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Kimber: police chief's explanation fails 

Halifax police chief Frank Beazley's response to the unsolved murder issue doesn't hold up

Tom Martin had it wrong, Halifax Police Chief Frank Beazley told CBC Radio’s Information Morning on December 1.

In my story for The Coast (November 19, 2009) on the city’s striking number of unsolved homicides, I’d quoted Martin, a respected retired homicide detective as saying: “To my knowledge, the cold case unit has not laid one single criminal charge in nine years.”

Not true, replied the chief. “They’ve laid charges in two murder cases,” he told interviewer Bob Murphy. But when Murphy pressed him for details on the outcomes of those cases, Beazley demurred. “I don’t recall,” he said.

Curious, I emailed HRP spokesperson Brian Palmeter to ask which murders the squad had solved.

The two incidents, Palmeter replied, involved “the 1988 murder of Smiley Bailey where Gerald Patrick Dow was charged in 2002, [and] the 2000 murder of Joe Murphy where Christopher Terriak was charged.”

The realities of those cases, however, are considerably more complicated---and less convincing---than the chief suggests.

Terriak was indeed charged with murdering Murphy, a fellow street person, in 2003, three years after the original incident. But the cold case squad appears to have had nothing to do with laying those charges.

Martin says the case “was solved and charges laid while I was still in homicide—by members of the homicide section.”

In 2003, Terriak was arrested for beating up another street person, a man he believed had “ratted him out” for Murphy’s murder. When Rev. Gus Pendleton, a local minister, heard about that beating, he went to police with an audiotape in which Terriak confessed to having killed Murphy three years before. Terriak’s confession to the minister was what got him charged—and convicted.

Hardly a triumph for the cold case squad.

The case of Arnold (Smiley) Bailey is even murkier. Bailey was gunned down on Creighton Street in Halifax’s north end in 1988 in what police believed was a drug-related murder. They initially charged Spryfield drug kingpin Terry Marriott Sr. with the crime.

Gerald Patrick Dow had been supposed to be one of the witnesses for the crown in that case. During Marriott’s 1991 preliminary hearing, in fact, Dow testified he saw Marriott shoot Bailey, and claimed that Marriott had then given him the gun with instructions to give it to Marriott's wife. Despite the fact Dow was granted immunity from prosecution in the case, he was never called to testify during the trial, and Marriott was acquitted in June 1991.

Eleven years later—for reasons that have never been fully disclosed—the crown revoked Dow’s immunity deal and police this time charged Dow himself with first degree murder.

By the time the case actually got to court, that charge had been bounced down to being an accessory to the murder. In the end, Dow pleaded guilty only to hiding the 9 mm handgun used in the crime.

To this day, no one has been convicted of Bailey’s murder---even though the case is no longer listed on the police department’s website among its 48 unsolved murders.

Much else about Beazley’s interview with the CBC, as well as his written response to the Coast article—”Frank Beazley: Setting the Record Straight,” Letters, November 26, 2009)---are equally problematic and incomplete.

While Beazley and Martin claim to respect one another—Beazley described Martin’s career-long contribution to the force as “valuable,” while Martin insists “I respect the chief and my opinion is he is a good chief [who was] given wrong information” for his rebuttals---they clearly see the issues through very different lenses.

Beazley, for example, claims the city’s homicide clearance rate isn’t nearly as bad as Martin portrays it. But when the CBC’s Bob Murphy pointed out that similar-sized cities such as London and Windsor, Ontario, had far fewer unsolved murders than Halifax, Beazley suggested the reason was that many of Halifax’s murders were more difficult to solve because they were “gang related, drug related.”

Martin doesn’t buy that. “Both those cities have very high profile gangs---the Rock Machine and the Hell's Angels,” he notes. “Neither of these gangs have a high profile in Halifax.”

“It is disappointing,” Beazley wrote, “that the [Coast] article brought into question the experience and professionalism of our officers, particularly those in the major crime unit.”

In fact, the focus of the article wasn’t on the experience and professionalism of the officers in the major crime unit themselves—whom Martin also went out of his way to praise—but the lack of murder-investigation experience and decision-making smarts among those, including Deputy Chief Chris McNeil, who directly manage those officers and make the critical decisions that affect the investigators and their investigations.

“The only point I am attempting to make known is Halifax Regional Municipality has too many unsolved homicides,” Martin says today. “The problem is not with the quality of investigators or the types of murders we encounter. The problem is management’s lack of experience in these types of investigations and, until this changes, the numbers of unsolved are only going to increase.”

One of the results of that lack of experience, Martin says, was the decision to shut down a special task force set up to look into the 1999 murder of Jason MacCullough because an informant turned out to be a liar. Beazley told the CBC the decision was made “with the best consultations with the best legal minds, not within the department but with outside people.”

Martin, who argues the task force had developed plenty of other information independent of what the informant had told them and was “very close” to being able to lay charges, says the chief’s claims simply don’t match the timeline. The investigators discovered the informant had lied on a Saturday afternoon; McNeil “shut down the file Monday morning first thing. At no time was there any discussion or explanation that the crown was consulted. It would have been physically impossible for a crown prosecutor to have the time to review the file and make such a decision… The investigation was shut down and the explanation given was because Deputy Chief McNeil said so, and there is no room for discussion. This is what investigators were told.”

Beazley also dismissed two other claims Martin made in the article concerning the Kimberly McAndrew missing persons investigation: that when Martin was a cold case investigator himself, he had been unable to get a copy of the RCMP’s files of its investigation into her disappearance, and that evidence he’d intended to send out for DNA testing in the case had disappeared.

“The simple truth,” wrote Beazley, “is that all exhibits are accounted for and the RCMP file referenced in the story has been in our possession for many years.”

Not so, replies Martin. There was, in fact, more than one RCMP file. Because McAndrew’s father was an RCMP officer, he says, the “RCMP were involved in Kim’s incident before Halifax police were even called. They went to her workplace, spoke to people and even went through her workplace. I was informed by several RCMP members after I was assigned Kim's file that the RCMP had their own file regarding Kim. That is the file I tried to obtain and was unsuccessful.”

As for the DNA evidence, Martin says it wasn’t there when he went looking for it. “I went looking for a certain piece of evidence, [the nature of] which I can not disclose,” he explains. “I was told by all the those that I made requests for this item that they did not have it and they could not locate it. To me that equals missing.”

“What is most disconcerting,” Beazley added in his letter to The Coast, “is the specific information about individual files that was contained in the article. This could very well jeopardize the integrity of those files and open up old wounds for the families involved.”

As for information jeopardizing the integrity of the case files, it’s important to make the point that Martin was very careful not to discuss specific investigative details of any of the cases with me. The detailed information about those cases in the story comes either from my own independent interviews or from previously published reports.

And Beazley’s concern about the story opening up old wounds---“We have reached out to the families in question to assure them that work continues on their loved ones’ cases”—would be more convincing if one of those families hadn’t told me they hadn’t heard from the department for at least five years prior to the publication of the article.

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