The jury that convicted Garry Taylor Handlen of murdering 12-year-old Monica Jack did not hear during the trial that he had confessed to the slaying of another girl.
When Handlen, now 71, was arrested in November 2014, he was charged with Monica’s first-degree murder from May 1978, as well as the September 1975 first-degree murder of 11-year-old Kathryn-Mary Herbert.
During a police sting known as a Mr. Big operation, Handlen first confessed to undercover officers posing as members of a criminal organization that he had killed Monica.
Then, two days later, he admitted he had also killed Kathryn-Mary Herbert, who went missing while walking home in Matsqui.
About two months after her mother reported her missing to police, her body was found under a piece of plywood in a remote wooded area on the Matsqui First Nations reserve.
An autopsy revealed she had died of “blunt force trauma” to her head. She had a skull fracture and a broken jaw.
Handlen confessed to the undercover officers that he had picked her up in his vehicle, had sex with her, and then strangled her before accidentally driving over her body and then disposing of it in an “Indian graveyard.”
A day after his confession, he showed investigators where he had picked up the girl in his vehicle, an area which generally corresponded to where she was last seen walking alone.
He also showed police where he killed her and left her body, a location which corresponded to the remote area where the body was found.
But during a pre-trial hearing, Handlen denied committing the murder, saying he was familiar with the area and had gotten information about the Herbert homicide from newspaper accounts and documentaries on the case.
And because the confessions were made during a Mr. Big operation, they were deemed presumptively inadmissible, requiring the Crown to establish on a balance of probabilities that the probative value of the confessions outweighed their prejudicial effect.
In a ruling released last August and posted online Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen found that Handlen’s confession to the Monica Jack homicide was admissible, but questioned whether the confession to the Herbert homicide should proceed to trial.
“Although a willingness to confess to the abduction, rape and murder of an 11-year-old child, in most circumstances, is a powerful indication of the reliability of that confession, the circumstances are somewhat different,” the judge said in his 138-page ruling.
“The accused had already confessed to the abduction, rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in the hope and expectation that he would be saved from the consequences of a looming investigation into that homicide.”
The circumstances surrounding the confession to the Herbert homicide were therefore “considerably more likely to inspire a false confession” to that murder, added the judge.
The presence or absence of supporting evidence was therefore important in assessing the reliability of the confession, said the judge.
With several exceptions, none of the evidence the Crown put forward as supporting evidence negated Handlen’s story that he got details of the crime from media and documentary accounts, he said.
“The evidence establishes that the accused was prone to strong embellishments,” said the judge, adding that he was unable to conclude the confession achieved sufficient reliability or probative value to offset the inherent prejudice created by the Mr. Big technique.
“I accordingly decline to admit the evidence of the accused’s confession to the Herbert homicide.”
The judge’s decision was subject to a publication ban, resulting in the jury at the trial not hearing details of Handlen’s confession.
In January, Handlen received the mandatory sentence of life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years for the murder of Monica Jack. The judge then dismissed the Herbert murder charge.
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