A man who fatally shot a Red Deer shopper outside a city Walmart only days before Christmas 2019 must serve 10 years in prison before applying for parole, a judge has ruled.
Chase Freed, 20, unexpectedly pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Monday just before a nearly three-week trial was set to begin for shooting C.J. “Jim” Williams, 69, to death in front of his wife on Dec. 20, 2019 outside Red Deer’s south Walmart.
Freed was masked and armed with a modified semi-automatic rifle, when he shot Williams four times in front of his wife during a failed robbery attempt in the parking lot. He also shot at bystanders as he fled in a vehicle driven by an accomplice, who was later convicted of a number of charges.
Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Eric Macklin accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence lawyers that Freed should be eligible to apply for parole for at least 10 years on top of the automatic life sentence.
Macklin explained Freed committed a “senseless and horrific act of violence against a defenceless and well-loved husband, son, father, grandfather, who was about to celebrate Christmas with his mother and family”.
In sentencing, the judge said he took into account Freed’s young age, traumatic upbringing by drug-addicted parents, his guilty plea and apology to the victim’s family in court on Wednesday.
The judge said he considered Freed’s guilty plea a significant factor when deciding the sentence, adding it meant Williams’ wife and other witnesses would not have to “relive the trauma of that day” testifying in a trial.
Freed is still young and with help will “hopefully be rehabilitated to the point where he can become a productive member of society.”
Freed, who was on probation and banned from owning firearms because of other offences at the time of the shooting, apologized to the family.
“I never meant for things to turn out like they did,” he said. “He’s a good man. I know that.
“All I can really do is give you my deepest sorry, my apologies and my remorse.”
Williams’ wife Roxine read her victim impact statement in court and talked about how the death of her husband of 44 years had left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She moved to Kelowna, B.C. to be near her daughter and other family and still lives in fear behind locked doors with the TV on to block out noise.
“I still fear (Freed) may find me and get rid of me,” said Roxine. “I lock every lock I have when I’m in my trailer.”
Granddaughter Melissa Brunette said her grandfather became the father figure in her life and raised her from a young age.
“He was a rock in my life and he was selfishly taken from my family and I just want to know why,” she said to Freed, who sat handcuffed in the prisoner’s dock in blue prison coveralls
“I hope this young man has learned a lesson from all this and has a chance to remove the hate from his heart.”
Outside court, Williams’ daughter, Dallas Brunette, said she understands why the Crown prosecutor asked for the sentence she did, but it was not long enough.
“When Freed stood up, and the sorry he gave, it didn’t seem genuine to me,” said Brunette.
“You said you didn’t mean to do it. You meant to do it. You chased him and then shot him four times and then shot at all those other people. They found eight rounds. You meant to do what you did.”
Brunette will remember her father as a jokester who loved to stop and chat. “If you stopped to talk to him you were there for a good half an hour.
“He was very helpful. Just like everybody said. He was there to help all the time.”
Brunette said Freed’s actions that day changed the lives of so many people beyond Williams’ grief-stricken family.
“(Freed) just destroyed so many people. This affected so many people and so many people have had issues from it, not just us.”
Among those who read a victim impact statement in court was Elizabeth Brown who was at the Walmart when Williams was shot.
Brown was diagnosed with PTSD following her experience and still feels extremely anxious in public settings, such as malls, and especially the parking lot at Walmart.
“I am not the same person to my family and friends,” she said.
Williams’ son, Billyjack Williams, said he was glad Freed pleaded guilty and the court journey is now over.
“I’m glad he gave (the apology). I didn’t hear too much sincerity in it, but I’m glad he gave it.”
The family has struggled since Williams was killed.
“It’s been a rough go. My mother has taken probably the brunt of the worst. She had to leave town. She said she can’t be here anymore because of the memories and everything she has had to deal with. She’s lost her condo, her friends, her church.
“They were best of friends, my mum and my dad. They did everything together,” he said.
“He helped everybody. He was always in good spirits. Anytime I never needed him for help he was there.”
He wants his father to be remembered for his bravery the night he was killed.
“He was protecting my mom, if nothing else. When that incident happened he made sure she was safe first. That’s the best I can say.”
Other victim impact statements talked about how Williams fought back after being badly burned in a propane explosion that almost took his life. The scars and pain never slowed him down or stopped him from caring for others.
Defence lawyer Rory Ziv said Freed grew up in Prince Albert, Sask. to drug-addicted parents, who were in and out of jail. He ended up being shuffled through five or six foster families and was sexually and physically abused.
As a youth, he turned to crime and was on probation for armed robbery when he shot Williams.
Two charges of attempted murder and criminal flight from police were dropped by the Crown prosecutor in light of the guilty plea.