Calgary

Alberta's top court supports consecutive sentences for 3 triple murderers

Alberta's top court has supported consecutive sentences for three triple murderers, including a man who killed a Calgary couple and their grandson and a central Albertan who killed his parents and sister with a friend.

Decision deals with whether concurrent parole ineligibility periods should be imposed

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. The Alberta Court of Appeal will release a decision on the three killers' sentences today. (Left, Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press; right, RCMP)

Alberta's top court has supported consecutive sentences for three triple murderers, including a man who killed a Calgary couple and their grandson and a central Albertan who killed his parents and sister with a friend.

The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld a life sentence with no chance of parole for 75 years for Douglas Garland, who killed five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathy Liknes, in Calgary in 2014.

Garland unsuccessfully appealed his 75-year-parole ineligibility, imposed by the trial judge as consecutive — rather than concurrent — sentences.

The court also ruled Monday on a second case involving Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank, who killed 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. 

The two men were given life sentences but the trial judge imposed concurrent parole ineligibilities, meaning the killers could apply for parole in 25 years.

On Monday, the majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal panel allowed the appeal, finding the trial judge's sentence "disproportionate and unfit."

The higher court has imposed a 50-year parole ineligibility, with the men to serve their sentences for Monica Klaus's killing consecutive to the parents.

One judge dissented

Justice Frans Slatter offered a dissenting opinion on both cases. In both cases, Slatter questioned whether Parliament intended consecutive periods of parole ineligibility to be imposed when an accused is simultaneously convicted of more than one murder.

Slatter also took issue with the parole ineligibility increments of 25, 50 or 75 years, calling the choice a "blunt instrument."

"It prevents a sentencing judge from carefully balancing the many factors that go into achieving a proportional and individualized sentence," wrote Slatter in his dissent. 

"An alternative solution to the identified problem of 'volume discounts' for multiple murders would be to permit sentencing judges to incrementally increase the period of parole ineligibility in those cases, to some fixed limit."

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)

Boy, grandparents killed

A Calgary jury found Garland guilty in 2017 of the first-degree murders of O'Brien and the Likneses. 

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. 

In its appeal, the prosecution argued Garland's sentence should reflect his decision to kill the child witness rather than leave him.

The three family members were attacked at the home before Garland took them in his pickup truck to his parent's farm near Airdrie. There, he disposed of the bodies.

Bone fragments, flesh and teeth were found in a burn pit on the property. A chance fly-by by an aerial mapping plane showed the three bodies laid out on the farm.

At trial, the Crown presented evidence that Garland was angry with Alvin Liknes over a dispute regarding a patent for an oilfield pump the two had worked on together. Prosecutors argued this hostility built up to the point where Garland meticulously plotted the killings.

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

Killers confess to police

Klaus and Frank were found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting deaths of Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus at the victims' home on a farm near Castor.

The killers set the house on fire afterward.

Klaus was set to inherit the family farm after the deaths. Evidence presented at trial showed he had cocaine and gambling addictions and was in financial trouble. 

Klaus became worried his parents would find out he had been stealing money from them and forging cheques, and offered Frank money to help kill his family. 

Crime 'cheaper by the dozen': Crown

Both men confessed to police during an undercover operation.

Those killers will be able to apply for parole after 25 years.

In arguing Klaus and Frank's sentence appeal, prosecutor Iwona Kuklicz said the killers were handed a sentence that sent a message their crimes were "cheaper by the dozen." 

Kuklicz asked the panel of judges to impose a 75-year-term before the two could apply for parole. 

Regardless, lawyers in both cases say they expect to seek leave to appeal from the country's top court. 

Klaus's lawyer, Michael Bates, as well as Frank's lawyer, Andrea Urquhart, both say they are awaiting instructions from their clients but expect to be asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case. 

Kim Ross, one of Garland's lawyers, says he is reviewing the decision and also anticipates taking the sentence appeal to the Supreme Court. 

In November, in a unanimous decision, Quebec's Court of Appeal reduced Alexandre Bissonnette's  life sentence to 25 years without parole while at the same time invalidating sections of the Criminal Code that allow judges to hand out consecutive life sentences for murder.

Bissonnette killed six people in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. The Appeal Court ruled his life sentence with no chance of parole for 40 years amounted to "cruel and unusual" punishment.

It is possible the Supreme Court of Canada could hear the Bissonnette and Alberta cases together. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the convicted in both triple murder cases had an automatic right to have their sentence appeals heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. While that is the case on conviction appeals, it's not the case on sentence appeals. So the lawyers for all three men would have to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
    Feb 08, 2021 1:59 PM MT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

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