CANADA

Justice delayed

The killer of a Good Samaritan gets 25 years

SUSANNE HILLER December 19 1994
CANADA

Justice delayed

The killer of a Good Samaritan gets 25 years

SUSANNE HILLER December 19 1994

Justice delayed

The killer of a Good Samaritan gets 25 years

It was difficult to reconcile the clean-cut, baby-faced man with his brutal crime. In fact, Wade Fleet’s lawyers argued that the 21-year-old just wanted to frighten Good Samaritan Donald Findlay, 37, when the older man arrived in a Halifax jail on Oct. 1, 1993, to begin serving a weekend sentence for dangerous driving. But over 10 days of testimony, a Halifax jury heard a very different tale. Fellow inmates recounted how Fleet— one of a number of young hoodlums who had terrorized Findlay’s home town of Moser River, N.S.—had taken martial arts lessons as he methodically prepared for the burly contractor’s arrival. They also related how, within 90 minutes of starting his sentence,

Findlay lay dead following a vicious beating. Last week, after 13 hours of deliberation, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia jury found Fleet guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison without parole.

Fleet, dressed casually in a sweater, jeans and penny loafers, showed no flicker of emotion as the guards led him away. But Findlay’s wife and three children greeted the verdict with bittersweet tears. In a saga of ironies, perhaps the saddest of all is that only in death was Findlay able to accomplish what eluded him while alive—inspiring the beleaguered 300 residents of Moser River to stand up against a gang of thugs who had virtually ruled the community through a campaign of intimidation. “My faith in the justice system has been renewed,” Dorothy, his 37year-old widow, told reporters. “I hope now the people in Moser River will hang tough.” Hanging tough has been a way of life in the tiny hamlet, situated on a rugged stretch of coast about 150 km east of Halifax. For the past two decades, the villagers—many of them retired seniors—have lived in almost constant fear of a gang of loosely knit career criminals drawn from two rowdy local families. With the nearest police station a 30minute drive away, the hoodlums had free rein. Homes, businesses, offices—even the local Baptist church—were regularly bur-

glarized and vandalized. Automobile windshields and roofs were smashed, and tires and gasoline stolen. Residents were harassed on the streets by drunks. Some parents even refused to send their children to the store without an adult escort.

Virtually alone, Donald Findlay stood up to the hoodlums. In one of many such incidents,

when gang members fired shots at his home,

Findlay fired back. And when they threatened to kill his nine-year-old son, Charlie, Findlay jumped into his car, chased them down the highway and ran their vehicle off the road. He was later charged by the RCMP with dangerous driving and sentenced to serve two weekends in the Halifax Correctional Centre. One of the first people he met there was Wade Fleet, a member of the Moser River gang who had repeatedly threatened his life.

More than a year after her husband’s tragic death, Findlay’s wan blond-haired widow was

forced to relive the nightmare through her daily attendance at Fleet’s trial. She wept as witnesses recounted how Fleet—who was serving an 18-month-long sentence for assaulting a police officer, breaking-and-entering and breach of parole—flicked cigarette ashes on her husband, called him a “rat” and then started to pummel him with hands and feet before leaving his unconscious body on a cot. One former inmate said that Fleet appeared “exhilarated” and “hyped” after the attack. When another inmate said, “I think you killed him,” Fleet’s only response was a shrug and the words, “Oh, well,” before leaving the room to play cards. By then, Findlay was likely dead, the result of a tom artery in the brain caused by repeated blows by Fleet. “Donny got the death penalty for protecting his family,” his widow told Maclean’s following the verdict last week.

The murder forced the Nova Scotia government to commission an independent review of its correctional system. The result: a new 32-bed centre in Halifax that segregates those serving intermittent sentences from full-time inmates. The Findlay family, meanwhile, launched a criminal-negligence suit against the province. After Nova Scotia Justice Minister Bill Gillis admitted that the government had a “moral responsibility” to help, the family was awarded $505,000 in compensation.

The impact on Moser River is less certain. A full-time RCMP officer now lives in town—although he works at the RCMP detachment in Sheet Harbour, 25 km to the west. More important, perhaps, residents of the crimeweary village say they have had enough. “There is so much anger,” says county councillor Jane Smiley. “The community will never, never, never let this happen again.”

Sgt. Ian Drummond, head of the Sheet Harbour detachment, says the increased police presence in Moser River has helped to restore a sense of order. But for the Findlay family, at least, the ordeal continues. According to Dorothy Findlay, gang members still make late-night telephone calls to her home, throw rocks at her windows and yell obscenities at her children. Once, during a family visit to Findlay’s grave, the hoodlums drove back and forth yelling and squealing their tires. Still, Findlay has no intention of leaving. “Moser River is the only home the kids know,” she says. “It’s the only home I know.” And with new inner strength—not to mention four Dobermans and a new house-security system—she is de termined to stand her ground.

SUSANNE HILLER

in Halifax