Gambling addict who stabbed elderly mother to death in dispute over money pleads guilty to murder

A fingerprint found in the blood of a murdered senior in Lethbridge, Alta., would lead investigators to her daughter — a woman with a gambling addiction who had appeared on television begging the public for information to help police catch the killer.

Lisa Freihaut described in Lethbridge court as a 'demon' who carried out 'mindless and evil' actions

In April 2016, Lisa Freihaut appeared at Calgary Police Service headquarters crying and begging the public for 'any information about what happened to my mom.' (Monty Kruger/CBC)

A fingerprint found in the blood of a murdered senior in Lethbridge, Alta., would lead investigators to her daughter — a woman with a gambling addiction who had appeared on television begging the public for information to help police catch the killer.

That daughter, Lisa Freihaut, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the death of her 78-year-old mother, Irene Carter, who was stabbed to death in her home in January 2016. 

In sentencing Freihaut to life in prison with no parole for at least 11 years, Justice Dallas Miller described her behaviour as "mindless and evil."

Months after the death, Freihaut, 53, appeared on television begging the public for information that could help police catch the killer.

In one of seven victim-impact statements entered in the Lethbridge Court of Queen's Bench on Monday, Freihaut's cousin, Renee Barton, called it a "truly an Academy Award-winning deceitful performance."

Attack called 'overkill'

In January 2016, Freihaut, an unemployed gambling addict with full control over her elderly mother's finances, stabbed her mother 18 times before slamming her head off the floor until she stopped breathing in what prosecutors have described as "overkill."

She then took the phone cord out of the house in case her mother wasn't dead yet and tried to call for help.

These and other details of the vicious crime come from an agreed statement of facts read in court on Monday by prosecutors Darwyn Ross and Brad Stephenson.

Jack and Irene Carter adopted Freihaut as a baby and she was their only child.

At the time of his wife's death, Jack Carter was living in a Lethbridge care facility after being diagnosed with dementia. He died two weeks ago.

​Health-care workers suspected elder abuse

Irene Carter had been living on her own before her death, as her relationship with Freihaut became more strained.

Carter had been diagnosed with late onset schizophrenia after she had a psychotic episode in 2009.

Following a second episode in April 2015, Freihaut assumed power of attorney over both her parents.

Carter was under a community treatment order, so health-care workers were regularly checking on her and taking her to appointments. Over the months they spent with her, the workers became concerned.

Freihaut had taken away her mother's driver's licence and bank cards, and had sold both her vehicles. She also had forwarded her mother's mail to her own home.

Carter was miserable over the loss of her independence.

Remortgaged parents' home without telling them

The health-care workers tried to talk to Freihaut about their concerns, but she became "angry and defensive," according to the agreed statement of facts.

While acting as her parents' power of attorney and without their knowledge, Freihaut took out a $100,000 mortgage on their home in November 2015.

Investigators also learned that Freihaut had tried to take out a "large amount" of money from her parents' investments, according to the agreed statement of facts.

The health-care workers filled out an elder abuse form and met with Carter in October 2015, but she was "reluctant" to talk about her concerns, she said, because she was worried about worsening her relationship with her daughter.

Believing it was the only way to help her, the health-care workers were in the midst of arranging for Carter's mental capacity to be reassessed when she died.

Mother grabbed knife first, court hears

On Jan. 13, 2016, an employee from the insurance company called and left a message for Carter about the loss of the "mortgage-free" discount on her house insurance.

After hearing the message from the insurance company, Carter called Freihaut, "very upset" her home had been remortgaged. The mother and daughter argued over the phone before Freihaut decided to drive to Lethbridge from Calgary.

When she arrived at her mother's home, their fight continued. Carter told Freihaut she was a "horrible daughter" and she wished she'd never adopted her.

Carter also told Freihaut, "I wish you were dead."

The elderly woman grabbed a knife in the kitchen as the fighting continued. She ordered Freihaut out of her house and threatened to call her son-in-law.

Freihaut took the knife from her mother and stabbed her 18 times. Then she pushed Carter down a set of stairs.

Noticing her mother was bleeding and still moving, Freihaut grabbed Carter's head and began banging it on the floor until she stopped breathing.

She threw things around to make her mother's death look like a robbery.

'Cover it up, cover it up'

What Freihaut didn't know at the time was that she'd left behind fingerprints in blood spatter on the wall near her mother's body.

She drove home to Calgary, stopping near Claresholm to dispose of the knife.

Once home, Freihaut noticed blood in her hair and thought, "Cover it up, cover it up," the statement reads.

She washed her truck, threw her shoes in the garbage and gave the clothing she'd been wearing to Goodwill.

Four days after Freihaut killed her mother, she told her husband she was worried after not hearing from Carter. The pair drove to Lethbridge and Freihaut's husband found his mother-in-law's body on the floor by the front door.

Tried to set up repairman as suspect

Throughout the police investigation, Freihaut repeatedly lied to officers and even tried to set up a furnace repairman as a suspect. She also told her son to lie to police.

Nearly three months after the murder, on April 7, Freihaut appeared at a news conference at Calgary Police Service's headquarters and issued a tearful plea to the public for information to help identify her mother's killer.

The medical examiner found Carter died from multiple blunt force injuries and stab wounds to her chest. Carter had bled to death and also suffered traumatic brain injuries in the attack.

Freihaut was asked to come into police headquarters again on April 22. When she arrived, she was arrested. She eventually confessed to murdering her mother.

Family hid cause of death from Carter's husband

Seven of Carter's friends and family members wrote victim-impact statements.

They talked about visiting Freihaut's father in the care facility, who would ask his guests about his wife and daughter, wondering why they had stopped visiting him.

Knowing the truth would have broken his heart: perhaps this is actually what happened.- Lisa Freihaut's cousin, Renee Barton, on Jack Carter's death

Nobody could bring themselves to tell him the truth. They told him that Irene had died of natural causes and let him assume his daughter was "too busy" to visit.

"Knowing the truth would have broken his heart: perhaps this is actually what happened," wrote Barton.

Renee's mother, Mary Barton, wrote that wondering about her sister's suffering will "haunt me forever."

'For the rest of my life I will regret this'

In court on Monday, Freihaut, for a second time since her mother's death, delivered a tearful public address, saying: "I'm so sorry for everything I've done to everyone. For the rest of my life I will regret this and I'm very sorry."

A second-degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years.

Prosecutors Ross and Stephenson and defence lawyer Andre Ouellette made a joint submission asking Court of Queen's Bench Justice Dallas Miller to make Freihaut ineligible for parole for 11 years, which the judge accepted. 

Miller noted the secondary tragedy of this crime is Jack Carter's loss.

"He lived the last two years not knowing how his wife died or, possibly worse, knowing how in fact she did die."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.