Jason Klaus wanted his family dead and he hired Joshua Frank to pull the trigger, a judge ruled Wednesday.
“I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of Jason Klaus and the guilt of Joshua Frank on all of the respective charges against them of first-degree murder,” said Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Eric Macklin.
Neither Klaus nor Frank showed any emotion as they were found guilty of three counts each of first-degree murder for the killing of Klaus’ father and mother, Gordon and Sandra, and sister Monica on Dec. 8, 2013.
The family home, on a farm six km northeast of Castor, was burned to the ground to cover up the cold-blooded killings.
Macklin said Klaus, 42, did not kill his family but planned the murders along with Frank, 32.
“Further, he counselled, procured, solicited and incited and encouraged Mr. Frank to kill the victims,” he said in a standing room-only courtroom packed with more than 100 people.
Crown prosecutors established beyond any reasonable doubt that Frank willingly shot the Klauses, the family dog and burned down the home.
“He did this according to his planning and deliberation with Mr. Klaus. Mr. Frank knew exactly what Mr. Klaus expected of him and he carried out the murders in accordance with their plan.”
A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Crown prosecutors want the three murder charges to be served consecutively, which would mean neither man would be eligible for parole for 75 years.
Defence lawyers for Klaus and Frank oppose consecutive sentences and will make their arguments before the judge on Jan. 22.
Six victim impact statements have been submitted by the court. Relatives of the Klaus family delivered heart-breaking stories about how the deaths of the Klauses had affected them.
Gordon and Sandra’s niece Nicole Thomson said there are no words to describe her shattered heart.
“I will never be the same,” she said, fighting back tears. “Part of me will always live in a state of devastation because of what you have done.”
Klaus and Frank were arrested in August 2014 after being the subject of a four-month RCMP undercover Mr. Big operation. During that sting, both men confessed to their roles in the killings.
Macklin said he accepted that the admissions made to Mr. Big and another undercover police officer were true and he rejected their testimony from the six-week trial that wrapped up on Nov. 29.
The judge said he did not believe Klaus’s testimony when it was different than his confessions during the Mr. Big operation.
“It is clear that he has lied many times to many different people,” he said. “His testimony was replete with inconsistencies and improbabilities, if not absurdities.”
As for Frank, the judge noted the accused acknowledged he is an “inveterate and habitual liar.
“His testimony was incapable of belief and I do not believe his evidence.”
The judge rejected the men’s testimony that the other committed the crime and fear of each other prevented them from going to the police.
Macklin said Klaus had been forging cheques in his father’s name and feared losing his inheritance and future security if found out. Other evidence suggested he was fed up living under his father’s thumb.
“It is reasonable to infer from the evidence that he thought the deaths of his family members would resolve some of his immediate problems and set a different course for his future.”
Outside court, Crown prosecutor Douglas Taylor called the murders a “despicable crime.”
He praised the RCMP investigators for bringing the two men to justice.
“They left no stone unturned. They did exactly what they told Jason Klaus they were going to do. They were going to make this a front-burner investigation and that it was their top priority — and that they did.
“So we take our hats off to the Mounties for doing an exceptional job.”
Taylor opened his comments by offering condolences to the friends and relatives of the Klauses. It was “gut wrenching” to hear the victim impact statements, he said.
“They’re devastated by this. Can you imagine, what they went through as the investigation unfolded what they had to face. That’s unimaginable.”
Klaus’s lawyer, Allan Fay, said given that his client has been convicted of three murders that he contends he was not involved in “understandably he’s quite upset.”
Tonii Roulston, who represented Joshua Frank, said her client is “shocked. It’s a bit surreal for him at this time.”