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JONESIE: The blurred lines from a surprise guilty plea to murder

January 15, 2019 - 1:30 PM

 


OPINION


When Kelowna’s Jay Thomson pleaded guilty Monday to murdering his common-law partner in 2013, justice may have been served, but the truth certainly wasn’t.

Without any examination of evidence in court, our understanding of what happened between Thomson, age 62 or 63, and Theresa Neville, 27, came from some untested police evidence carefully parsed by the Crown prosecutor, but largely from Thomson’s own mouth and we have plenty of reasons to be skeptical. He told police several different versions of his stories over the 5.5 years since he stabbed Neville 35 times or more. He never offered any explanation for what happened June 18, 2013. We only know he killed her.

When he is sentenced later this month, the Crown will be content with the mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 10 years. But when he does appear before the parole board, I hope they keep a couple of things in mind.

What a way for the Crown to word this: “They were involved in a romantic relationship for approximately 12 years.”

They met when Neville was 15. Thomson appeared to be careful in explaining to police that they weren’t intimate until she was 16 and he was committing no crime — and he was 45. But the prosecutor also said someone found them together in a hot tub when she was 15. The prosecutor seemed to choose his words carefully, but the implication was clear.

That is not a romantic relationship — it was a crime.

In one of his stories, he said when they met, she was alone, crying on a beach in Kelowna in 2001 — and he was drawn to that. He tried to talk to her, but she said she was fine. He wrote his name and number on a piece of paper and told her to call if she needed someone to talk to. According to him, she called him a few days later.

“She said she had a rope in her hand, so start talking,” he told police.

He said he knew what to do, then, because he worked with lots of troubled kids at what appears to be — but was not confirmed by prosecutors — Kilburn Hall, a youth penitentiary in Saskatoon. Now maybe in the past, he was just the sort of altruistic, properly-motivated, church-going citizen who did good work helping children in need. But what we know he did since 2001 might again suggest someone double-check his work.

He went to her parents house to talk to her (which he knew was OK because he didn’t have a criminal record, he told police), describes forming a friendship based on trust, as she slowly confided in him. He led her to God, which was necessary if she wanted to keep up the relationship. They began “hanging around” so much, some ladies once called them “a beautiful couple.” He brought her into his family, including on a ski trip before he said he helplessly succumbed to her interest in something more. He said “she encouraged (it) even though he thought it was not a good idea,” the prosecutor said.

He got her pregnant for the first time when she was 16 and blamed her for it.

Thomson won’t get any additional jail time for post-offence conduct either, but let's look at that for a moment. You wonder with cases like this: Was it a momentary loss of control in the heat of a passionate argument? Because that’s different from planning a murder in cold blood. There’s nothing to suggest he did plan murder — his ridiculous explanation of having to run out for a box of donuts somewhere near midnight on a Thursday as an alibi for why he wasn't home at that time of night, suggests he did not. But if he was a good person who did just snap, you would expect him to show some remorse in the years he was free before being arrested by police.

But no, he used that time to further diminish the 88-pound woman, the mother of two of his children, who he had already stabbed to death. He told stories about her running up credit cards (the Crown offered no further explanation on that but go ahead and presume it's a lie), popping pills (no evidence whatsoever she was using drugs), having an affair (she wasn’t) and even mean stories about her house being a mess. He, of course, was the hero in all these stories he told to his ex-wife, children and his grandson. He tried to clean, you see, but every time he did, she got mad at him.

Finally, I'll continue to colour between the lines a bit about a man who, while on the phone with 9-1-1, pretended to be performing CPR on her. Thomson had choices in how he constructed his alibi and story to police. He could have said he didn’t see anything, didn’t know what happened. He could have described a shadowy figure leaving the scene, a car leaving, a sound, a light.

Instead, he got quite specific. He described seeing a man fleeing the yard and described the man variously as an “Indian," "a native male,” or "a big Indian.” Surely it’s not shocking that a white man, particularly one who may have worked at a juvenile detention centre in Saskatchewan, would offer that up believing it would have a reasonable chance of being believed.

But what I can’t figure out is if police actually believed him or felt some duty to act on it. Surely by then they knew his bizarre donut story (he kept the receipt, of course), they knew the strange background between the two (he initially denied to police her children were his, but they found him listed as parent on ministry records) and that his entire story looked ridiculous. How long did it take for police to learn that she actually died 2.5 hours before he said she did? 

Yet three days after the murder, they broadcast throughout the community, complete with a police sketch, that they were were looking for Thomson’s Big Indian, wanted for breaking into a stranger’s home in the middle of the night and murdering a mother of two while her kids were in the house. That's an unusual crime capable of creating a panic — and a dangerous and troubling accusation for many people in the city.

Police certainly owe a duty to investigate every avenue of inquiry to get a conviction, but they also left the Big Indian sketch out there without comment for three years until they finally said it was no longer valid.

Without the inquiry of a trial to shed a little light on these aspects, we are left with little more than a brief idea of how and why a member of our community was killed, about the man who killed her or how police investigated or why it took more than four years to make this arrest. But hopefully this brings some measure of peace for Theresa Neville’s family.

— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2019
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