Jury convicts Dagenais of first-degree murder in Mountie killings

A Saskatchewan man who led three RCMP officers on a high-speed chase and then fired on them has been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and another charge of attempted murder.
Curt Albert Dagenais, 44, is shown being driven to court. (Geoff Howe/Canadian Press)
A Saskatchewan man who led three RCMP officers on a high-speed chase and then fired on them has been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

It took a jury of six men and six women two days to find Curt Dagenais guilty following a two-week long trial.

The jury findings will result in an automatic sentence of life in prison for Dagenais, who killed Constables Robin Cameron, 29, and Marc Bourdages, 26, and wounded Const. Michelle Knopp.

According to testimony at the trial, Dagenais, 44, fired on the officers at the end of a high-speed chase across dusty back-roads in rural Saskatchewan on July 7, 2006. Dagenais testified that he acted in self-defence.

Police took this photograph at the scene of the July 2006 shooting. (Court photo)
 The shootings took place in a small clearing away from main roads near the community of Spiritwood, Sask., about 140 kilometres west of Prince Albert.

The chase began in Spiritwood when police were called to the home of Dagenais's mother, responding to reports of an altercation there. Dagenais was in his truck when Cameron went to apprehend him, but Dagenais sped away.

The ensuing chase, joined by other members of the Spiritwood RCMP detachment, lasted about 30 minutes and led officers about 30 kilometres outside of the town.

According to the Crown, Dagenais fired first, wounding Cameron and Bourdages. The two officers died nine days later in hospital.

Knopp was also fired at, according to the Crown. Although injured, Knopp survived the encounter. Dagenais fled the scene on foot. He was not arrested until July 18.

RCMP constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages. ((RCMP) )

Family members of the slain officers were in court to hear the jury's verdicts.

"It's like a billion-pound weight lifted off of our shoulders," Natasha Szpakowski, the widow of Marc Bourdages, told reporters outside court on Thursday. "We've been burying it for the last 2½ years. And it's a relief."

Szpakowski said their three-year-old son was aware of what was taking place. She told reporters that the boy told her after the verdict: "Mommy, the bad man's going to jail."

Robin Cameron's father also expressed relief that the proceedings were over.

"I'm happy in a way, but this guilty verdict isn't going to bring my daughter back. And it's not going to bring Marc back," Howard Cameron told reporters.  

"The protection of society was first and foremost in their response to this incident," Cameron added. "It could have been easily prevented if this person would have stopped and taken account for his actions."

One of the prosecutors on the case told reporters that the jury verdict confirmed the Crown's view that the officers were acting lawfully when they pursued Dagenais that day.

"I think it's important to understand that the police were acting lawfully and were doing what we as citizens expect them to do," Al Johnston said after the day's proceedings had concluded.

After the verdict, the judge accepted a number of victim impact statements.

The court will reconvene on Friday for a formal sentencing, although the outcome is a foregone conclusion as the automatic penalty for a conviction of first-degree murder is life in prison with no opportunity for parole until 25 years have passed.

Dagenais's lawyer, Bill Roe, told reporters his client was "distressed" by the verdict. Roe could not say whether there would be an appeal.