February 25th, 2024

Jury to be given instructions as stabbing rampage coroner’s inquest nears end

By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press on January 30, 2024.

Keith Brown, the lawyer representing the James Smith Cree Nation, speaks to media following the opening day of the public coroner's inquest into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022, in Melfort, Sask., Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

MELFORT, Sask. – Jurors are set to receive instructions from a coroner this morning as an inquest into a mass stabbing on a Saskatchewan First Nation reaches its final stages.

Myles Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others on the James Smith Cree Nation and nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon, on Sept. 4, 2022.

He died in police custody a few days later.

The six jurors heard the final evidence of the inquest Monday and will begin deliberations today on recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future.

Over the last 11 days, the inquest heard how the rampage unfolded from RCMP officers at the scene and health-care officials organizing the response from paramedics and hospitals.

It has also heard about Sanderson’s life, personal relationships and prison history.

New information about how Sanderson was able to evade police detection for more than three days was heard Monday. Sgt. Evan Anderson, with the Saskatchewan RCMP’s major crimes unit, said Sanderson had made a “camp” in the bushes by a home near Crystal Springs, a hamlet in east-central Saskatchewan near Wakaw.

The owner of the home called police on Sept. 7, 2022, to report that Sanderson broke into her home and fled in her vehicle. Police pursued the killer until the vehicle Sanderson was driving went into the ditch near Rosthern.

The 32-year-old went into medical distress in police custody and was declared dead in hospital in Saskatoon.

A second inquest into Sanderson’s death is to take place in February.

Keith Brown, the lawyer representing the First Nation in the inquests, said Monday that there’s been a lot of evidence about many different issues. He said the jurors will have a lot to consider coming up with recommendations.

“I am hopeful that individual families perhaps got a little bit more information and maybe closure as to the specific circumstances of their loved ones,” Brown said.

The inquest is to establish the events leading up to the killings, who died, and when and where each person was killed.

RCMP said in an overview of the massacre that Sanderson went to the First Nation to sell cocaine. In the days before the killings, he caused chaos with his brother, Damien Sanderson.

Damien Sanderson was the first to be killed. Myles Sanderson then went door-to-door on the First Nation stabbing people.

An RCMP criminal profiler has testified that some victims were targeted because Sanderson had a grievance against them, and others just got in the way of his mission to kill.

The inquest heard from Sanderson’s parole officers, elders with Corrections Services of Canada and others who dealt with the killer while he navigated the prison system.

Sanderson received statutory release in August 2021 after having parole denied earlier that year. Statutory release kicks in when an offender has served two-thirds of a prison sentence.

Four months into his freedom, Sanderson was found to have been lying about his living arrangements, and his release was suspended.

In February 2022, the board cancelled the suspension and Sanderson again received statutory release with a reprimand.

Three months later, Sanderson was unlawfully at large and a parole officer issued a warrant for his apprehension. He was still at large at the time of the massacre.

The inquest also heard from Sanderson’s common-law partner, Vanessa Burns. Burns, who shared five children with Sanderson, testified about more than 14 years of domestic violence.

Her father, Earl Burns Sr., was among those killed by Sanderson.

“The jury has a very large task in front of them,” said Kim Beaudin, the vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, on Monday after testimony for the inquest finished.

He said it’s important that departments and all levels of government act on the recommendations and they don’t just sit on a shelf.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2024.

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