Svekla guilty of murdering 1 woman, acquitted of killing another

An Edmonton judge on Tuesday found Thomas Svekla guilty of second-degree murder in the death of sex worker Theresa Innes, 36, whose body was found in a hockey bag.
Thomas Svekla leaves the courthouse in Fort Saskatchewan after his arrest in May 2006. ((CBC))

An Edmonton judge on Tuesday found Thomas Svekla guilty of second-degree murder in the death of sex worker Theresa Innes, 36, whose body was found in a hockey bag in a home northeast of the city in May 2006.

However, Judge Sterling Sanderman found Svekla not guilty on charges of second-degree murder in the death of another sex worker, 19-year-old Rachel Quinney. Her body was found in a wooded area east of Edmonton in June 2004. Svekla told police he stumbled over the body while smoking crack cocaine with another prostitute.

The 40-year-old had been on trial for the past 3½ months.

Sanderman told the packed courtroom that although it's human nature to want to hold someone accountable for the "cruel, callous behaviour directed towards two vulnerable human beings," Svekla can't be held responsible "for everything" just because he had a woman's body in a hockey bag.

Thomas Svekla has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Theresa Innes, 36, seen here. ((RCMP))

The judge called Svekla a "needy attention-seeker who has a grossly over-inflated sense of his own importance" and said he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Svekla killed Innes.

He pointed to the fact that her body was elaborately wrapped in a shower curtain, garbage bags, and an air mattress, then bound with wire. Sanderman also found Svekla guilty of committing an indignity to a body, in connection with Innes' death.

But the judge found that there was not enough evidence to prove the auto mechanic played any role in the younger woman's death.

"There is no compelling evidence that ties Svekla to Rachel Quinney let alone her death," he said.

Outside court, Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson provided only brief comments about the split decision of the court.

"The fact that it was a circumstantial case had a significant impact," he said. "I'm sure it's a difficult day for [Rachael Quinney's family]."

The judge found Svekla not guilty in connection with the death of 19-year-old Rachel Quinney, whose body was found east of Edmonton in June 2004. ((Handout))

Finlayson would not say what he will be seeking in the way of a sentence. Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum of 10 years before parole eligibility. The judge can impose a lengthier time in prison.

The family of Theresa Innes refused to speak to reporters, angrily pushing cameramen and photographers out of the way.

Rachel Quinney's sister-in-law, Charlotte Lajimodiere, was heartbroken. 

"Great pain, great anger, because Rachel's murder goes unsolved," she said.

Svekla's sentencing hearing is set for June 16.

He is also due to go on trial in September on charges of sexual assault and uttering threats in connection with an attack on a woman in High Level, Alta., in the summer of 2005.

The woman, who can't be identified, testified at Svekla's trial in Edmonton. She told the court Svekla attacked her and threatened to kill her after they shared a six-pack of beer and went back to his apartment.

Svekla is the first person charged by Project Kare, a joint task force between Edmonton city police and the RCMP that is investigating the deaths and disappearances of more than 20 women since 1983, all of them prostitutes or others in what police call "high-risk lifestyles."