British Columbia

Kelowna killer recaptured after escaping B.C. prison on his birthday

A Kelowna, B.C., man serving a life sentence for strangling a teenage girl 16 years ago has been recaptured after being reported missing from the minimum security unit at a prison in Mission, B.C.

Robert Raymond Dezwaan was serving time in minimum-security unit in Mission for killing 16-year-old girl

Robert Raymond Dezwaan was in a minimum security unit in Mission, B.C., when he went missing on April 14, 2017. He is now in police custody. (Correctional Service Canada)

A Kelowna, B.C., man serving a life sentence for strangling a teenage girl 16 years ago has been recaptured after escaping from the minimum security unit at a prison in Mission, B.C. 

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) said RCMP from the nearby Agassiz detachment apprehended Dezwaan at around 11:15 a.m. PT Saturday morning.

CSC said Dezwaan had been "unlawfully at large" since April 14, and it will be investigating the circumstances that led to the incident. 

Late Friday, Correctional Service Canada announced Dezwaan had not been accounted for at the Mission Institution as of that afternoon. 

In 2003, Dezwaan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 16-year-old Cherish Oppenheim of Merritt, two years after choking her to death and leaving her body in the woods.

Dezwaan was sentenced to life in prison, with no opportunity for parole for 15 years.

His son, Kruse Wellwood, was one of two people found guilty of first-degree murder of Kimberly Proctor, an 18-year-old from Victoria, in March 2010. 

Mission resident Robert Thomson was at a gas station near his home when he saw a man he later found out was Dezwaan hiding near the treeline, wearing a black jacket over an orange jumpsuit. 

"It's kind of scary," Thomson said. "There's children all around here."

Thomson said he thinks there should be more security at the prison to avoid incidents like these. 

Convict escaped on his birthday

Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said this wasn't the first time a prisoner had walked away from the institution, but said it isn't generally a major concern for his community.

"We know that when someone walks away from either of the jails ... they're not staying here," Hawes said. 

"The last place that these guys are going to be is Mission. They're either going west or east, and they're going as fast as they can."

Hawes said the two correctional institutions in Mission provide the city with good revenue and employment.

CSC is quick to advise city officials when issues arise, Hawes said, adding that CSC also told him yesterday was Dezwaan's birthday. 

"Maybe he was out looking for a piece of birthday cake," he said. 

The Mission Institution in Mission, B.C., where Dezwaan was serving time. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Escapes rare

Many who heard about the escape expressed surprise and concern that a convicted killer would be held in such a low-security facility. 

But UBC law professor Debra Parkes said Canada's corrections system aims to cascade prisoners down through lower levels of security over time, especially for convicts with long or life sentences. 

"You would not want someone to be released from maximum security to the streets," Parkes said. 

"It's not a matter of being soft on crime. ... You want people to be able to demonstrate that they can live in a lower-security environment."

Parkes said it isn't easy for prisoners to get into minimum security, and some convicts with life sentences never do get released on parole. 

"The system is actually quite risk-averse," she said. 

Parkes also emphasized that prison escapes are rare, and, when they do happen, the prisoners aren't usually at large for very long. 

With files from Justin McElroy