August 5, 2021
PENHOLD — Canada’s flawed catch-and-release justice system had fatal consequences Monday in this central Alberta town 16 kilometres south of Red Deer that has left a family of four “permanently traumatized” and left a repeat home invader dead.
The unidentified man who was shot and killed inside a rural home on C & E Trail had broken into the home two times previously just days earlier, traumatizing the family who lived in the rental home on a large acreage in this normally bucolic community of 3,200 people.
“If he had been arrested and held instead of released twice, he would be alive and I wouldn’t look like this,” said the resident, whose shattered right arm was in a cast and who had numerous visible scabs on his head and ears after he was bludgeoned repeatedly with a wooden baseball bat by the intruder.
The victim and his wife, who spoke to Postmedia briefly at the home of his neighbour and friend, Teri Ryan, said: “I’m going to have to live with this for the rest of my life,” referring to taking another man’s life.
The man’s 13-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son along with his wife called for police as he was struck at least 10 times with a wooden bat by the intruder.
The attacker had been caught breaking into the home Friday, and was held by some renters of a workshop on the land until Blackfalds RCMP arrived and arrested him.
Then, at about 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, the same agitated and violent man, broke into the home while the family was asleep, and was subdued and held until the police arrived to arrest him again. The intruder had apparently either worked or lived on the property in the past, or knew the former residents of the home about five years ago. He suffered from mental health and addictions issues, according to an RCMP report obtained by Postmedia.
“The kids were so traumatized I decided we all needed to get away,” said the man, who asked to not be identified.
Before they left on a long-weekend getaway, the man dropped by Ryan’s home to tell her they were going away to try to “shake off the trauma” of the break-ins.
On Monday, at about 3 p.m. when the family returned home from their mini vacation, they were puzzled by the gate being broken.
“If we knew he was in the house I would never have gone in there,” says the man. “I went into the house to check things out and he was on our bed.”
Ryan says she never heard anything because she was vacuuming at around 3 p.m. on that tragic afternoon, but she says another neighbour, Phil, says he heard “horrific screaming coming from the home,” realizing later that it was his neighbour who was being battered by the man who was armed with a baseball bat and high on drugs. Ryan says that neighbour also heard a single gunshot.
The victimized man says he grabbed his shotgun to defend himself. “I couldn’t find the safety on my gun as I was being attacked but finally I found it.”
He pulled the trigger and struck the man in the torso. The intruder was declared dead at the scene by paramedics.
“I’ve got to live with this. This is never going away,” lamented the man with his petite wife by his side, wiping away tears.
“I wish I was armed with pepper spray because then we wouldn’t have to live with this, this nightmare that has happened to us.”
The man said the couple’s 13-year-old daughter made an audio recording of the attack that was provided to the RCMP.
“I have some good news — I was just told that I will not face charges for defending myself and my family,” said the man who was taken to hospital to be treated for his serious but non-life-threatening injuries. “If I had been raped, I wouldn’t have had to go through the perp walk,” he said of being arrested for manslaughter and treated like a criminal instead of like the victim he is, prior to being told that no charges would be laid following an investigation by RCMP at the scene.
Despite that, he says, “the RCMP have been incredible, incredibly professional. They did their due diligence.”
The family intends to avail themselves of victims’ services — including counselling — to cope with their ordeal.
He says he can’t imagine the added trauma he would have faced if, like Okotoks rancher Eddie Maurice in 2018, he was charged with a criminal offence simply for trying to defend himself and his family. Charges against Maurice were eventually dropped but only after a costly legal fight that people from across Alberta helped to fund.
According to an internal police report obtained by Postmedia, the victimized man was initially arrested by the RCMP after seven police cruisers attended the scene and he came to the door of his home bloodied, informing them that he had shot the intruder during a struggle and that the man had died.
Ryan says when she first saw all of the police arrive, she was concerned that one of the family members had been hurt or killed.
“I can’t help but wonder how different things would be if that man, who was obviously struggling with addiction issues, had been held — if not the first time he broke into their home then at least the second time,” said Ryan, who says RCMP told her that the deceased man was addicted to methamphetamine.
“How many times was our justice system going to just allow him to return to that home to traumatize that family?” asked Ryan, while sitting on her shaded deck overlooking the crime scene in the distance.
“It’s just by the grace of God that (my neighbour) isn’t the one in the morgue, leaving a wife and two kids behind. But it’s also a tragedy for that troubled man, who I am also praying for. He should have been held and helped, not just released,” Ryan said.
Canada’s revolving-door justice system leaves a lot of victims in its wake. Sometimes those victims are the perpetrators themselves. There’s no compassion for anyone in that.