's tough."

The family said they fear for their lives if Mr. Ferguson returns to Pincher Creek.

The Varleys also believe Mr. Ferguson has never expressed or shown remorse for Darren Varley's death, she said.

Mr. Ferguson testified that he has always wanted to discuss with the Varleys what happened in the cell.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't regret what's happened," he said. "I wanted to go to the family that day. I was directed by my superiors not to. I see the pain that this has caused to the Varley family."

He said he was in what he believed was a life-and-death struggle with Mr. Varley. "It happened so quickly," Mr. Ferguson said.

When asked about responsibility for the death, Mr. Ferguson replied: "Mr. Varley was in my custody. As a policeman, I answer to a higher standard."

Mr. Ferguson told the parole board he suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress as a result of the shooting death.

He said he will live in Kamloops, in B.C.'s Interior, and has been offered a job there with a development company.

Mr. Ferguson is seeking leave with the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal his sentence.

He argued last month that a ruling to give him a constitutional exemption from having to serve the mandatory minimum of four years for his conviction should be upheld.

He was ordered back behind bars in September when the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge's decision to sentence him to house arrest.