Articles

April 19, 2008
Globe & Mail - Written by Justine Hunter
(Cover Story - Spotting the signs before someone dies) - Page 2 of 3

Ms. Coupal can't address the specifics of the case, which will be the subject of a coroner's inquest this month. But looking hypothetically at the factors known before the killings, she notes that many of the classic danger signs were there.

Mr. Lee had a history of violence. He was facing court proceedings for alleged assaults against his wife and others. His wife had just weeks earlier served him with divorce papers after he had been charged with deliberately crashing the family Land Rover into a power pole in a bid to injure her. The resulting restraining order forced him out of his home and his job. On the day of the murders, he was scheduled to appear in court to answer questions about a report that he may have been violating bail conditions that required him to stay away from his family.

“At that point, every alarm bell should be going off,” Ms. Coupal said.

Victoria police had opposed Mr. Lee's release on bail after the alleged assault on his wife, but a Crown prosecutor persuaded a justice of the peace to free him. Similarly, police had concerns about Mr. Schoenborn in the days before his children were murdered, but a justice of the peace freed him on bail without knowing all of the risk factors.

“The red flags are there, but the problem is in the coordination,” Ms. Coppell said. “If you look at any individual piece, it's meaningless”. Across the country police protocols on risk assessment vary province by province, often detachment by detachment. Even where protocols are in place, they are not always followed. The Victoria police did not apply their standard risk assessment checklist to Peter Lee because they felt they had enough evidence of risk to keep him detained.

The pilot project in Langley will provide a 14-hour training course to police and prosecutors. It includes a checklist to determine whether primary risk factors for homicide are present, a list modeled on a similar program used in Alberta.

Langley RCMP inspector Richard Konarski, an organizer of the pilot project said it will change the way domestic violence is investigated.

“The key is a victim centered risk assessment tool”, he said. “Wouldn't it be neat if all we tell the investigating officer is, ‘You have to ensure the safety of the victim, go investigate’. “Imagine the questions they would ask.”

MURDERS TEACH A LESSON

A double murder in 2003 is featured in the course material that will soon be presented to Langley RCMP. It's a story of questions that weren't asked.

Anna Adams was visiting her daughter, Sherry Heron, a patient at Mission Memorial Hospital, when Ms. Heron's estranged husband, Bryan Heron, walked into the room and shot both women in the face with his .357 Magnum revolver. He later killed himself.

At the inquest, jurors heard a chilling interview recorded shortly before Ms. Heron was murdered in which she tearfully told a police officer she feared her husband. “I felt that he would hurt me if I left him”, she told the rookie constable, who conducted an eight minute interview before closing the file. “He said ‘You're not going to leave me and if anyone interferes, like your family or someone,’ he probably hurt someone”. Ms. Coupal said the murders could have been prevented.

Continue to page 3...