Calgary

Crime 'cheaper by the dozen': Crown says in arguing triple murderers should spend minimum 75 years in prison

Two men who murdered three family members were handed a sentence that sent a message their crimes were "cheaper by the dozen," said the prosecutor in arguing for consecutive parole ineligibility periods.

Court of Appeal to also hear Douglas Garland sentence appeal Tuesday

Douglas Garland, left, Jason Klaus, front seat, and Joshua Frank, back seat, were each convicted of three counts of first-degree murder. Garland killed a five-year-old boy and the child's grandparents. Klaus and Frank killed Klaus' parents and sister. Their sentence appeals are being heard today. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press, RCMP)

The province's top court is hearing the sentence appeals involving three triple murderers, including Douglas Garland, who killed a five-year-old boy and his grandparents.

Garland was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years — three parole ineligibility periods of 25 years that are consecutive rather than concurrent. His lawyer has argued the sentence is "overly harsh."

A Calgary jury found Garland guilty in 2017 of the first-degree murders of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and the boy's grandparents, Alvin and Kathy Liknes. 

Earlier Tuesday, the court also heard the prosecution's appeals of Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank's sentence. 

Sentence appeals heard together

The two men murdered Klaus's parents, Gordon and Sandra Klaus, and his sister, Monica Klaus, in 2013 at the victims' home on a farm near Castor, about 140 kilometres east of Red Deer. Those killers will be able to apply for parole after 25 years.

The sentence appeals were to be heard together because each involve the same legal principle: when it is appropriate to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods.

Garland is appealing his sentence while the prosecution is appealing Klaus and Frank's sentence.

The Alberta Court of Appeal will reserve its decision.

Garland sentence 'overly harsh'

At Garland's trial, Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Gates ruled the triple murderer would not be able to apply for parole for 75 years because of aggravating factors including Nathan's young age and Garland's lack of remorse. 

Garland's lawyer, Kim Ross, said his client's sentence of three consecutive parole ineligibilities "clearly is overly harsh."

Ross argued that Gates suggested there was no difference between a 25, 50 or 75-year parole ineligibility period.

"If the court says there's no difference, why not go for the least restrictive sentence, 25 years, and then leave with parole board," said Ross.

But prosecutor Christine Rideout argued Gates's sentence was justified because it "encompassed the multiple murders committed by Mr. Garland."

Victims' DNA found on Garland property

On June 29, 2014, Nathan had been at his grandparents for a sleepover. When the boy's mother arrived to pick him up, all three family members were gone and the home was covered in blood. 

Rideout argued that when it comes to multiple murders — in Garland's case, a child at an impromptu sleepover — it doesn't make sense that the offender gets the same sentence for deciding to kill the witness rather than leave him.

"This court needs to send that message … when you do this, when you expand your plan to include the elimination of a witness, you will be dealt with more harshly."

The three family members had been attacked at the home before Garland took them to his parents' farm near Airdrie. There, he disposed of the bodies.

Bone fragments, flesh and teeth were found in a burn pit on the property.

The Crown had argued that Garland's anger over a dispute about a patent for an oilfield pump that he and Alvin Liknes had worked on together had built up to the point where he meticulously plotted the killings.

Last year, the Alberta Court of Appeal rejected Garland's conviction appeal.

Crimes become 'cheaper by the dozen'

In arguing Klaus and Frank should face consecutive parole ineligibility periods, prosecutor Iwona Kuklicz said the killers were handed a sentence that sent a message their crimes were "cheaper by the dozen."

The two killers received concurrent parole ineligibility periods and can apply for release after 25 years. Their lawyers have argued the trial judge did not err and asked the appeal court to uphold the sentences.

The prosecution is appealing that sentence and on Tuesday told a panel of Alberta Court of Appeal judges that consecutive parole ineligibility periods should have been imposed, meaning Klaus and Frank wouldn't be able to apply for release for 75 years.

"It is difficult to see how the trial judge couldn't have found this to have been unique in the case of hiring a hitman to eliminate an entire family for money and then ultimately burning down a house to cover up any evidence," said Kuklicz. 

The bodies of Kathy and Alvin Liknes and their grandson Nathan O'Brien have never been found, but DNA from all three was discovered at a farm just north of Calgary where Douglas Garland lived with his parents. (Coronationfuneralhome.ca)

Killers' Confessions

Klaus and Frank were found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting deaths of Klaus family at their home on a farm near Castor, about 140 kilometres east of Red Deer. 

The killers set the house on fire afterward.

Klaus, who was set to inherit the family farm after the deaths, was in financial trouble with a cocaine and gambling addiction. He became worried his parents would find out he had been stealing money from them and forging cheques.

Klaus offered Frank money to help him carry out the killings.

Police ran an undercover operation ending with confessions from both men.

Sandra, Gordon and Monica Klaus were murdered December 8, 2013. (Facebook)

Life sentences 

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin sided with defence lawyers in imposing the minimum 25-year parole ineligibility period.

Macklin said with no hope of ever leaving prison, he believed the offenders would have less motivation to behave while behind bars.

Klaus's lawyer Michael Bates reiterated that sentence imposed by Macklin does not mean the two killers will get out after 25 years. 

"Parliament did not take that discretion from a trial judge," said Bates. "As soon as you issue a life sentence, the offender's life is in hands of Parole Board."

Bates also pointed out that courts have the opportunity to increase parole ineligibility periods on cases involving multiple first-degree murder convictions only by "25-year jumps."

"That's not tinkering," said Bates.

Frank's lawyer Andrea Urquhart also argued the trial judge did not err in concurrent parole ineligibilities.

Macklin, said Urquhart, properly considered the seriousness of the offence but also weighed factors like Frank's background, family support, and mental health issues in determining a 25-year parole ineligibility was appropriate.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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