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The Edmonton Journal
April 3, 2017 6:00 AM
By Paige Parsons
Walking into the prisoner’s box on the day he was to be handed a life sentence, Jayme Pasieka smiled.
The fleeting expression as he greeted his lawyer was a rare sight. Pasieka had stared blankly ahead for almost all of his two-week trial, seemingly oblivious as dozens of witnesses relived the day Pasieka stabbed six people in a west Edmonton warehouse.
When the trial adjourned each day, Pasieka wasn’t returned to a jail cell. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, the 33-year-old was held at Alberta Hospital as a psychiatric patient certified under the provincial Mental Health Act.
It was more than three years ago, on the morning of Feb. 28, 2014, that Pasieka woke and dressed for combat. Armed with several knives, he drove to the warehouse where he worked and entered the building. Within minutes, he began stabbing people — killing Thierno Bah, 41, and Fitzroy Harris, 50, and injuring four other men.
Pasieka is sick, but he was capable of forming intent when he strode through his workplace, dressed in black, blades in hand, attacking anyone who crossed his path, a psychiatrist told a jury during the trial. In the end, Pasieka was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and four counts each of attempted murder and aggravated assault.
Workers from the Loblaw warehouse leave the courthouse on March 3, 2017, after Jayme Pasieka was found guilty for the murder of co-workers Fitzroy Harris and Thierno Bah. Pasieka was also found guilty for the attempted murder of four others in the Feb. 28, 2014, attack at the warehouse.
And last Friday, Pasieka received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murder convictions. Assistant chief Crown prosecutor Kim Goddard opted not to pursue consecutive life sentences that would have pushed the parole eligibility to 50 years because higher courts have made it clear that mental illness should be a consideration during sentencing, even if the illness didn’t cause the crime. Pasieka’s sentences for the four attempted murder convictions ranged from 13 to 18 years, and will all be served at the same time as his life sentence. The aggravated assault charges were stayed.
Pasieka’s attack lasted mere minutes, but the chaos shocked the city, tore apart a workplace and shattered the lives of victims and their families. The conclusion of the legal proceedings brings some clarity to that day, but the reasons why it happened remain cloudy.
Pasieka was born and raised in Edmonton, the youngest child in a family of three boys. The pre-trial assessment prepared by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Roger Brown reported Pasieka’s elementary school teachers had concerns about him: he brought toy guns to school, and drew pictures of himself depicted as a “warrior.”
“The idea that he believed he required weapons to protect himself is one that his parents suspected persisted through his school age years and into his adulthood,” Brown wrote.
In later years, Pasieka skipped school frequently and became “aggressive” when his mother confronted him about it. He dropped out before finishing Grade 10.
In the ensuing years, Pasieka found work at a furniture store, a construction company, a Sobeys warehouse and finally the Loblaw warehouse. He says he applied to the military, but was turned down.
At the same time, Pasieka’s struggles brought brief brushes with treatment.
Brown’s report details a handful of hospital visits Pasieka made between 2006 and 2008 for trouble sleeping, depression, and anxiety. He was prescribed anti-depressants, and reported using cocaine and marijuana. Following a concussion in 2008, a psychiatrist found no evidence of psychosis, but noted his patient’s “awkward smile.”
Patricia Harris holds a photo of her father, Fitzroy Harris, who was a victim of Jayme Pasieka’s stabbing spree in 2014.
Strange things had been happening in the cul de sac where Pasieka lived for about a year leading up to May 15, 2009. Bailee and Devon Sandford had been hearing late night taps on their window, and discovered footprints in the snow on their property in the months prior.
That night, the Sandfords woke to a heart-shaped fire burning in the street in front of their house. Devon and his father-in-law went out in search of the perpetrator and encountered a figure in the dark who cursed and ran into a home. Devon went to the front door, which Pasieka answered wearing a cloak and brandishing a bow and a knife.
Pasieka co-operated when he was arrested and told officers he’d been acting under the orders of the Queen. He was convicted of uttering threats and assault with a weapon.
In a pre-sentencing report tied to the Sandford case, Pasieka’s family members reported concerns about his mental health and said he was obsessed with the military. In 2010, Pasieka met with a psychologist who recommended the court send him for a psychiatric assessment. That never happened, Brown wrote.
During Christmas 2013, his older brother Jeff told police that Pasieka was his “normal self” and seemed “happy” during the holiday, even if he spoke erratically.
But two months later, on Feb. 28, 2014, Pasieka woke at 10 a.m. and had what he described as a “nervous breakdown.”
“It felt like it was too hard to be here,” he later told Brown.
By all accounts the Loblaw distribution centre at 16104 121A Ave. is an orderly workplace. Employees arriving for a shift store belongings in lockers and sign in for work on computers. They drive forklifts up and down aisles of towering shelves, load pallets and communicate through headsets. About 75 to 80 people work on each shift, but during a shift change, 11o people could be in the building.
Many of the warehouse employees were new to Canada. During the trial, a handful of the two dozen employees who gave testimony about the attack were aided by interpreters.
Pasieka arrived at the warehouse just before the start of the afternoon shift. Security cameras captured footage of him parking, clocking in, and making his way to the middle of the warehouse.
Just before 2 p.m., he attacked. Security video shows workers fleeing moments before Pasieka walks on screen, arms swinging. Many of the workers fled for the cafeteria or parking lot. Some barricaded themselves in offices.
As Pasieka roamed the warehouse, people scattered — trying to help the victims and attempting to escape themselves. Blood was splattered so widely that it was impossible to determine who it belonged to. A police officer assigned to photograph the aftermath described the crime scene as “chaotic.”
The four men who were stabbed but survived each described to the jury their recollection of the attack.
Abdelfetteh Aouachri saw Thierno Bah bleeding on the floor and was trying to help when Pasieka stabbed him in the forearm.
As Pasieka stabbed Axamed Mektar in the chest, Pasieka told him he hated him.
Mahmoud Ayesh testified he came face to face with Pasieka, but didn’t realize he’d been stabbed until he felt the blood running down his body. Pasieka told him he didn’t like him.
Supervisor Michael Benti told the jury that when he saw Bah lying in a blood-soaked shirt on the floor, he called 911. While on the call, he looked up and saw Fitzroy Harris running toward him, with Pasieka trailing behind.
“Jayme, what are you doing?” Benti cries out in a recording of the 911 call.
Pasieka slashed Benti in the face. Benti ran for his life, but Pasieka didn’t follow. Benti told the jury he thinks Pasieka went back for Harris.
As the survivors recounted the horror of the attack, Patricia Harris sat alone in the front row of the courtroom gallery, just steps from her father’s killer.
Thierno Bah was killed at the Loblaw warehouse at 161 Street and 121 A Avenue on Feb. 28, 2014, by Jayme Pasieka.
She sat on the wooden bench for almost every moment of the two week trial — even when photos from her father’s autopsy were projected on a screen. She sobbed, but brushed away victim services workers who asked her if she wanted to step outside.
No one from Bah’s family attended the trial. After his death, his wife Djenaba Haidara took their two daughters and two sons and moved to Ottawa.
In a victim impact statement read in court last week, Haidara wrote that her once active, happy family is struggling to survive without Bah.
“People would say we were the clan of the Bah. We were a team,” she wrote.
When Pasieka finished his murderous spree, he made his way to the parking lot, terrifying the workers gathered there, before getting in his Ford Explorer and driving away.
He stopped at a gas station and a liquor store. Then drove to 39 Street and parked on the curb between 73 and 74 Avenue. Police found him at about 5 p.m. He didn’t resist during the arrest.
When Brown examined Pasieka, he found Pasieka didn’t seem to understand his own motive for the attack. Once, though, Pasieka told him that if he killed someone, the police would come and he could get help.
When Pasieka took the witness stand at trial, his defence lawyer Peter Royal asked if that plan still made sense to him.
“A little bit,” Pasieka replied.
Assistant chief Crown prosecutor Kim Goddard.
When cross-examined by Goddard, Pasieka answered “yes” to a string of questions that confirmed he’d planned the stabbing rampage as a way to get help.
Brown had diagnosed Pasieka with schizophrenia, but also found him fit to stand trial. It was his opinion that Pasieka did not meet the standards to be found not criminally responsible.
Pasieka spent some time in the Edmonton Remand Centre, but he was a patient at Alberta Hospital by the time the trial got underway. While testifying, Brown reported that Pasieka’s symptoms had improved with antipsychotic medication.
Mental health professionals described the way Pasieka presented himself as “unusual” or “odd”, noting his hairstyle – shaved around the sides with long strands crossing on his scalp. Wearing camouflage pants each day of the trial, he stared straight ahead, mouth agape, through most of the proceedings.
While testifying Pasieka spoke softly but clearly as he calmly agreed with Goddard that he’d planned the attack.
While the jury deliberated, a group of Loblaw employees gathered outside the courtroom. Some had testified during the trial, others just came to hear the verdict. Many wore matching blue hoodies with “Loblaw” stitched on the chest.
A counsellor continues to work with the employees and an annual moment of silence is held on all shifts on the anniversary of the attack.
The jury deliberated for about seven hours, and returned with guilty verdicts on all counts.
Patricia Harris cried again, this time with relief.
A police photograph of the area of the Loblaw warehouse in Edmonton where Fitzroy Harris died of stab wounds after being attacked by Jayme Pasieka on Feb. 28, 2014.
Sitting in his downtown Edmonton office a week after the trial ended, Pasieka’s lawyer called the jury’s verdict “a big disappointment.”
“I think it’s so apparent that he’s suffering from a significant, major mental illness, that I hoped they’d take some pity and reduce the charge down to manslaughter, but the law is the law,” Royal said.
A jury trial is mandatory in murder cases, unless the Crown consents to trial by judge alone. Royal wonders if Pasieka would have been found guilty of manslaughter if the verdict had been left in Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donna Shelley’s hands.
Now that he’s sentenced, Pasieka will be transferred to federal custody. At Royal’s request, Shelley recommended that Pasieka be placed in a federal psychiatric facility for inmates in Saskatchewan.
Royal said he spoke on the phone with Pasieka’s father after the verdict, but he hasn’t been able to reach Pasieka’s mother for about two years.
By early March, Royal hadn’t yet decided whether they would try for an appeal.
He said the judge’s charge to the jury was fair, and the jury doesn’t give reasons for a verdict, so he doesn’t know what the appeal could be based on.
As for how Pasieka — who sat blank-faced through the emotional and harrowing testimony of the co-workers he attacked, through photographs of the corpses of the men he killed — reacted to learning he would be imprisoned for life, Royal says he didn’t.
“It didn’t really sink in. He hasn’t really acknowledged it.”
During her victim impact statement, Harris demanded answers from Pasieka.
“Are you sad? Are you angry? Are you happy? Are you even aware of the chaos you created?” she asked.
Questions that for now will remain unanswered.
Jayme Pasieka has been sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Fitzroy Harris and Thierno Bah.