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Sherri Zickefoose, Canwest News Service
CALGARY – Jeremy Allan Steinke has been found guilty by a jury of three counts of first-degree murder in the gruesome deaths of an Alberta couple and their eight-year-old son, bringing to a close one of the most shocking and bizarre multiple murder cases in recent memory.
The jury, which began deliberations Thursday afternoon following a 2 1/2-week trial, found Steinke responsible for the premeditated slaying of his then-12 year-old girlfriend’s family in their Medicine Hat home in 2006.
The girl, who cannot be identified, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder at her well-publicized jury trial in Medicine Hat in the summer of 2007.
Steinke, 25, sat expressionless with his head down as the guilty verdicts were read out in court. His terminally ill mother Jacqueline May, clutching a Bible and an oxygen cylinder, dropped her head and wept.
“I did not expect first-degree,” she said afterward.
The killings, horrifying in the extreme, stunned the nation. The first police officers to enter the family’s home in Medicine Hat, Alta., after the killings on April 23, 2006, found a crime scene awash in blood, the walls smeared with bloody handprints.
The girl’s mother died after being stabbed 12 times. The father fought for his life with a screwdriver, but was stabbed two dozen times, including nine times in his back. The body of the girl’s eight-year-old brother was found lying on his blood-soaked bed. His throat had been slashed open.
Steinke’s lawyer said his client was well aware of the outcome he faced.
“You saw him on the stand,” said Alain Hepner, who was aided by co-counsel Rebecca Snukal. “I think the way he spoke and the way he presented on the stand . . . you can take a lot of cues from his body language.
“My colleague and I gave it all we had. We fought a good fight. It was a tough case, but we just had to go through it.”
Crown prosecutor Ramona Robins telephoned the victims’ relatives to give them the news.
“It was my privilege to be the first person to tell them,” she said. “I think they’re relieved. I’m glad that it’s over for the sake of the whole family and, of course, the community.
“We are a small community . . . only 60,000 people, and a lot of people were personally affected by this tragedy and I felt it was important for them to see the end of it. It’s a terrible tragedy.”
The Crown and defence agreed on only one point during the trial: Steinke stabbed to death the girl’s parents after sneaking into their home wearing a mask and dressed completely in black.
They clashed over the circumstances of the younger brother’s death and the motivation for the attacks.
The Crown painted a picture of Steinke as a cold-hearted killer who wiped out his young girlfriend’s family as part of a murder plan crafted in advance by the couple and documented in conversations with friends and in online messages they’d exchanged. The motivation, according to the Crown, was adolescent rage at the parents, who disapproved of their 12-year-old daughter dating the then-23-year-old Steinke, an unemployed high-school dropout.
Robins presented a recording of a conversation Steinke had with an undercover officer posing as a prisoner while he was being transported to a Calgary lockup. In it, Steinke admitted he was responsible for the deaths and gave details of the killings.
“You hear about that triple homicide?” Steinke said during the recorded conversation. “Yeah. You’re looking at him. . . . Me and my old lady have become legends.”
He told the officer the girl slit her brother’s throat. “It didn’t bother her at all, either, she didn’t cry or anything. In fact, the next day when we were on the road, f-n’ she was laughing about it. She’s got a few screws loose, too.”
Steinke described fanciful plans to marry his girlfriend in a Gothic wedding ceremony and move to a castle in Germany.
Robins told the jury that Steinke told the undercover officer the father’s dying word was, “Why?” and that Steinke replied, “Because your daughter wanted it that way.”
Steinke said that, in the hours before the killings, he was drinking a “two-four” of beer and a bottle of “Vampire” brand red wine, and consumed a gram of cocaine.
He also claimed he was fond of drinking blood and once ate a batch of sugar cookies that a friend had made with blood.
“When they came out of the oven they were pink – that’s how much blood he put in them,” he said.
The Crown showed the jury transcripts of messages exchanged by Steinke and the girl a month before the killings. The girl, writing under the online alias “runawaydevil,” told Steinke: “I hate them. So I have this plan, it begins with me killing them and ends with me living with you.”
Steinke, writing as “Souleater,” responded: “Well, I love your plan, but we need to get a little more creative with like details and stuff.”
“(The girl was) the motive and Steinke was the means” to the killings, Robins said.
The Crown went after Steinke’s claim that he could do nothing to stop the girl from killing her brother. Robins suggested that Steinke stood back and watched the boy die because he knew the boy could have identified him. In their separate trials, neither Steinke nor the girl took responsibility for the boy’s death.
The Crown also claimed Steinke tried to recruit friends to help him with the murder plan. Jordan Attfield testified that Steinke asked for his help and, when he refused, threatened to implicate him and others if he was caught.
Another friend of Steinke’s, James Whalley, told the jury Steinke boasted he “gutted” the girl’s parents “like fish.” An underage witness reported seeing Steinke and the girl smiling as they pored over newspaper coverage of the killings.
After their arrest, the couple exchanged jailhouse love letters and promised to marry.
The defence presented Steinke as a damaged victim of a brutalized childhood, a lovelorn loser too addled by drugs and alcohol to form the intent to kill.
Hepner claimed the attacks on the parents were “an impulsive reaction” triggered by Steinke’s excessive intoxication and drug abuse that night and by being surprised in the house by the girl’s mother.
He dismissed the conversation with the undercover officer as hollow boasts intended to shore up his prison reputation, and the online exchanges as the bluster of “a young man with zero self-esteem who finally found someone to love him.”
The defence put Steinke’s mother on the stand. Steinke wept in his prisoner’s box as May told court about the beatings and abuse he endured at the hands of her ex-husbands and lovers.
“He said he wished he’d never been born,” she said, adding her son had been on antidepressants and medication for attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder since his early teens.
The girl is serving her youth sentence in an Edmonton psychiatric hospital.
The case made her the youngest person in Canada ever convicted of multiple homicide.
Now 15, the girl was described as “seriously disturbed” during sentencing arguments last year. She was given the maximum sentence allowed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act: six years in custody at a psychiatric hospital, where she is undergoing extensive rehabilitation and treatment in a special $100,000-a-year program, followed by four years of supervision.
She will be free at age 22. Her record will follow her for another five years, until she is 27.
The case still haunts Medicine Hat. Phyllis Gehrig and her husband live next door to the house where the family was killed. She said they still can’t erase the ‘what-if’ question from their minds.
“If we’d have known that anything like that was going on over there that night, if we just had an inkling, we could have made a phone call to the police. That’s what still bothers me,” she said. “But it was the furthest thing from our minds.”
Norm Boucher, the mayor of Medicine Hat and the chief of police at the time of the killings, said the jury delivered the only logical verdict based on what he said was incontrovertible evidence.
He said he hopes that holding the sentencing in Medicine Hat might help the shattered town move past the traumatic experience.
“That might be the final closure the community needs. It really shook the community when it happened,” he said. “To have national and international media in your community, particularly when it is a small community, is difficult.”