A retired Mountie who murdered his fiancée with a bullet to the head has cost the victim's sister more than $45,000 in legal costs in an estate battle the family's lawyer calls "vindictive and callous."
Keith Wiens, a retired RCMP officer from British Columbia, is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder for killing his common-law spouse, Lynn Kalmring, on Aug. 16, 2011.
Despite losing all appeals, he is fighting Kalmring's family over the couple's approximately $500,000 in joint assets, acting as his own legal representative in an unusual case that Vancouver lawyer Christopher Watson sees as a deliberate attempt to add distress to the victims.
"This can therefore only be viewed as vindictive and callous and targeted to cause further trauma and grief to the family," he wrote in a letter to Wiens.
Wiens has managed to drag out proceedings by denying liability for Kalmring's death, a manoeuvre from behind bars Watson calls an "abuse of process" and a "waste of time." He is also attempting to call police and forensics experts and require the family to go face to face with him during a civil trial.
"With Mr. Wiens currently in prison, and unrepresented by legal counsel, the challenge will be both to facilitate Mr. Wiens's participation in the process and to prevent abuse and intimidation of members of Ms. Kalmring's family," Watson told CBC News.
Alternatives to face-to-face meeting
Watson said the family will ask the court for alternatives to a face-to-face meeting, including a court order for Wiens to participate by video conference and a requirement that he obtain a lawyer.
"People convicted of violent crimes should never be permitted to face their victims, or survivors of victims, without legal counsel," he said. "Counsel are bound by codes of conduct which require respect and civility. It offends my sense of decency to expose victims or survivors of deceased victims to violent criminals in civil proceedings. Legal proceedings are intimidating enough for some people, having to directly face a violent criminal who injured you or murdered a loved one is not a prospect anyone should have to face."
Kalmring's sister, Donna Irwin, who is executor of the estate, said the legal battle is causing more emotional damage by Wiens, who threw garbage bags of the victim's clothing on the family's lawn the day of her funeral.
"I haven't even had time to grieve for my sister because from the moment he shot her I've been fighting for her," she said.
"It's not like we're asking for anything more than she would be entitled to if it were a divorce. That's the disturbing part of this."
Financial assets from the sale of two homes — one in Penticton, B.C., and another in Arizona — are being held in an estate account and the inheritance has been inaccessible to Kalmring's son, daughter and three grandchildren.
Irwin said the family feels revictimized by Wiens's actions, and the prospect of having to look him in the eye is causing more distress.
"He says he has that right. I would be absolutely terrified. I don't want to ever see his face or even be in the same room as this person," Irwin said.
A jury convicted Wiens, who had served with the RCMP in Summerland, B.C., for 20 years, of second-degree murder after only six hours of deliberations in 2013. The Crown said Wiens shot Kalmring in the face during a heated argument, then moved her body and placed a knife in her hand to make the killing appear to be a case of self-defence.
Wiens had claimed he acted in self-defence after Kalmring threatened him with a knife, hysterical because she feared he was going to leave her.
Heidi Illingworth, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, does not know how common it is for convicted criminals to drag out legal proceedings by acting as their own representative. But she said this is an example of how financial and emotional costs to victims can be "staggering."
Hold offenders to account
"We know of other lifers who have tried to prevent victims' family from accessing minor children or fought custody being given to the victim's surviving family," she said. "This is really unfortunate and it seems the system should be able to hold them more accountable."
Illingworth wrote to the warden of the federal prison in Ontario where Wiens is now incarcerated, asking why the prisoner is able to "harass" the family by delaying proceedings and refusing to sign paperwork.
A written response from acting warden Kathy Hinch at Bath Institution acknowledged the "negative impact" Wiens is having on the victim's family by preventing the settlement of the estate, and said his parole officer met with him to discuss accountability, insight and victim empathy.
"Accountability is a significant factor when assessing an offender's reintegration potential and risk to the public. Mr. Wiens is very aware of this and encouraged to act accordingly," she wrote.
"Hopefully this meeting will have a positive impact on Mr. Wiens's decision-making in the future, but unfortunately, beyond explaining the ramifications noted above, there is little more that we can do to prevent him from meddling in affairs of the estate and representing his own interests therein."