A Crown prosecutor argued that triple murderers Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank should not be eligible for parole for 75 years — which would effectively condemn them to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
Klaus and an accomplice, Joshua Frank, were each convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in January 2018 in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench.
The two friends were convicted of plotting and carrying out the murders of Klaus’ parents, Gordon and Sandra, and sister Monica in December 2013.
The family dog was also killed, and the family farmhouse just outside Castor was burned to the ground to destroy evidence.
At the men’s sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutors argued that the 25-year parole eligibility period on each charge should be consecutive.
However, Justice Eric Macklin ruled that sentence was “unduly long and harsh” and made the murder sentences concurrent, which would allow Klaus, then 42, and Frank, 32, to be eligible for parole after 25 years.
“A sentence that extinguishes any hope of release for an offender is a crushing sentence,” said Macklin.
He also pointed out that it will be up to the parole board to decide whether Klaus or Frank are ever allowed out of prison, a decision that will consider the protection of the public.
“The stacking of lengthy periods of parole ineligibility … impacts significantly on the traditional roles of the sentencing judge and the parole board,” said Macklin.
Both Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers pointed out that the prospect of being paroled was a long shot, given the seriousness of the crimes.
The 25-year parole eligibility angered and frustrated many supporters of the murdered family, who packed a Red Deer courtroom throughout a dramatic six-week trial in the fall of 2017. Families issued statements critical of the judge.
Crown prosecutor Iwona Kuklicz said in her submissions on Tuesday that Macklin made a number of errors in law in limiting parole ineligibility to 25 years.
“What this appeal is about is failure to apply binding legal principles,” said Kuklicz, who addressed the Court of Appeal’s three-judge panel through video-conferencing.
Kuklicz also said that in sentencing, Macklin was imposing more obligations on Crown prosecutors than they are expected to meet when arguing whether someone should be declared a dangerous offender.
Michael Bates, who is representing Klaus, argued that the law in this case is very clear — the sentence for first-degree murder is life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Eligibility for parole is not the same as guaranteed parole after 25 years. It is only a recognition that the person will be allowed to apply for parole at that time, said Bates.
A life sentence with a 25-year parole ineligibility period cannot be seen as “demonstrably unfit,” because the prisoner may never get out of prison, regardless of the ineligibility period, he said.
Frank’s lawyer, Andrea Urquhart, argued that the legislation allowing for consecutive parole ineligibility periods was meant for the most “incorrigible” multiple murderers, and not in cases like that of her client, who had no prior criminal record before the killings.
Justice Jack Watson acknowledged that some of the legislation around additional parole ineligibility was not as clear as it could be.
Watson said “it is very unfortunate that Parliament has provided such a convoluted way to explain something.”