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'Mr. Big' police ruse nets young man's killer 11 years later

A controversial police tactic has netted a murder conviction in the jealousy-fuelled killing of a young Manitoba man -- a brutal act that went unsolved for nearly a decade.

Christopher Shewchuk, 32, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Dauphin Court of Queen's Bench Monday for the March 1, 2003, fatal shooting death of Derek Kembel, 25.

Shewchuk's admission of guilt came just as his first-degree murder trial was set to begin.

He automatically receives a sentence of life behind bars without a chance of parole until 10 years have passed.

Later this month, prosecutors will seek to extend that parole-ineligibility period to 15 years.

Shewchuk was always a person of interest to the RCMP in connection with Kembel's mysterious and sudden disappearance.

They interviewed him soon after the young man went missing, facts of the case presented in court Monday revealed.

But the Mounties were unable to arrest Shewchuk for the carnival worker's death until undercover officers undertook a protracted "Mr. Big" sting for four months in 2011, leading to evidence of his involvement, Justice Chris Martin was told.

The Mr. Big tactic involves undercover officers posing as members of a criminal group.

They approach a target and gain his trust though various means in hopes of extracting a confession.

It's a procedure that's been ruled off-limits to police in the United States and Britain.

Critics deride the police tactic as a means of entrapment, but courts in Canada have upheld the method.

In all, the RCMP exposed Shewchuk to "58 scenarios" over the life of their covert sting that ultimately led to his arrest for Kembel's killing, Crown attorney Carla Dewar said.

Police learned Shewchuk had recently broken up with his girlfriend, who he saw flirting with Kembel hours before the murder.

The three wound up at her apartment, where she fell asleep.

Shewchuk then offered Kembel a ride home, drove him to a secluded area and shot him with a shotgun he carried in his truck after an exchange of words, court heard.

Kembel's body was taken to Shewchuk's family farm and burned before Shewchuk scattered his remains in a nearby field.

He returned to Dauphin "in order to be seen," Dewar said.

The RCMP quickly learned Shewchuk was the last person to see Kembel alive.

He initially held investigators at bay with a story of Kembel simply vanishing after they had stopped on the road to repair his truck when it broke down.

"Mr. Shewchuk maintained he had no idea what happened to Mr. Kembel," Dewar said.

Years passed and the case wound up on the desks of the RCMP historical-homicide unit, which set in motion the complex operation leading to Shewchuk's conviction.

Few details were provided Monday about the police interaction with Shewchuk, but Dewar said he showed a desire to get in deeper with what he believed was a criminal organization.

"In particular, he expressed interest in working with someone held out to him to be a hit man," Dewar said.

In four interviews, Shewchuk told the undercover officers he killed Kembel and even took them to where he burned the victim's body and scattered the remains.

The shotgun used in the killing was recovered.

An "extensive and exhaustive" search for forensic evidence netted bone fragments and a watch face and clasp, Dewar said.

Shewchuk continued to maintain his innocence after his arrest, Dewar said.

He told the RCMP he had been lying about the killing in hope of obtaining an unspecified benefit.

Sentencing hearings are slated for May 28 and 29 in Dauphin.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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