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Douglas Quan, Postmedia News |
August 9, 2013 | Last Updated: Jan 26 2:04 AM ET
All these years later, David Bagby’s voice still trembles with anger.
Can you blame him?
Ten years ago this month, he and his wife, Kate, both of California, lost their only grandchild, 13-month-old Zachary.
Family handout David and Kathleen Bagby with their grandson Zach.
Zachary’s mother, Newfoundland native Dr. Shirley Turner, had taken the toddler in her arms and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. They both drowned.
At the time, Turner was fighting extradition to the United States, where she was accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend and the baby’s father, Dr. Andrew Bagby, the Bagbys’ son.
Having lost their only child and their only grandchild, the Bagbys had more-than-casual thoughts about taking their own lives. They even had a “fleeting fantasy” to kill the Canadian judge who granted Turner’s release on bail. But that idea was quickly discarded as “stupid.”
Instead, the American couple set their sights on Ottawa, lobbying — ultimately with mixed results — for Criminal Code changes to make it more difficult for people accused of serious crimes to be let out on bail.
Looking back on their decade-long crusade, David Bagby said they had no other option.
“To walk away would’ve been, to my mind and Kate’s mind, to deny the importance of Zachary. …. We had to push it as far as we could,” he said.
“Like wartime, you don’t have a choice, the enemy’s over there, go get ’em.”
Tragedy first struck the Bagby family in November 2001. Andrew Bagby was found dead in a state park just outside Latrobe, Pa., where he was a resident in the local hospital’s family medicine program. He had been shot in the head, face, chest and twice in the buttocks.
Family handoutDr. Andrew Bagby and his wife Dr. Shirley Turner. Turner was accused of Bagby’s murder.
Investigators quickly turned their attention to Turner. Turner and Bagby had met while attending medical school at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., but Bagby had recently broken off the relationship.
By the time Pennsylvania State Troopers charged her with first-degree murder and obtained a warrant for her arrest, Turner had fled back to Canada and re-settled in the St. John’s area.
During a prolonged extradition process, Turner gave birth to Zachary in July 2002. Andrew Bagby’s parents packed up and moved to Newfoundland in an attempt to gain custody.
For months, the couple had to play nice with Turner in order to visit their grandson.
“That’s about as hard as it gets,” David Bagby said. “My blood pressure — I just cringe facing that bitch, having to be civil to her.”
‘It’s a very personal thing, murder. It goes to a grief too deep for crying’
In November 2002, Derek Green, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland trial division, ordered Turner be returned to custody pending a decision by the federal justice minister whether to have Turner surrendered to U.S. authorities.
But two months later, in January 2003, an appeal court judge, Gail Welsh, agreed to release Turner and reunite her with Zachary. While the offence Turner had been charged with was violent and serious, “it was not directed at the public at large,” the judge reasoned. Further, “there is no indication of a psychological disorder that would give concern about potential harm to the public generally.” She also cited the fundamental right to be presumed innocent.
Later that year, in the early hours of Aug. 18, 2003, Turner drove herself and Zachary to the town of Conception Bay South. It is believed she fed Zachary up to 30 tablets of Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication, before leaping off the end of a wharf into the ocean.
National Post/FilesDavid Bagby, pictured in 2007: “Like wartime, you don’t have a choice, the enemy’s over there, go get ’em.”
A 2006 inquiry led by Dr. Peter Markesteyn concluded that Zachary’s death had been entirely preventable and that Zachary should not have been in the care of his mother.
But the Bagbys were still not satisfied, outraged that the justice system had allowed a first-degree murder suspect out on bail.
David Bagby vowed to “scream long and loud about that.”
He penned a book, Dance with the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss, released in 2007. He and his wife also participated in a heart-wrenching documentary produced by a close family friend, Kurt Kuenne.
The film, released in 2008 entitled Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, had been intended as a tribute to Andrew Bagby that Zachary could appreciate when he got older. But after Zachary was killed, it became a vehicle for justice reform.
“I have a lot of documentary filmmaker friends and back when (Zachary was still alive) and they knew what was happening and what I was doing, they were saying, ‘Man, this is the most insane story I’ve ever heard. You’ve got to release this publicly,’” Kuenne recalled. “At the time, I got mad at them. ‘Are you kidding? Zachary’s going to have enough trouble growing up when he learns that his mother killed his father without his Uncle Kurt putting his private life all over the media. Absolutely not.’
“But once there was no him to protect anymore, suddenly I realized I kind of have to release this publicly. It’s my responsibility.”
After travelling the film-festival circuit — the film was recognized in 2008 as one of the top five documentaries that year by the National Board of Review — Kuenne and the Bagbys turned their attention to Parliament Hill.
Family handout Dr. Shirley Turner with Zach and mother-in-law Kathleen Bagby.
In early 2009, Kuenne sent out letters to every member of Parliament and senator offering to screen the film for them. He also tapped Ottawa-based lobbyist and public relations consultant Gord McIntosh to spread the word.
A special screening was held in an auditorium in the capital in March 2009. Liberal MP Scott Andrews and Liberal Sen. Tommy Banks were moved.
That fall, a private member’s bill was introduced. It proposed to add a clause to the Criminal Code to say that bail could be denied if it was deemed necessary for the protection of anyone under the age of 18.
It wasn’t exactly what the Bagbys had hoped for — they wanted a blanket denial of bail for anyone accused of murder — but it was better than nothing. They pressed for the bill’s passage in March 2010 before the Commons justice and human rights committee.
“It’s a very personal thing, murder. It goes to a grief too deep for crying,” Kate Bagby testified.
Keith Gosse/St. John’s Telegram/FilesAndrew Bagby’s parents in a St. John’s, Newfoundland courtroom during an extradition hearing for Shirley Turner.
During second reading of Bill C-464 in April 2010, Banks said the proposed changes “may seem innocuous, but they may be enough to cause judges to look a little more carefully at the children involved or affected by a bail hearing.”
The bill became law in December 2010. For the first time since the death of their son and grandson, the Bagbys celebrated Christmas.
“They had a mission. They kept their eyes on what they had to do,” McIntosh said this week.
But David Bagby admits a question lingers. Even if this law had been in place 10 years ago, would it have made a difference?
“My fear is most judges would have done what we’ve heard them do many times — invoke presumption of innocence and say, ‘Sorry, we have to interfere with this accused’s life as little as possible.’”
The Bagbys have done their best to resume life in California. They’ve retired, hang out with friends and travel a bit, David Bagby said.
The memory of their son and grandson are never far. They’ve set up a “mini shrine” in the family room that includes Andrew’s favourite lava lamp, pictures and memory boxes put together by his friends.
There’s also a little memory box for Zachary, though it is “virtually empty,” he said.
“And the symbolism of that pisses me off again.”