It should have been more.
Social media commenters and relatives of the murdered Klaus family were critical of the sentence handed their killers in a Red Deer courtroom on Wednesday.
Jason Klaus, 42, and Joshua Frank, 32, were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years — the automatic sentence for first-degree murder. They were convicted of plotting and carrying out the murder of Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus in December 2013.
Crown prosecutors wanted the pair’s three-first-degree murder convictions served consecutively — one after the other — which would have meant they could not apply for parole for 75 years.
It is a sentence given two other Alberta triple murderers in the last year.
Derek Saretzky was sentenced last August to consecutive life sentences with no parole for 75 years for killing two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, her father Terry Blanchette and senior Hanne Meketech in the Crowsnest Past in 2015.
Consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole for 75 years were also given to Douglas Garland in February 2017. He violently kidnapped Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O’Brien, from the couple’s Calgary home on June 30, 2014, and murdered them at his Airdrie farm. He was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to consecutive life sentences in February 2017.
However, Justice Eric Macklin ruled Klaus’ and Frank’s sentences should be served concurrently — at the same time — meaning they can apply for parole in 25 years.
Extending ineligibility to 50 or 75 years would create sentences that were “unduly long and harsh,” he said.
It was not the decision that many in the packed courtroom wanted to hear.
Grant Berry, a relative of the Klaus family through Sandra, wrote in an email Thursday that “the Berry family feels justice has not been served for Sandi, Gordon and Monica Klaus.
“While we have nothing but gratitude and respect for the entire investigation process and court proceedings to determine a first-degree murder conviction, an opportunity to ensure both Jason and Josh would never cause harm again was missed.”
So what made Klaus’ and Frank’s case different?
Partly, it was the nature of their crimes. Garland killed a child and his offences including abduction, torture and dismemberment. Saretzky killed three people at different times and the case involved the cannabilization of a child.
While Klaus’ and Frank’s murders were “horrendous offences” they did not have the “unique and exceptional circumstances” of other cases, including Garland and Saretzky, says Macklin.
Parole does not end a sentence, he pointed out. It is only a modification of the sentence.
Even if granted parole — rare for multiple murderers — an offender is allowed out only under strict conditions and “necessarily involves control by the state for the rest of the offender’s life,” says Macklin.
Macklin tackled the perception by some that multiple murderers were getting off easy by not having parole extended.
That might “wrongly appear to victims’ families and members of the public that lives of one or more victims have been discounted in the process,” he says.
“In fact, that is not the case at all, as the number of victims is just one of numerous circumstances and factors which a court must consider in exercising its discretion.”
Macklin said he had no evidence that Klaus and Frank would pose a threat to the community in 25 years and should have their parole period extended.
He also spoke at length in court about hope — a murderer’s hope that one day they might be allowed out of prison.
Macklin cited the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which recognizes that criminals who pose a risk to society can be kept behind bars but maintains that the “denial of any hope of release would be inhumane and degrading.”
Canadian judges are expected to show restraint in meting out punishments and rehabilitation is one of the main objectives of sentencing.
“It has been held to be one of the of the fundamental moral values distinguishing Canadian society from the societies of many,” he writes, quoting case law.