IAN HITCHEN/BRANDON SUN
Brent Bialkoski’s family displays his picture outside the Brandon courthouse on Thursday following sentencing for his killer. Left to right: Merv Bialkoski (father to Brent), Clint Bialkoski (brother), Bev Moore (mother), Joe Bialkoski (brother), Kayla Bialkoski (sister).
They had welcomed him into the house to hang out after an evening of celebration, but didn’t know they had invited in a dangerous man who was carrying a concealed gun.
Robert Patrick Ray Morand would use that gun to shoot and kill Brent Michael David Bialkoski. Bialkoski had kindly invited Morand, a stranger, to spend time with him and his friends.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS
• A week before the killing, Robert Patrick Ray Morand’s grandfather, who lives in the Neepawa area, moves his grandson to that town to get the 21-year-old away from Winnipeg. Morand has a “troubled” past and a record for violence.
• On the evening of April 9, 2010, Brent Michael David Bialkoski, his friend Michael (Boe) David Smith and their respective girlfriends, Heather Elyn and April Masters, meet Morand at a Neepawa bar. They didn’t know Morand prior to that evening.
• At closing time, the couples invite Morand back to the Neepawa home where they’re staying and they continue to talk and drink. Unknown to the hosts, Morand has a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle up his sleeve which he carries for “protection.”
• At some point, Morand is offended. Morand, whose lawyer has indicated is aboriginal, believes Smith made a “racial” insult or comment regarding aboriginal people. Morand never specifies what was said, and no one else recalls such a comment. Smith’s best friend, Bialkoski, is part aboriginal himself.
• Morand is offered the couch to sleep on and the two couples go to bed upstairs. Shortly before 4 a.m., a brooding Morand exits the home and thinks about shooting the people inside. Bialkoski’s girlfriend, Heather Elyn, gets up to go to the bathroom outside, as there’s no running water, and Bialkoski goes with her.
• As Elyn reaches the back door, it bursts open. Morand pushes his way past her and shoots Bialkoski in the neck and he dies almost instantly. Morand later expresses remorse because he believes it was Smith who’d insulted him and he shot the wrong guy.
• Morand then orders Elyn upstairs to a bedroom where Smith and Masters are. Along the way, he repeatedly tries to cock the gun, but it jams and bullets fall on the floor.
• Elyn reaches the bedroom and tries to hold the door shut but Morand forces his way in, points the gun at Smith’s chest and pulls the trigger — it doesn’t fire. Smith, Elyn and Masters escape the house.
• Morand, meanwhile, flees to Winnipeg where he parties at his sister’s home and uses drugs. Thirty-three hours after the shooting, he surrenders at the Winnipeg Police Service Public Safety Building.
• He then provides police with a detailed video-recorded confession. He said he planned to murder all the people in the house but the gun jammed.
• Initially charged with second-degree murder, on Sept. 30, 2011, Morand briefly escapes the Brandon jail but is arrested in Winnipeg about 24 hours later.
• Despite his confession, Morand fights the allegations. In November 2011, at his preliminary hearing, he’s committed to stand trial on a charge of first-degree murder instead of second-degree murder.
• Morand is to be tried by jury in December 2013, but surprisingly on Tuesday, he pleads guilty to first-degree murder against Bialkoski and to attempted murder against Smith.
• On Thursday, Morand is sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years on the murder charge. He also gets a concurrent 10-year prison sentence for the attempted murder.
» Brandon Sun
More than three years later, as Morand was sentenced for first-degree murder, Bialkoski’s father told his son’s killer that he’s not ready to forgive.
"Brent was kind to you, Robert. He should not have paid with his life," Merv Bialkoski said on Thursday as he faced Morand in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench. "I’ve tried to forgive you for killing my son. At this point, I still can’t. I don’t really care what happens to you because I have to live the rest of my life without Brent."
Morand, 24, received the mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on the first-degree murder charge for killing 23-year-old Bialkoski.
He also received a concurrent sentence of 10 years in prison for attempting to murder Bialkoski’s friend, Michael (Boe) David Smith.
Bialkoski, Smith and their respective girlfriends, Heather Elyn and April Masters, met Morand at a Neepawa bar on the evening of April 9, 2010. The couples, in their early 20s, were out celebrating Masters’ recent birthday.
Morand, new in town, was invited to hang out back at the house where the couples were staying in Neepawa, and at the home the group continued to talk and drink.
Unknown to the hosts, Morand — who was from Winnipeg and has a troubled past — had a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle which he carried up the sleeve of his baggy shirt for "protection."
Around 4 a.m., brooding over a perceived insult by Smith, Morand planned to shoot his hosts. He shot Bialkoski before trying to shoot Smith, but the gun jammed and Smith and the two women fled the home.
Crown attorney Jim Ross described how Morand’s grandfather had happened to move him to Neepawa about a week before the killing to keep him off the streets of Winnipeg.
"The idea was set Mr. Morand up in a new life away from Winnipeg, but Mr. Morand brought the street mentality to Neepawa with him," Ross said.
Morand has a previous criminal record, which includes two January 2009 convictions for robbery with a weapon for which he received time served and probation.
He was scheduled to go on trial in December for shooting Bialkoski and trying to kill Smith.
But, in a surprise development, he pleaded guilty to both charges on Tuesday during a voir dire intended to challenge the admissibility of statements he made to police following the shooting.
It’s very rare for accused to plead guilty to first-degree murder due to the mandatory life sentence with no parole for 25 years. With nothing to lose, accused tend to take their chances at trial.
After Morand entered his pleas, Justice John Menzies put sentencing to Thursday to allow Bialkoski’s family to submit victim impact statements. In those statements, some of which were read in court, Bialkoski’s family detailed their ongoing struggle to cope with his loss.
At times, his sister Kayla looked straight at Morand as she read her statement.
"Losing Brent has been a constant battle," Kayla said. "My mind is always bothered by the sudden shock of Brent’s death. The grief of losing my older brother will always be with me … I wish I could give my brother a big hug and say one last time that ‘I love you.’"
Morand sat quietly and looked straight ahead as Bialkoski’s family read their statements. He shook his head when Menzies asked him if he had anything to say.
Defence lawyer David Soper declined to detail the background for his client, who is from North Winnipeg.
Soper only described Morand’s past as "troubled."
"Murder always has such finality," Menzies said as he imposed sentence. "The victim is gone. They leave behind only their memory. They leave behind a family destroyed. All of Brent Bialkoski’s hopes, fears, aspirations wiped out by a single bullet."
Bialkoski grew up in Neepawa, and following court his family described him as a mischievous boy.
He lived in Brandon at the time of this death. A truck driver, he was saving his money and dreamed of buying his own truck and starting his own trucking company someday.
He loved his family, was a good friend, loved life and had a talent for making people laugh.
His father said his son wanted to marry Elyn someday and Elyn, who witnessed Bialkoski’s death, was present in court for Morand’s sentencing. She said she was satisfied with the legal outcome. If Morand had gone to trial, there was a chance he’d wind up with a lesser sentence.
Merv said, with the court ordeal over, the family can now move on with their lives with the consolation that Brent will be loved and remembered.
"Now we can just focus on remembering Brent properly," he said.
Brent’s mother, Bev Moore, said she forgives Morand.
"Brent would have been the first one to. That’s just the way we brought him up," Moore said, adding that she felt badly that Morand had no one in court for him. "I do (forgive him). Well, I have to so I can move on … Otherwise, I would probably just die bitter and angry and it wouldn’t do Brent any justice."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 11, 2013