Carnival worker Derek James Kembel was shot to death on March 1, 2003. On Monday, Christopher Shewchuk pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as his trial was set to begin. (FILE PHOTO)
WINNIPEG — A controversial police tactic has netted a murder conviction in the jealousy-fuelled killing of a young Manitoba man — a brutal act which 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 to ask for parole until 10 years have passed.
Prosecutors will seek later this month to see that ineligibility period hiked to 15 years.
Shewchuk was always a person of interest to RCMP in connection to 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 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 has been ruled off-limits to police in the U.S. and Britain.
Critics deride the police tactics as a means to entrapment, but courts in Canada have upheld their use.
In all, 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 just recently broken up with his girlfriend, whom he saw flirting with Kembel hours before the murder.
The three wound up back 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 then taken to Shewchuk’s family farm and burned before Shewchuk scattered his remains in a nearby field.
He then returned to Dauphin "in order to be seen," said Dewar.
RCMP quickly learned Shewchuk was the last person to see Kembel alive.
But 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 ultimately 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 their interactions with Shewchuk, but Dewar said he showed desires 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 separate interviews, Shewchuk told the undercover officers he’d killed Kembel, and even took them to where he’d burned the victim’s body and scattered his 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, said Dewar.
He told RCMP he had been lying about the killing in hopes of obtaining an unspecified benefit.
Sentencing hearings are slated for May 28 and 29 in Dauphin.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 6, 2014