Calgary

Medicine Hat murderer who extorted businessman for $1M faints as he's handed life sentence

Just as the judge told Robert Hoefman he'd be serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, the murderer swayed and then toppled out of the prisoner's box, onto the floor of a Medicine Hat, Alta., courtrooom. 

Robert Hoefman will serve a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years

James Satre, 63, was murdered as part of a plot to prove how serious the demand for $1 million was after a threatening letter was sent to a Medicine Hat man. Robert Hoefman will serve a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. (Saamis Memorial)

Just as the judge told Robert Hoefman he'd be serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, the murderer swayed and then toppled out of the prisoner's box, onto the floor of a Medicine Hat, Alta., courtrooom. 

On Wednesday night, a jury in the southern Alberta city convicted Hoefman of first-degree murder and extortion after three weeks of evidence and six hours of deliberations.

His brief sentencing hearing before Court of Queen's Bench Justice Dallas Miller was seconds away from concluding Thursday afternoon when Hoefman appeared to faint. 

The dramatic conclusion paralleled the strange case involving threatening letters, odd requests and the murder of an innocent man in order to prove the seriousness of the $1-million demand.

Sheriffs seemed to act quickly, attempting to catch and break Hoefman's fall as one of the killer's family members screamed at the sheriffs.

"F--king grab him," he said after the fact. "There was a delay."

The video link to the hearing cut out as Hoefman's family in the courtroom gallery encouraged him to sit up and open his eyes.

When court reconvened and the video link was restored, Hoefman was not in the courtroom. Miller will finish the sentencing process Friday morning and has already given defence lawyers permission to keep Hoefman seated.

The judge thanked sheriffs for their prompt response before breaking for the day. 

A publication ban protects the identity of the extortion victim who received the first of several letters to his business on Oct. 10, 2017.

Listen to the radio, letter demands

The letter writer said he'd been watching the businessman and his wife for weeks. It demanded $1 million or the killing would begin.

The letter instructed the man to put a red piece of paper on the door of his workplace all day on Day 1. 

"On Day 2, we will show you exactly what we can do," it promised.

"We could leave a small body part like a finger, or an ear or a tongue but we do not want to freak out your assistants, so just hearing that an individual was brutally murdered on the radio should be enough."

Sure enough, the next day, James Satre's body was found near his Medicine Hat, Alta., home. He'd been fatally stabbed. Hoefman's DNA was found at the crime scene.

His DNA was also on some of the extortion letters collected by police. 

Sister alone, isolated

Satre's sister Marie wrote in a victim impact statement that her heart is broken and she cries all the time. She said she is isolated and alone now.

"I lost my brother and my best friend," wrote Marie. "He was the only one who came to my house to visit me."

"I used to enjoy life but now it's just existing day to day."

Satre's obituary described him as a Red Seal chef who was a "gentle soul" with a passion for the outdoors, photography and reading.  

Prosecutor Conor Doyle said "the murder makes the acts of extortion all the more terrifying."

"The question of 'why' will never have a satisfactory answer and it's heartbreaking."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now