Bungled Mr. Big investigation, failed prosecutions, should leave us all angry

Bungled Mr. Big investigation, failed prosecutions, should leave us all angry by Paula Simons, May 11, 2013, Edmonton Journal
It was a blistering ruling from a judge who had clearly had enough. It was a victory, not only for the Constitution, but for common sense. Mr. Justice Brian Burrows on Friday threw out “confessions” gathered by undercover RCMP officers in a “Mr. Big” sting, designed to lure a teenage boy into admitting he had killed Barry Boenke, 68, and Susan Trudel, 50. The two were found shot and bludgeoned on a property they shared in Strathcona County in 2009. The prime suspects were two 14-year-olds, runaways from a group home, who were arrested in Edmonton, joyriding in Boenke’s stolen truck. But the Crown stayed the original murder charges against the two in 2011, after a judge excluded an illegally obtained confession from one of the boys. RCMP didn’t quit. They monitored the suspect’s phone calls, intercepted his letters. When that turned up nothing incriminating, undercover officers ingratiated themselves with the teen, luring him into their imaginary gang. They plied the friendless, penniless underage foster child with beer, concert and hockey tickets, a trip to the mountains, a PlayStation. The elaborate operation cost $205,000.

The teen had a history of psychological and neurological problems. According to court testimony, he was being sexually exploited by a staffer from the Yellowhead Youth Centre. RCMP didn’t stop the alleged abuse. Instead, they exploited it. Although the teen was a ward of the province, child welfare, instead of safeguarding his rights, actually helped RCMP organize their sting.

“As his guardian the state had a duty to protect (him) which was incompatible with its desire, as the enforcer of the criminal law, to deceive him,” Burrow wrote in his ruling — a terse, but damning critique.

The teen was so hungry for affection and attention, he was willing to tell his new “friends” anything they wanted to hear, anything to impress them. He boasted of killing Boenke and Trudel — but his so-called “confessions” were full of factual errors and absurdities. The murders he claimed he’d committed weren’t the murders that had taken place.

Burrows ruled the RCMP conduct was abusive and coercive, a violation of the vulnerable teen’s Charter rights against self-incrimination. Just as critically, he found the boy’s exaggerated, inaccurate accounts of what happened were not credible.

The undercover officers, said Burrows, convinced the boy “he had arrived in heaven.”

“Who in their right mind would risk returning to the hell represented by (his) life away from the Mr. Big operation?”

When Burrows excluded the Mr. Big evidence, the Crown’s case crumbled. In an abrupt turn of events, the judge found the teen not guilty, before the defence even presented arguments.

But this teen didn’t get off on a “technicality.” This was no legal loophole. He was found not guilty because there was no forensic evidence linking him to the murders.

The RCMP’s expert testified the killer would have been spattered in blood, head to toe. But there were no bloodstains anywhere on the boy’s shoes, clothes, hair or body. There was no gunshot residue either. It’s tough to imagine two 14-year-olds committing a crime so flawlessly, then driving brazenly through Edmonton, bringing immediate police attention to themselves by stupidly stunting in Boenke’s truck. Investigators didn’t find either teen’s DNA or fingerprints at the murder site. They did, however, find someone else’s bloody handprint and three different sets of boot prints belonging to three unidentified people. Yet RCMP never investigated anyone else. K-Division announced Friday it will consider no other suspects in future. It’s a troubling pledge — especially given the particular and personal way Trudel was attacked, a metal mixing bowl carefully positioned to catch blood dripping from her head.

These kids had no history of such violence, no reason to kill a stranger in such baroque fashion. If RCMP refuse to reopen the case now, we’ll never know if someone had a real motive. We’ll never know who left that palm print and those boot tracks. I don’t blame the Boenke and Trudel families for being furious. We should all be angry — and not just because RCMP attempted an end-run around the Charter that protects us all.

A bungled investigation and two failed prosecutions have left us no closer to justice for the victims. And even though, on his 18th birthday, a court found this young man “not guilty” and set him free, many will never believe him truly innocent. He’s spent four years caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare. It’s hard to say if there will ever be justice for him, either. [Emphasis added]

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