For Sandra Hallam, it is not over. It will never be over.
How could it be?
Her son, Wesley, had been murdered at a party in January 2011 by three local men he had once considered friends and they had offered the ultimate indignity to the body, dismembering it and spreading it over two countries.
Her son’s body was found in a creek on Landslide Road and the head and right foot were found in a landfill at Dafter, MI., after a long and expensive search by police.
The perpetrators, Ronald Mitchell, Eric Mearow and Dylan Jocko, were arrested and after a preliminary hearing were committed to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder.
For nearly five years, the length of time in took to get through the preliminary, Sandra attended every court appearance of the three.
All she thought about was justice for Wesley.
“He was not a great member of society,” she said of her son, who had had many brushes with the law. “But he didn’t deserve to die as he did.”
She thought the court would see it that way too.
She told me in a recent interview that she had requested that she and her daughter Shannon had been making plans for the jury trial that they expected to take place in October of that year, 2016.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that trial; there wasn’t going to be one.
Instead a plea bargain had been worked out between defence attorneys and the Crown that would see the three accused plead guilty to charges of manslaughter and receive sentences of 10 years.
That, with the way our system works with time off for time served while awaiting trial, would mean they would be out in two years, which they were.
Sandra took the plea bargain as a betrayal, placing most of the blame for the cave-in on Chief Crown Attorney Kelly Weeks, who seemed to be riding in the second seat in a case that should have been all hers.
“The worst part about it,” Sandra told me, “was that they didn’t tell us. The prosecutors knew about it in April; we didn’t find out about it until July.”
That, of course, was when it was a done deal.
And it turned out Police, who had put so much time, effort and money into the case, weren’t told either.
Sault Ste. Marie Police Chief Bob Keetch said police only found out about it after officers who were escorting the men to and from their court appearances overheard them discussing it.
In listing his reasons for going along with the joint submission by the defence and Crown, Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan read out one case where the judge said, “This court has repeatedly held that trial judges should not reject joint submissions unless the joint submission is contrary to the public interest and the sentence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”
That, to me, boils down to a matter of opinion. And my opinion was that this decision did bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
And it was an opinion shared by others in the community as the courtroom erupted with outrage and obscenities after the sentence was announced.
As far as I was concerned, there was no justice in it, especially for the Hallam family.
The judge at the preliminary hearing had committed the three to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder. The cutting back of that decision all the way to manslaughter was offensive.
If the plea bargain had seen the charges dropped from first-degree murder to second degree, Mitchell, Mearow and Jocko, if convicted as I am sure they would have been, would have been on parole for the rest of their lives.
As it stands, they were given a pass: they are now walking free.
For some reason, the Crown seemed to buy into the defence’s claim that the three were too intoxicated to form intent and in his decision McMillan said “all three members were heavily intoxicated by drug and alcohol that evening.”
But as Sandra Points out, they really had nothing to go on in this regard as the perpetrators were not arrested for several days after the slaying as they had all left the city.
As a result, all they had to go on was assumption.
And I think the lie was put to that argument anyway because the killers were thinking clearly enough to consider ways to dispose of the body, such as going to the basement to get the saw to cut it up and then placing the parts in garbage bags.
Sandra said her son knew when he went out that night that something might happen but he didn’t think it would be to that degree.
She said he had left town because of an incident that had taken place some time before, when he interfered with an attempt to place an addict, who owed a great amount of money, into a bathtub.
“He knew they would be after him,” she said.
He only returned to the Sault because she asked him to come home for Christmas.
She said on the night of the slaying he had called her from a friend’s home, saying “I just want you to know that I love you.”
She said it just broke her heart.
Ten years have passed since that fateful night but Shannon said some people still say to her that Wesley got what he deserved.
But nothing will sway Sandra from her conviction that what the Crown did, in reducing the charges and hiding it from the family, wasn’t right.