On Watch

New Years Memories

Posted: Jan 2, 2013 5:36 PM ET Last Updated: Jan 2, 2013 5:36 PM ET
It may seem odd that even before I've managed to break my first New Year's resolution, I'm reflecting on violence at this time of year. Call it an occupational hazard.

Mixed in with the Christmas cheer and the New Year's hopes and promises, there is anger and violence.

This year, there is a member of a biker gang accused of attempted murder on New Year's Eve for allegedly attacking someone with a hammer.

Last year, someone shot up the bus terminal at the Dartmouth Sportsplex. In 2009, New Years came with a swarming, the third in less than a week.

As 2008 ended and 2009 began, there was a shooting and a stabbing on Hood Street, in the north end of Halifax.

But it was the horrific crime committed in the last days of 2007 that sticks with me the most; largely because I followed the crime and the criminals as they wound their way through the court system.

Jennifer Horne apparently only made one real mistake in her tragically shortened life: she started dating the wrong man.

Among his many sins, Desmond Maguire is a liar. When they started dating, he failed to tell Jennifer Horne how much older he was than her. But the biggest lie was one of omission: he neglected to tell Horne that he was married to a woman who was mother to one child by him, and was expecting a second.

I was struck by one thing as this case meandered through the courts: Desmond Maguire and his wife, Ashley Haley, are two lumpy, dumpy, ordinary people. If you passed them on the street, you wouldn't give them a second glance. We have become conditioned through our popular culture to expect evil to lurk only the shadows; to be obvious to everyone, to project an aura of fear and menace. Not these two. Not until you hear what they did.

I'm not going to recount it here. It was excruciating to sit through the first time. And the second. Because first Haley and Maguire went through a preliminary inquiry. Then, after many delays and manouvres, they went to trial. And while they both entered guilty pleas before their trial was finished many of the gory details of their crimes were recounted.

Jennifer Horne's family were resolute witnesses to most of it. They only left the courtroom when the medical examiner testified. They did not need to hear exactly what had happened to her in her final moments.

Through all the delays, through dozens of court appearances, they were there. They wanted to make sure the focus was on the innocent victim, not the two evil people who lured her out on a date, then took her back to their apartment where she was raped, tortured and murdered.

Sitting through that trial, and remembering it every year at this time, I am reminded of the opening line of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

The best, of course, was personified in the Horne family. Through the trial we learned that when Jennifer failed to come home that cold December night it was the family that pushed police to launch a missing person's investigation far sooner than they would have ordinarily. When Haley and Maguire emerged as suspects, the family even tracked the couple down to the hotel in Bayers Lake where they had taken refuge. From beginning to end they showed grace and courage.

The worst of times? That's obvious, isn't it? I still, five years later, cannot fathom how human beings can be as depraved as Haley and Maguire proved to be. We see it in our fiction. We see it in faraway places. But when we see it in our own backyard, it is different. More menacing. More dangerous.

Watching the videotape of the police interrogations that went through the night that New Year's Eve; the moments when both Haley and Maguire cracked and confessed, has forever coloured my thoughts at this time of year.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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