A Manitoba judge has sentenced Shawn Lamb to 20 years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to killing two women in Winnipeg.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rick Saull accepted a joint sentencing recommendation that was presented on Thursday, after Lamb pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter.
Lamb has received two years of credit for time served, meaning he will serve 18 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in nine years, court was told.
Lamb, 54, was charged in June 2012 with three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Carolyn Sinclair, 25, Lorna Blacksmith, 18, and Tanya Jane Nepinak, 31.
On Thursday morning, Lamb pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the cases of Sinclair and Blacksmith. He has denied killing Nepinak.
Saull said the sentence being jointly recommended is similar to a "life sentence" and similar to what he would have received if he was found guilty of second-degree murder.
The judge added that Lamb will likely have to spend part of his sentence in solitary confinement.
Lamb left the courtroom after the sentence was announced, showing no emotion as he looked at the victims' families.
Tried to retract guilty plea
Lamb's plea was part of a deal to have the charges reduced from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
The deal calls for two consecutive 10-year sentences for a total of 20 years in jail.
Earlier on Thursday, the court heard submissions for the joint sentence from Crown prosecutor Sheila Leinburd and Lamb’s defence lawyer, Martin Glazer.
But moments after hearing those submissions, the courtroom erupted in gasps and tears when Lamb stood and rescinded his guilty plea.
As Lamb told the court he wanted a trial instead, a man yelled from the gallery, calling Lamb a monster and telling him to take responsibility.
The man, who was sitting with Blacksmith's mother, was escorted out by a sheriff. Shortly after that, a woman left the room in tears.
Lamb then began addressing the court, giving details about the killings and saying he's been a drug addict since age 12 and people wouldn't understand what he's been through.
As he spoke, some members of the victims' families got up and left the room.
Lamb said he was sorry, has remorse and empathy — and understands the feelings of victim's families. He also said he hated what he has become.
"Basically, I turn into a monster at times. That is not me," he said.
After a brief discussion with his lawyer, Lamb re-entered his guilty plea and spoke more about his childhood — being taken from his mother and put into foster care — before wrapping up.
The judge then adjourned court until 2:45 p.m. CT for a decision on the joint submission.
Sinclair struck with axe handle
Sinclair's body was found in March 2012 near a dumpster behind an apartment complex in the 700 block of Notre Dame Avenue, between Toronto and Victor streets, in Winnipeg's West End.
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On Thursday morning, court heard during submissions from the Crown that Lamb and Sinclair had been smoking crack cocaine in Lamb's bathroom when Lamb hit her in the head with an axe handle three or four times.
When he realized she was still alive, Lamb then choked her with his hands.
Lamb then smoked the rest of the crack and left Sinclair's body in the bathroom for several days before placing her in a bag and dumping her, court was told.
Blacksmith's body was found in the backyard of a home in the 700 block of Simcoe Street, also in the city's West End, in June 2012.
Court was told Thursday Blacksmith was strangled with a TV cord. Lamb then went to buy drugs and dumped her body later that day.
Lack of evidence
The Crown prosecutor told court the investigation was challenging because there were no witnesses and little forensic evidence, which is why the charges were reduced to manslaughter.
The Crown said public safety was the primary concern in making the deal with Lamb.
In his submission, Glazer said the judge should consider that his client confessed in June 2012 while in custody on an unrelated matter.
Lamb then helped police fill in the blanks about those homicides, Glazer said, also noting police had no idea Lamb was involved until he came forward.
"How many people in his shoes would confess?" Glazer said outside court.
"You commit two homicides, you're getting away with it, no one knows you did it, and then while in police custody he tells them the truth."
Glazer also told the court that police paid Lamb $600 to give a confession on the location of Blacksmith's body.
"He was paid by the police for confessing," Glazer said outside court, adding that he even has the receipts.
"First time that I've ever seen such a case in Canada, and I've been a criminal lawyer for 31 years."
Glazer said the payment made Crown prosecutors nervous, resulting in the plea deal that reduced the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
"The problem with the Crown's case was if the statement was thrown out of court, the Crown would have no case," he told reporters.
During his submission to the court, Glazer recommended the judge consider that Lamb's guilty plea has spared the victims' families from having to endure a trial.
He then read letters written to the victims' families by Lamb, who called Blacksmith a beautiful spirit and said he was "truly sorry."
Part of the joint recommendation was for Lamb to serve his sentence outside the Prairie provinces for his own safety, Glazer said, adding his client feels he will be a target by other prisoners because his high-profile case.
Sinclair family outraged
Amanda Sinclair, Carolyn Sinclair's sister, said outside court Thursday morning Lamb's plea deal was unfair.
is never going to return. Lorna is never going to return," she said. "These girls are not going to come home for Christmas. They're not going to come home for Mother's Day. They're not going to come home for any kind of holidays.
"But you know," she said, her voice breaking, "he gets his three meals a day, you know, for how many years? And they're asking for less?
Sinclair said there will be no justice for her sister.
"In nine years, he's eligible for parole. In nine years, do I get to see my sister? Does she get to come back to me? That's not fair at all, but you know, that's our justice system. Where's the justice in this? There's no justice system for my family. I'm never going to get her back."
Nepinak's case 'slips through cracks'
Nepinak's body has never been found, but police have declared her as a homicide victim and charged Lamb with second-degree murder.
Lamb has denied killing Nepinak.
Police have said they believe her body was placed in a garbage bin in the city's West End, and the bin was emptied at the Brady Road landfill. However, a week-long search of the area in October 2012 turned up no evidence.
Vernon Mann, the father of Nepinak's two children, says he's concerned her murder will be forgotten.
Mann said Lamb's plea deal, which made no reference to Nepinak's case, means Lamb is getting "a slap on the wrist."
"It almost feels like they're letting her case slip through the cracks," Mann told CBC News.
When asked outside court what will happen to the charge Lamb faces in Nepinak's case, all Glazer would say was, "Stay tuned."
Lamb, who is originally from Ontario, has an extensive criminal record extending across four provinces.
Since 1979, he has had 109 convictions in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba. In the latter, Lamb has 45 convictions since 2002 for everything from robbery to forgery, fraud, and uttering threats.
Most recently he was charged with sexual assault in May 2012 and June 2012.
It was when Lamb was picked up on June 21 that police learned of his alleged connection to the three homicides.