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A look back at the Calgary court cases that made news in 2021


COVID-19 sometimes made things difficult, but the Calgary court system was able to adapt and 2021 produced a variety of high-profile criminal cases

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COVID-19 sometimes made things difficult, but the Calgary court system was able to adapt and 2021 produced a variety of high-profile criminal cases.

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From the conviction of a Quebec man in the cold-case murder of his then-Calgary girlfriend to the sentencing of a city resident for the brutal murder and dismemberment of his father’s body after a jury found him guilty in a makeshift courtroom at Stampede Park, the past year produced its usual quota of major news stories.

In January, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of a Calgary man who sexually abused his young daughter for more than two years, sometimes within earshot of her brother who could hear her screams.

The appeal judges rejected defence suggestions the trial judge erred in finding the father committed multiple different acts of sexual degradation against his daughter over a period of two and a half years when she was between two and four years old.

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The same court six months later upheld the man’s 16-year sentence, dismissing defence arguments the man’s punishment should be reduced because he was subjected to vigilante beatings by other prisoners in jail.

In February, Zainedin Al Aalak was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a minimum 15 years for the grisly murder of his father, Mohamed.

Jurors in a makeshift courtroom at the Grandstand building at Stampede Park — designed to allow them to social distance — had convicted Zainedin Al Aalak two months earlier in the strangulation and dismemberment of his father, whose body parts — save for his right hand — were dumped at an Okotoks construction site.

One of the aggravating factors cited by Crown prosecutor Carla MacPhail in seeking a parole ineligibility of up to 18 years was the fact Mohamad Al Aalak’s right hand was never found and couldn’t be buried along with the rest of his body in Iraq.

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In March, triple murderer Dustin Duthie pleaded guilty to killing his girlfriend and then five days later taking the lives of his mother and stepfather.

Duthie was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a minimum 35 years in the July 26, 2018 killing of his girlfriend, Taylor Toller, as well as the stabbing death of his mother, Shawn Boshuck, five days later.

Duthie also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killing of his stepfather, Alan Pennylegion, who confronted him in the midst of cleaning up the blood after killing his mother.

Officers lead suspect Dustin Duthie into the Calgary Police Service arrest processing unit.
Officers lead suspect Dustin Duthie into the Calgary Police Service arrest processing unit. Photo by Photo courtesy of CBC Calgary

Also in March, Justin Bennett was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of his young stepdaughter, Ivy Wick.

Bennett confessed to undercover officers he assaulted the three-year-old who interrupted his video-game playing while her mother, Helen Wordsworth, was showering. He’ll be sentenced in the new year.

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In April, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld convictions of double-murderer Edward Downey, who was sentenced to life without parole for a minimum 50 years for the July 2016 killings of Calgary mom Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter, Taliyah Marsman.

Downey strangled Baillie in her northwest Calgary home as retribution for her interference in his relationship with his girlfriend, and then kidnapped and murdered Taliyah to eliminate her as a witness.

Undated image of Edward Downey, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter Taliyah Marsman.
Undated image of Edward Downey, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter Taliyah Marsman. Photo by Alberta Courts

In July, Ronald Candaele was convicted of second-degree murder for running over his new bride, Melissa Rae Blommaert after the couple got into an argument while driving around in a U-Haul after being evicted from their home.

Justice Blair Nixon ruled Candaele, who has not yet been sentenced, intentionally ran over Blommaert with the fully loaded van on a residential Bowness street in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2020.

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On Sept. 17, Brandon Newman pleaded guilty to killing his care worker, Deborah Onwu, at Wood’s Homes by stabbing her 19 times before fleeing.

Newman attacked Onwu on Oct. 25, 2019, shortly after arriving home to his support residence on 27th Avenue S.W. in the early morning hours.

Two weeks ago, Justice Jim Eamon accepted a joint Crown and defence submission to sentence Newman to an automatic life sentence without parole for a minimum 14 years.

Brandon Newman is taken to the arrest processing unit on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.
Brandon Newman is taken to the arrest processing unit on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Photo by Brendan Miller /Postmedia

Six days after Newman’s guilty plea, Calgarian Keeton Gagnon was convicted of second-degree murder in the random stabbing of an immigrant nursing student on a downtown LRT platform.

Gagnon came up behind Nicholas Nwonye, who moved to Canada from Nigeria to find a better life for his family, and repeatedly stabbed him on the crowded platform in broad daylight on June 2, 2017.

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He’ll be sentenced Jan. 18.

In October, Stephane Parent, who fled Calgary hours after killing his then-girlfriend, Adrienne McColl, on Valentine’s Day 2002, was convicted by a jury of her murder.

Parent, who was arrested at his Gatineau, Que., home in February 2018, was found to have strangled McColl before dumping her body in a rancher’s field near Nanton and paying cash for a one-way flight to Ottawa the following morning.

His sentencing hearing will take place in early January.

Court sketch of Stephane Parent from Sept. 16, 2021. Parent, 53, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the Feb. 14, 2002 death of Adrienne McColl.
Court sketch of Stephane Parent from Sept. 16, 2021. Parent, 53, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the Feb. 14, 2002 death of Adrienne McColl. Photo by Mary Haasdyk

And on Dec. 8, the adult suspect in the New Year’s Eve 2020 death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

Amir Abdulrahman admitted twice grabbing the steering wheel of an SUV Harnett had pulled over at a traffic stop while the driver sped away with the officer clinging to the vehicle.

His sentence will be determined Jan. 28.

KMartin@postmedia.com

Twitter: @KMartinCourts

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