Travis Baumgartner pleads guilty in armoured car shootings; Crown wants 40 years
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge is to decide whether an armoured car guard who killed three co-workers and injured a fourth will be the first person in Canada to receive the harshest sentence since the death penalty was in force.
Crown and defence lawyers are both recommending Travis Baumgartner be sentenced -- under a new federal law enacted by Parliament in 2011 -- to life with no parole for 40 years.
Baumgartner, 22, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and a charge of attempted murder in a plea bargain. He was originally charged with first-degree murder in the three deaths.
Chief Crown prosecutor Steve Bilodeau said the new law gives judges the discretion to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods in cases involving multiple murders.
Under the previous law, life sentences for more than one death had to be served concurrently, with only a single maximum parole ineligibility period of 25 years; under the new law, the most Baumgartner could face would be 75 years without parole.
Associate Chief Justice John Rooke said he will issue his decision Wednesday morning.
Bilodeau said he understands the judge is wading into "untested waters" and, if granted, it would be the toughest term imposed by a Canadian court since the last execution in 1962 -- the double hanging of Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin in Toronto.
But Bilodeau said Baumgartner's case warrants extraordinary punishment.
"Travis Baumgartner was supposed to be watching his fellow guards but instead shot them in their heads," he told the court. "The depth of betrayal is remarkable."
Bilodeau said what makes it worse was that Baumgartner tried to flee the country with a bag of cash after the shooting: "He did it for money."
Baumgartner methodically shot his fellow guards from security company G4S while they were on a routine night shift reloading ATMs at the University of Alberta campus on June 15, 2012.
Court heart that he owed a couple friends money and had argued with his mother about paying her rent on the afternoon before. He also joked with a pal about robbing his employer and sent a text that said: "This is the night."
A statement of facts entered in court said Baumgartner was in a locked ATM vestibule with three fellow guards: Michelle Shegelski, 26, Brian Ilesic, 35, and 25-year-old Matthew Schuman. Shegelski was standing watching Ilesic and Schuman reload the machines. They all had their backs to Baumgartner, who was standing at the door.
He shot them all in their heads before they had time to draw their guns in defence.
He then rushed out of the school building and shot the lone guard who was waiting in the armoured truck -- Eddie Rejano, 39.
Schuman was rushed to hospital and miraculously survived. Baumgartner left undisclosed amounts of money at the homes of two friends and plopped $64,000 in cash on his mother's kitchen table before he was arrested in British Columbia at a Canada-U.S. border crossing with nearly $334,000 in a backpack.
Bilodeau explained that Baumgartner had planned the robbery but there "is room for doubt" that he planned to kill the guards reloading the machines, and that's why the Crown agreed to the two second-degree murder pleas. But, Bilodeau said, the evidence makes it clear that Baumgartner planned to kill Rejano as he walked back to the truck, reloading his gun along the way.
Rejano's wife, Cleo, walked into court holding hands with the couple's two young sons. She was among the first to read a victim impact statement and cried as she told Baumgartner how much she hates him for taking her husband so violently.
"He will never come home to us," she said. "I still find myself trying to call his cell phone."
Her youngest son stood on a chair behind her as she spoke and, at one point, reached over and softly wiped away tears from her face with a tissue..
Shegelski had married just months before the shooting. Her husband, Victor Shegelski, told the court Baumgartner had robbed him of his "perfect woman," the one who made his life complete.
"I am exhausted and I wish I would die," he said, adding the only reason he won't kill himself is because his wife would have wanted him to carry on.
Ilesic's parents, Mike and Dianne Ilesic, said Baumgartner took away their son's chance to watch his young daughter grow, attend her graduation and walk her down the aisle at her wedding. They said they were shocked to learn about comments he'd made on Facebook before the shooting.
Among the posts were "2 days till training ... I get a gun;)" and "I wonder if I'd make the six o'clock news if I just started popping people off."
Questions about how G4S screens its employees arose as details like the Facebook posts were uncovered about the accused shooter. Last fall, company president Jean Taillon said a review was done after the shooting, but the same policies are still in use.
"These deaths were violent!" shouted Dianne Ilesic. "We ask God, 'Why, why did this happen?"'
Court heard Schuman, the lone survivor, did not want to attend court and risk being retraumatized. So his statement was read for him.
It said Baumgartner changed his life forever that day -- taking his health, his career and his pending marriage from him. Schuman, a firefighter with the military, took a second job working for G4S. The shooting happened his third day on the job.
He wrote that he lost a portion of his brain when he was shot. He still can't feel the right side of his body, has vision loss and risks having seizures. He said it's humiliating to always wear a helmet and must also learn to read and write again.
The stress of his recovery also took its toll on the relationship with his fiancee -- the mother of his young son, he said.
"People say I am one of the lucky ones. I can promise you, most days it doesn't feel like that. I don't feel lucky that I lived and they all died."
Baumgartner sat throughout the sentencing hearing with his mouth twisted in a smirk, sometimes turned down a frown, his arms folded across his chest. When asked if he wanted to address the court, Baumgartner stood and said, "Not at this point in time in history, no."
Court heard that Baumgartner first claimed to police that he'd been kidnapped and told by a man to drive to Seattle and deliver the bag of money or his family would be killed. He said he didn't remember the last few days.
After he later confessed the shooting to police, he cried and wrote letters of apology to the victims' families.
His lawyer, Peter Royal, said 40 years of parole ineligibility is appropriate, and no more than that.
He said it's unlikely notorious killers like Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson will ever be granted parole. But his client had no previous criminal record and is still a young man.
"At some point there must be light at the end of the tunnel."
Royal said if the judge agrees to the 40-year eligibility period, Baumgartner can first apply for parole in 2052. He would be 61.