Every once in a while you run into a story with such terrible irony you realize it sounds like fiction. This is one of them. Although it in no way changes the tragedy and relevance of what happened to Shayna Conway and three friends on a dark highway in December 2011, it is not the first time Shayna's family has been exposed to violent crime. In 1990, when Shayna was just ten days old, her father Scott Conway was sentenced to ten years in jail for second degree murder.
In 1982, Scott Conway was 21-years-old. His ex-girlfriend, Donna Boutin, was living with 20-year-old Warren Leach in Nepean, Ontario. Scott and Warren had a history. At first they were friends. When Warren was in his early teens he stayed with Scott's family for a short while. But when they grew older and Warren moved in with Donna, bad blood rose between the two men.
The reason depends on who you talk to. According to Scott, Warren was jealous. He worried that Donna still had feelings for Scott and so he found reasons to hate him. In 1981, Warren's car had been vandalized and he blamed Scott for it. Scott says this led to a violent confrontation at a party. "Warren jumped across the table and had me by the throat. He was screaming about damage to his car."
Warren was a few inches taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than Scott, so after the fight, Scott kept a wide berth. But Nepean was a small community, making it difficult for Scott and Warren to avoid each other. "For a little more than a year whenever I ran into him and he was with her, he would take a run at me," Scott says."Eventually, I tried to make peace." Scott assured Warren he had no designs on Donna, "I told him he didn't need to rip my head off, the problem had nothing to do with me. When we left that meeting I thought everything was going to be cool."
Three or four months later, friends threw a party at a trailer in an open field in nearby Richmond, Ontario. When Scott heard Warren wasn't invited, he decided to attend. But when he got there, he saw both Warren and Donna. He was apprehensive about staying, but decided to anyway. It wasn't long before a fight broke out between them. Friends intervened and the situation calmed down. A little while later Scott says he was sitting near the bonfire opening a beer with his buck knife when Warren kicked him in the back. He fell to the ground with Warren on top of him, "and then there was a fight for probably the next 15 to 20 seconds until I could get free and run."
Scott wound up in a nearby swamp, finally finding his way out the next morning. "I was wandering around, didn't know where I was when I was picked up by an OPP cruiser." The officer asked Scott if he was in a fight with Warren Leach the night before. "I said, "Yeah I was. What's going on?" And then he told me Warren had died." Devastated, Scott got out of the car and threw up on the side of the road.
Later Scott learned that after he took off, Warren lay bleeding for more than an hour before help arrived. "This was a time when there were no cell phones and they were in the middle of a farmer's field. So one of the guys went down the road to find help. It took police 50 minutes to get there, and the ambulance got lost. Warren kept asking the cops to get him to the hospital, but they refused. Eventually, he even offered to take his own car, but they made him wait another 35 minutes for the ambulance and he ended up dying on the way to the hospital."
Lori Hoddinot, the wife of Warren Leach's good friend Mark Fraser, was at the party and she tells a different story. She says when she and several other of Warren's friends and family saw Scott on the W5 piece, Road to Murder, they became "spewing mad" because, "he did the same damn thing," committed murder out of jealousy.
Lori says Scott and Donna dated for six years, broke up and it was Scott who couldn't get over it. "He stalked her and harassed Warren for months, trashed Warren's car and got to the point where he was going to take it further. He went to a party one night and brought his knife, sat there and bitched and complained about Warren, took his freshly sharpened knife and ran at Warren from behind. He stabbed Warren 16 times and then he ran away."
Four trials were held. The first trial in 1983, resulted in a second degree murder conviction, but it was overturned on appeal. The second trial in 1985-86 resulted in a hung jury. By the time a third trial came around, Scott asked for trial by judge alone, but he needed the Crown's consent. Scott had exhausted his savings and could not afford a new lawyer, so the trial was delayed. It finally took place in 1987 with the judge granting Scott a stay of proceedings. That meant he was free.
But the Crown appealed and then Scott re-appealed and the Supreme Court of Canada set a new trial for 1990, almost nine years after Warren's death. The result was a second degree murder conviction for Scott with a sentence of 10 years. In sentencing Scott, Justice Moldaver said, "to a certain extent the justice system has let you down." Scott says the Judge continued with the words, "especially since it relies on eye witness testimony, which is questionable at best."
Ten days before he left to serve his sentence, Scott's wife Sheri, who was almost nine months pregnant with Shayna, had her doctor induce labour so that Scott could see Shayna before he was imprisoned.
Scott worked hard not to become institutionalized in jail. He wanted to make something of himself so he could be a good father when he got out. He signed up for university correspondence courses and learned the hairdressing trade. Every cent he earned, he sent to his parents to fly Shayna from P.E.I., where Sheri had moved, to visit him. He was released on parole in 1997. Scott says Warren's death "plays like a movie over and over all the time. I don't go through a day that it's not right there." Scott was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder three years after he got out of prison.
Then in December 2011, Scott got the horrifying news that Shayna had been shot by Tabitha Stepple's ex-boyfriend Derek Jensen on a highway just outside Claresholm, Alberta. She and Tabitha had been driving two friends to the Calgary airport. The friends, Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean, were young baseball players headed home for Christmas. Tabitha, Tanner and Mitch died in the shooting. Jensen took his own life at the scene. Shayna was shot four times and barely survived.
The first thing that went through Scott's mind was, "I can't believe that the same sort of thing ruined all those kids' lives that ruined mine when I was the same age, jealousy. He (Leach) was crazy about this girl and he thought she was crazy about me, and it drove him bananas."
Lori Hoddinot admits she and others are bitter, "it's the worst karma come around." "I have five daughters so I feel for (Shayna) immensely, but there is a small little, tiny piece of me that takes the littlest bit of comfort in the fact that Scott, not the girl, but Scott as a parent, every time he talks to his daughter, and every time he goes through the next, however many years with his daughter as she recovers mentally and physically, and he watches his child's pain, he knows in the back of his mind, he put others through the same pain." She goes on to say, "Every time she flinches or works to make progress, maybe then he'll get a little insight into what he did."
Lori says she and many of Warren's friends still pay tribute to him on a special website. "I was talking to his mom Rita yesterday and it just warms the heart that every two months somebody new logs into the guest book and leaves a memory. A lot of us remember his laugh. He had the best laugh, big loud and deep. He was only here 20 years, he's been gone 30 years now and people are still talking about him, so that should tell you what kind of guy he was."
Conway says Lori's husband Mark was the Crown's star witness for all four trials. He says he lives with constant regret. “The toughest lesson I've learned over the years is that your whole life is changed by a mistake, one mistake. And it doesn't just change what happened that day, it changes what happens the rest of your life.”
W5 contacted the mother of Warren Leach. She did not want to appear on camera, but she says she forgave Scott years ago. When Scott heard those words, he wept.
“I've never tried to say I'm not responsible for what I did. I'm terribly, terribly sorry. I'd give anything to turn the clock back, but I can't. And I know that the fact I spent years in prison and am on parole for the rest of my life isn't a comfort to them. They lost their son, and I know the pain that I caused them. I'm sorry and I'll always be sorry for that, and I just wish I could change what happened."
Kirstie McLellan Day is a best selling author whose recent books include Playing With Fire (Theo Fleury), Tough Guy (Bob Probert) and Cornered (Ron Maclean). She was Executive Producer of Road To Murder, produced by Pyramid Productions Inc. for W5.