VANCOUVER — Jurors will need to use their common sense in assessing the reliability of an alleged confession by a man accused of killing a 12-year-old girl, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge says.
In his instructions to the jury on Friday, Justice Austin Cullen said an undercover police officer posing as a crime boss provided financial and social inducements to Garry Handlen but the man was never threatened.
Handlen has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Monica Jack near her home in Merritt in May 1978.
Her remains were found 17 years later, on a nearby mountain where Handlen told the supposed crime boss in November 2014 that he sexually assaulted and killed her after abducting her from a pullout on a highway.
He said he threw Jack’s bike in Nicola Lake, forced her into the bathroom of his camper and drove his Chevy pickup up a steep hill, where he sexually assaulted her, killed her and burned her clothes and parts of her body.
“What I know for sure is I went up a dirt road off the highway, up a hill, somewhere in the Merritt area and I left her body up there,” he told the undercover officer in a hidden-camera video recording shown earlier in court.
The RCMP began a nine-month so-called Mr. Big sting in Minden, Ont., in February 2014. Undercover operatives paid for his meals, drinks and hotel stays in cities including Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax and hired him for legal and illegal jobs such as loan sharking.
The trial heard that the final inducement came when the supposed crime boss falsely told Handlen police had DNA linking him to Jack’s murder and witnesses could place him at the crime scene but “things could be done to take care of it” if he told the truth.
It’s up to jurors to decide the extent to which Handlen could have been influenced to admit to killing the girl, Cullen said.
He said Handlen’s claims that Jack was sexually assaulted, murdered and her clothes and parts of her body were burned could not be verified.
In the video, Handlen is told a former employee who is sick would take the blame for the murder but he must provide enough details to at least confuse investigators as the group works to get rid of the DNA.
As Handlen begins to talk about what he allegedly did, he repeats five times that he strangled Jack and later repeatedly expresses relief.
“It’s a weight off my shoulder now, I’ve told you. So I’m not the only one that knows now.”
The boss tells him he could repay his debt by doing more work for the group.
“I’m indebted for life now,” Handlen says. “That’s the way it goes. Yes, I appreciate it more than anything, more than I can even say. There’s just not enough words to say it other than saying thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Cullen pointed out several lies Handlen told undercover police, starting with saying he could water ski on one ski, but continuing with fibs even after being lectured by the crime group to stop. Even then, Handlen lied repeatedly, saying, for example, that he was once a member of the British army’s Special Air Service, that he’d ridden horses in Arizona and had eaten kangaroo meat in Australia.
Patrick Angly, Handlen’s defence lawyer, has urged the jury not to accept the alleged confession, saying it was coerced.
However, Crown counsel Gordon Matei said in closing arguments that Handlen was motivated by the belief he would escape prosecution and was relieved to divulge a secret he’d carried with him for 36 years.
Cullen has told jurors it’s up to the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Mr. Handlen doesn’t have to prove anything,” he said.
The trial began in October with 14 jurors to ensure enough people would be available to deliberate. Under the law, criminal trials require only 12 jurors to participate in deliberations, and in this case they will be chosen by drawing numbers.
Cullen is expected to finish his instructions on Monday, when Handlen’s fate will be in the jury’s hands.
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