Justice, at last, for Paula Gallant

One of the most notorious murder cases in Nova Scotian history came to an end yesterday, when Jason Wayne MacRae plead guilty to the charge of second-degree murder for the 2005 killing of his wife:

JASON WAYNE MacRAE will be eligible for parole in 15 years after he pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering his wife, Paula Gallant, at their home in Timberlea on Dec. 27, 2005.

Justice Kevin Coady, who handed down the automatic sentence of life in prison for second-degree murder during a hearing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax, said MacRae was unable to control himself when dealing with issues that any family faces.

[…]

At 9:37 a.m., just minutes after MacRae was escorted into court, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Gallant, a mother of one and a local schoolteacher.

MacRae, who has been in custody since his arrest last August, had been scheduled to appear in court to set dates for his trial on a charge of first-degree murder.

But he instead pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and proceeded directly to sentencing.

According to the agreed statement of facts read in court, MacRae killed his wife after they argued over several “minor issues,” including a $700 online gambling debt he hadn’t told her about.

Some people are understandably upset that MacRae will be eligible for parole in fifteen years, and wish he had been tried and convicted for first-degree murder (for which he would be eligible for parole in twenty-five years).  Gallant’s family, however, has released an appreciative statement.  I agree that MacRae may deserve a harsher punishment – really, I can’t think of any punishment too harsh, considering the details of this case – but the strain of a lengthy trial would be unimaginably difficult for the victim’s loved ones.

Plus, there’s no guarantee MacRae would have been convicted of murder had this case gone to trial.  No one knows for sure what would have happened.  He confessed to an undercover police officer posing as an organized crime boss, but the “Mr. Big” investigative technique has run into trouble in the past:

It was an undercover officer that got the 37-year-old Halifax man to say he killed Gallant in the basement of her house and left her body in the trunk of her car.

“Over time,” Crown Attorney Denise Smith told reporters, “MacRae was led to believe he was part of a crime syndicate and ultimately confessed his crime to undercover officers, unbeknownst to their true identity as police.”

“Mr. Big” is an RCMP sting technique, involving an undercover officer(s) posing as a crime boss or gang member, convincing the suspect to detail or brag about transgressions, often murder.

[…]

Questions have been raised in the past about the validity of confessions obtained this way.

Keenan assures this technique is not entrapment.

“It’s a post-offence undercover investigative technique… looking into a crime that has already occurred.”

Any crime committed at the behest of Mr. Big, won’t be used as evidence against the target.

In 2000, a Manitoba judge raised concerns that a target – Clayton George Mentuck – was vulnerable to suggestion because of his financial situation and the promise of money.

Mentuck, accused of murdering teenager Amanda Cook, bought into the ploy and at one point said he killed the girl.

He later recanted and denied this, trying to get out of the staged crime ring.

But an undercover officer, Keenan says, eventually convinced Mentuck to admit to the crime saying both of them “were on the line” with the crime boss.

Justice Allan MacInnes acquitted Mentuck, saying “the police must be aware that as the level of inducement increases, the risk of receiving a confession to an offence which one did not commit increases, and the reliability of the confession diminishes correspondingly.”

Thankfully, Ms. Gallant’s killer has been brought to justice, and her loved ones can move on.  The one I’ll be thinking about is her daughter, now six years old, who lives with relatives.  Can you imagine growing up without a mother, because of what your own father did?

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