A man accused of murdering a 12-year-old British Columbia girl over 40 years ago has been found guilty of first-degree murder.
Jurors began deliberating the fate of Garry Handlen on Tuesday after an 11-week trial in B.C. Supreme Court, where Monica Jack’s mother tearfully testified she last saw her daughter riding her bike on a sunny Saturday in May 1978.
Jack’s family members wept in the courtroom after the verdict was released on Thursday.
The trial heard that Handlen told an undercover RCMP officer in November 2014 that he sexually assaulted and strangled Jack after abducting her from a highway pullout in Merritt.
His his defence team had maintained the confession was coerced.
A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
In a hidden-camera video shown in court, Handlen told the crime boss of a so-called Mr. Big operation that he grabbed Jack, threw her bike in a lake, forced the girl into the bathroom of his camper and drove up a rough hill where he killed her and burned her clothes and parts of her body.
Jack’s skull and some bones were found in the area 17 years later.
Her mother, Madeline Lanaro, told the trial she was driving her old Mustang home with her other children when she saw her daughter on the highway and that the girl waved at them.
“I honked and the kids yelled out, ‘Do you want a ride? And she said ‘No.’ “
Lanaro said her daughter had asked for permission to ride her new bike down the highway for the first time that day.
The nine-month undercover operation that began in Minden, Ont., in early 2014, involved a fictitious crime group that hired Handlen to do legal and illegal jobs such as loan sharking, the trial heard.
Handlen was paid almost $12,000 by the gang that promised him a middle-management job as he was gaining favour with the boss, who told him in the video that police had DNA linking him to Jack’s murder but the crime could be pinned on someone else if he provided enough details.
“The bottom line is, they got people that saw you and they got your DNA. That’s not good, Garry,” the crime boss tells him in a hotel room, in video shown to the jury.
Handlen was also told he would have to travel to British Columbia’s Interior with other members of the group to point out the spot where he said he’d abducted Jack so an ailing man taking the fall for him would have that information.
Handlen told the supposed crime boss he picked up an Indigenous girl and sexually assaulted her, then repeated at least half a dozen separate times that he strangled her before tossing her body behind a log and leaving the area.
“It’s a weight off my shoulder now, I’ve told you. So I’m not the only one that knows now,” he tells the crime boss in the video.
The boss tells him he could continue working for the group to repay the debt.
“I’m indebted for life now,” Handlen says, before repeatedly thanking him.
Handlen’s defence lawyers told the jury their client was set up by the RCMP with inducements that had him believing he’d get his dream of a new truck and continue being part of a group he called a band of brothers.
However, the Crown said Handlen had no motivation to confess to a crime he didn’t commit and felt relief at having unburdened himself from a secret he’d carried for 36 years.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press