SHAWN LAMB: Where does the buck stop in Manitoba Justice?

(Carolyn Sinclair, one of Lamb’s alleged victims)

After having a couple of days now to be immersed in the information on suspected city serial murderer Shawn Cameron Lamb, there’s still so many more questions than answers.

And it’s not the usual questions eating away at me.

For me, and I admit it’s really gotten under my skin, the number one thing that’s been eating away at my mind is:

Why was Lamb free prior to the full expiry of his 19-month jail sentence (from May 26, 2010).

He served only 13 of the months despite his horrendous record.

But more importantly:

Why was a provincial judge’s order regarding how Lamb’s sentence should be served either totally ignored or at least countermanded by Manitoba Corrections?

It’s a little convoluted, but please bear with me – the context is uber-important.

In January 2009, Lamb got a major break from Judge Wanda Garreck: an 18-month long conditional sentence and three years of probation (supervised) for an attempted robbery of a mom who simply happened to be in the area pushing her baby near where Lamb was smoking crack.

As it’s often touted, a CSO is “a jail sentence” where a criminal is allowed to serve it in the community, usually tied to several stringent conditions which are supposed to be supervised and enforced by a “sentence supervisor” and probation officers.

Breaching CSO conditions is supposed to lead to immediate rearrest and incarceration and the possibility of having the remainder of the CSO terminated and turned into real jail time in a real locked jail.

Some of Lamb’s CSO conditions included: mandatory counselling, mandatory residential rehab, Narcotics and Alcoholics anonymous provisions, 100 hours of community service, no drugs, no drinking, seeking and maintaining employment or schooling, medical or psychiatric treatment as directed.

Most importantly, it included a strict curfew, structured as follows:

First 6 months: Absolute. 24-7 curfew.

Second 6 months: 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Third 6 months: 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

So. Lamb walks out of the Remand that day and roughly a week later is re-involved, or as the Crown put it: “He gets right back to work.”

Lamb swipes a Ford Taurus from a banquet hall and then forges signatures on 9 cheques stolen from inside the vehicle. He’s not arrested right away because police didn’t immediately recognize him on surveillance tapes.

He’s not arrested until April 2009, not until after he’s committed two “opportunistic” violent robberies and admits he’s been using crack while out on his conditional release.

Anyhow, he sits in jail for 13.5 months until that fateful day when Lamb appears before Judge Linda Giesbrecht on May 26, 2010.

She’s told of his horrendous record, the facts of his slew of crimes and given a complete breakdown of how many violent convictions he’s had.

Giesbrecht said Lamb’s rap sheet was “coming very close” to the worst she’d ever seen.

Lamb, when given the opportunity, goes on an extremely lengthy tirade about how he’s changed, the steps he’s taken to correct his life; that he was “doomed to fail” when he was granted the CSO in 2009 because things didn’t immediately fall in place for him as expected.

He’s taken responsibility and doesn’t want to hurt anyone any more, he says.

(Remember, Lamb’s been in front of 45 or more sentencing judges since 1976. He’s old hat at how things work by now.)

A joint recommendation for a sentence is proposed, and accepted for guilty pleas to 16 charges.

The sentence was: 13.5 months of time-served at double time credit (27 months), 19 months going forward, and an order that the remaining months of the previous conditional sentence (Y’know, the one he totally breached within a week or so of being out on it) would not start up again until he was released from jail on the new 19-month term. 

Importantly, the Crown stayed an allegation he breached the conditional sentence order. This is key. The CSO was not converted into jail time.

It was simply suspended — held “in abeyance” is how it was put in court. There was discussion between the lawyers as to whether this was the case, and it was agreed: The clock on the CSO stopped ticking when he was rearrested and was not completed.

In pronouncing Lamb’s sentence, Giesbrecht couldn’t have been more direct as to her wishes.

“It’s clear when you’re released the conditional sentence — whatever’s left of that — starts up, and that will be a considerable restriction on your liberty,” she said. “There’s going to be lots of help for you in the community when you’re released.”

She repeated same a few minutes later:

“That (CSO) will not run while you continue to serve your 19-month sentence … and whatever is remaining (13-14 months) will continue to run after you’re released for your 19-month sentence.”

But it didn’t. The province confirmed as much on Tuesday.

Seemingly adding insult to injury, Lamb — despite his extensive record of giving his middle finger to the law — still got automatic “earned remission,” and had six months lopped off his jail time.

So much for community supervision. So much for Giesbrecht’s ruling.

I asked the province the following prior to writing on this in Wednesday’s Winnipeg Sun.

“Just wondering about that request I asked for on Shawn Lamb’s release date last year?
Also, is there a chance I could please speak with someone in corrections about this case?
Upon his release last year, Lamb was supposed to have completed the remainder of an 18 month conditional sentence handed to him in January 2009 (he was rearrested a few months (after)  it started and held in abayance until his 2010 sentence was complete.
Wondering if that’s the case here.”

Here’s the two sentence response I got:

LAMB was released on June 24, 2011 (including 27 months of remand credit).
On the question of serving out the Conditional sentence order – for all intents and purposes the conditional sentence was satisfied, including the period of incarceration, so it had been served and all conditions and requirements had been met when he was released on June 24, 2011.

My request to speak with an official in corrections was not addressed.

(To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be. For the largest department in Manitoba Justice, you strangely seldom hear a scurrying word about their operations.)

Justice Minister Andrew Swan wouldn’t comment when asked about Lamb’s early release, citing the start of the criminal prosecution and ongoing police investigation.

I’d ask you to note how this issue really has nothing, except very tangentially, to do with the murder or sexual assault allegations Lamb now faces.

It does, however, have everything to do with where the buck stops in Manitoba’s justice system.

The only way I can see to put it is like this: A judge’s order regarding how best to sentence Lamb was either disobeyed, ignored or countermanded by corrections officials. 

I don’t know who allows the department to do this.

The public expects that a judge’s decision is final and should be obeyed.

If a Manitoba Justice department doesn’t seem to take judges’ rulings on sentences seriously, why should criminals? Why should you or I?

I expect that a judge’s decision be respected and followed as it was directed.

In this serious case, it wasn’t. We don’t know if Lamb took the mandatory rehab and psychological programming. Did he complete the 100 hours of community service? We don’t know.

We’re not really allowed to know and it’s ridiculous.

And I think we all deserve answers what happened here.

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