Calgary

Medicine Hat girl who murdered family 'thriving' as sentence nears end, says author

With two weeks to go until an Alberta woman finishes her 10-year sentence for helping to murder her family, a Calgary reporter who wrote a book about the shocking crime says a longer sentence would not have served justice better.

Sherri Zickefoose says J.R. cited as poster child for Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision program

J.R. was convicted in 2007 on three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to a 10-year intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision program. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

With two weeks to go until an Alberta woman finishes her 10-year sentence for helping to murder her family, a Calgary reporter who wrote a book about the shocking crime says a longer sentence would not have served justice better.

The woman, referred to in court as J.R., was convicted along with her then-boyfriend of killing her mother, father and eight-year-old brother in the family's Medicine Hat home in April 2006.

Calgary reporter Sherri Zickefoose covered the triple murder, the trials and J.R.'s progress over the past 10 years. (Sherri Zickefoose )

Jeremy Steinke, who was 23 at the time of the killings, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years. J.R. can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. 

J.R.'s 10-year sentence — the maximum for young offenders between 12 and 14 — will have been served as of May 7.

She will be appearing in a Medicine Hat courtroom for a sentence review on May 6.

'She's really succeeding'

"You don't throw children away, you don't throw them in a dungeon," said Sherri Zickefoose, co-author of Runaway Devil: How Forbidden Love Drove a 12-year-old To Murder Her Family.

The former Calgary Herald reporter, who has followed the story since the beginning, says the Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision program J.R. took part in was more appropriate than a long prison sentence.

"We're told she's thriving. She's really succeeding. They call her the poster child for this special youth sentence," she said on the Eyeopener.

"All the lawyers and judges on Facebook, in the court of Facebook, have their own opinions. I think that's another reason … to write this book, to lay out the facts, to better explain, we have a complicated system. But it's a system in place for a reason."

Restrictions slowly removed

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Scott Brooker has slowly been removing the restrictions he imposed on J.R. as part of her sentence under the program.

It included four years in a psychiatric institution and 4.5 years under conditional supervision in the community.

Flowers and a stuffed animal were left in front of the Medicine Hat, Alta., home where the bloody bodies of the girl's parents and brother were found in April 2006. (CBC)

"This is a child that was diagnosed with serious mental disorders. So we have to trust this system, that they have been able to help her overcome that or manage that somehow," Zickefoose said.

Zickefoose says the tragedy of the triple murder is compounded by the fact that J.R.'s parents have had to be left out of the story.

'They will expunge her record'

"The details matter. We have a story, where there's a young offender, her identity has to be protected, thus her family is doomed to anonymity," she said.

"And that family fought, in the weeks leading up to this horrible tragedy, they fought to have family therapy, to keep their daughter safe and figure out what was happening. But she was always two steps ahead of them.

"And I think their legacy needs to be more than just something that gets forgotten about. They tried hard," Zickefoose added.

If J.R. remains out of trouble for the next five years, she will be completely free.

"They will expunge her record, it will be clean," Zickefoose said.

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