Calgary

J.R., who stabbed family to death with boyfriend at age 12, is free after 10-year sentence

An Alberta woman who became Canada’s youngest multiple killer when she helped her boyfriend stab her parents and brother to death at age 12 is free of any further court-ordered conditions, restrictions or supervision after a final sentence review in Medicine Hat.

Alberta woman makes no apology as final court appearance marks end of involvement in criminal system

Police investigators work outside a home in Medicine Hat, Alta., where a couple and their eight-year-old son were found stabbed to death in 2006. The couple's 12-year-old daughter, J.R., who was convicted in the murders, completed a 10-year sentence on Friday. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

An Alberta woman who became Canada's youngest multiple killer when she helped her boyfriend stab her parents and brother to death at age 12 is free of any further court-ordered conditions, restrictions or supervision after a final sentence review in Medicine Hat on Friday.

The woman, who can only be identified as J.R. under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act, thanked the judge via closed-circuit TV, but offered no apology or expression of remorse when she addressed the court from an undisclosed location.

The review marked the completion of J.R.'s 10-year sentence. She spent four years in a psychiatric hospital, followed by 4½ years under community supervision, first in a group home and eventually living on her own and also studying in Calgary for the past 5½ years.

J.R. was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2006 stabbing deaths of her mother, father and eight-year-old brother. Her then 23-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke, was also convicted of the crimes.

"I think your parents and brother would be proud of you," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Scott Brooker said to J.R. "Clearly you cannot undo the past; you can only live each day with the knowledge you can control how you behave and what you do each day."

'I think we need to give her a second chance because of the age she was,' says Sue England, who lives in the same Medicine Hat neighbourhood where J.R.'s family was killed. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Brooker — who has presided over J.R.'s case from the beginning — said her final review concluded she has successfully and "without exception" met each of the goals and targets of her rehabilitation, and that she is considered a low risk to reoffend.

In April 2006, J.R. came up with a plan to kill her parents and brother because she was angry that her parents tried to stop her from dating Steinke, a high school dropout. 

Steinke confessed to killing J.R.'s parents and said J.R. was the one who slashed her brother's throat. He is serving three concurrent life sentences for first-degree murder.

If you're old enough to do the crime, you should do the time.- Local woman who asked not to be named

Some former neighbours who spoke on the condition that they not be identified showed anger and sadness, even though so much time has passed since the murders of J.R.'s parents and brother.

One woman said she is disgusted that J.R.'s sentence is already coming to an end.

"If you're old enough to do the crime, you should do the time," she told CBC News this week.

A senior, who lives a few doors down from where the bodies were found and also asked not to be named, immediately teared up when asked about the murders.

"How could anyone, let alone a 12-year-old, do that?" he said.

Outside the local mall, some longtime residents were sympathetic.

"Hopefully, she's learned her lesson and she's an improved citizen," said Norm Frank, who believes J.R. deserves a second chance.

"I think we need to give her a second chance because of the age she was," said Sue England, who lives in the same neighbourhood where J.R.'s family was killed.

"The thing that I most think about is — how she will continue on with her life with that being a part of her past life? ... I have sympathy for her, but you can't imagine anybody doing something like that," England said.

'Hopefully, she's learned her lesson,' said longtime resident Norm Frank. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

'Poster child'

In 2007, J.R. received what was then a relatively new sentencing option — an Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision order, or IRCS.

An IRCS order is available for "serious, violent offenders, who may have a mental or psychological disorder or an emotional disturbance," according to the federal Department of Justice.

At the time of sentencing, J.R. was given 18 months credit for time served for a total maximum sentence of 10 years. 

Since the murders, J.R. has attended court at least once or twice a year to provide updates on her progress and has received favourable reviews — even being described as "a poster child" for rehabilitation.

Brooker has been gradually loosening the restrictions placed on J.R., such as curfews, since she began the community supervision stage of her sentence. 

Crown prosecutor Ramona Robbins said J.R. has travelled a long road toward rehabilitation, and has benefited from a lot of supports and resources.

"So what she'll do on her own, again, time will tell," she said. 

J.R.'s defence lawyer, Katherin Beyak, said her client has been dedicated to getting better throughout the process.

"She has made huge gains and huge rehabilitative progress in terms of where she was to where she is today," she said. "Society should be satisfied with the fact that the system has worked in this case."

As long as J.R. does not commit a criminal act as an adult, her youth court records will be permanently sealed five years from now, Beyak said. 

She refused to make any comment about J.R.'s plans for the future. "I would hope that she's safe and I would hope that there won't be any backlash, or what have you, from the community."

'She tarnished our community and hurt a lot of people,' says Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

She 'hurt a lot of people'

Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston says J.R. was so young at the time of the killings, she should be given another chance. But he doesn't think the young woman should return to the community.

"No, I don't think she should. I don't think it would be the proper place for her either," Clugston said.

"It was a terrible place for her and if she ever got found out or recognized it probably wouldn't be in her best interest," he added.

"She tarnished our community and hurt a lot of people."

Steinke, who now goes by the name Jackson May, declined a request for an interview with CBC News through the Correctional Service of Canada.

'My biggest fear is that she hasn't [been rehabilitated], that she's tricked those in the system, that she hasn't moved forward,' says Insp. Brent Secondiak. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

'Act of horror'

Brent Secondiak was one of the first police officers who arrived at J.R.'s family home on April 23, 2006.

He says it took him years to get over the image of the young boy found murdered in his bed. J.R.'s parents were found in the basement of their split-level home.

"I don't truly understand it — an act of horror and violence like that … But I hope we can just find peace and move on," said Secondiak, who is now an inspector with the Medicine Hat Police Service.

"My biggest fear is that she hasn't [been rehabilitated], that she's tricked those in the system, that she hasn't moved forward … I hope that she's truly taken responsibility for this and is able to move forward," Secondiak said.

Will J.R. re-offend?

Experts say it's difficult to say whether J.R. has truly been rehabilitated and can move forward with her life.

"We've got a young woman here, who at the age of 12 was diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder and conduct disorder — these are two very serious disorders," says Mark Totten, a criminal justice professor at Humber College in Toronto and the co-author of When Children Kill

"Is it possible to change? Absolutely," says criminal justice professor Mark Totten, but every case is unique, he adds. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

"Fast forward now after 10 years, after a psychiatric institution and community supervision. Is it possible to change? Absolutely."

Totten says the upside is that J.R. was so young when she carried out the attacks, it gives her a greater chance of recovery. But he says every case, offender, and circumstance are different, so there's no way to make a definitive statement.  

'We simply don't know. We're going to have to have this conversation maybe five or 10 years down the road to see if this young woman is truly capable of maintaining the apparent positive changes she's made to date."

Totten hopes to hear something from J.R. at Friday's hearing.  

He says it would be important to hear about the progress she's made with her schooling and counselling, but most importantly, he says the community needs her to accept responsibility for what she's done.