A lawyer for a man accused of murdering a 12-year-old girl more than 40 years ago argued Friday that his client made a false confession to the crime.
In final submissions to the jury, Patrick Angly said that Garry Taylor Handlen, who has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Monica Jack, was manipulated by police during an elaborate undercover operation in which the accused was recruited into a fictitious criminal gang.
“We will take you through the evidence and explain to you how the Crown has failed to prove that what Mr. Handlen said is anything more than a false confession,” Angly said.
The Crown played a videotape in which Handlen confessed during the Mr. Big undercover operation that he had abducted, sexually assaulted and strangled the girl near Merritt. The girl had been reported missing by her family after she failed to return home from a bike ride to Merritt in May 1978. Handlen was investigated initially, but no charges were laid.
In 1995, human remains, including a partial skull, were found on a mountain north of Merritt, which the Crown argued were the remains of the girl.
Then, in 2014, the RCMP targeted Handlen in the undercover operation.
The Crown argued in final submissions that the case boiled down to whether Handlen’s confession was reliable and urged the jury to accept that what the accused said to the undercover operators was true.
But Angly said the prosecution argument effectively said that while Handlen lied in some of the statements he made to police, he should be believed when he confessed to the murder.
“The Crown says, ‘Yes, we know Mr. Handlen is a liar, but you should believe him about that one big thing.’ ” said the defence lawyer. “You should believe him, the Crown says, even though he got lots of details wrong, you should believe him even though he was interviewed by police more than 40 years ago and he was clearly given important details.”
Angly said the “apparent” confession to the fictitious crime boss might have looked like a strong case but asked the jury to remember what B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, the trial judge, told them initially about the dangers of false confessions during such undercover operations.
The law recognizes that confessions made in such circumstances raise concerns as to their reliability or credibility because someone so targeted may view it as being in his best interests to confess to the crime, whether it is true or not, he said.
“We say when you look closely at what happened, the police put Mr. Handlen in a position where he was falsely faced with the certainty of prosecution and the certainty of losing his job,” added Angly. “Mr. Handlen was faced with the prospect of losing everything the police had very carefully and very skilfully manipulated him into believing was coming his way.”
Angly added: “The police created a false reality, a wonderful false reality and then they threatened to snatch it all away.”
The defence lawyer said that the jury was open to find that Monica Jack went missing in 1978, but added that the simple fact of the disappearance was not proof his client was guilty. He said that evidence that the fact that a truck and camper such as the one owned by the accused in 1978 was seen in the area was also not proof of his client’s culpability.
Although the Crown presented expert evidence that the skull found in 1995 was that of Monica Jack, Angly said there was enough “confusion” in the dental records used to make the identification that it created some doubt as to whether the remains were those of the girl.
Angly began his comments with some criticisms of the Crown’s final submissions, which consisted of two prosecutors using power-point presentations. He said that one prosecutor in particular, Crown counsel Gordon Matei, had made his arguments in a forceful, somewhat dramatic way.
“Mr. Matei is entitled to take that dramatic approach. Our simple suggestion is that his approach is a reflection of the weakness of his arguments,” Angly said.
The judge is expected to give his final instructions to the jury at some point next week after which the jury will begin their deliberations.
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