Calgary

What the Ryan Lane murder trial jury didn't hear: the jailhouse confession letter

A secret jailhouse letter slid by one brother into the cell of another that contained a damning confession was not allowed to go before the jury in the Ryan Lane murder trial. Any information about the letter was under a publication ban until the jury began its deliberations, which started this afternoon.

Wilhelm Rempel snuck a letter to brother, confessing burning Ryan Lane's body after he died

Tim Rempel says his brother Wilhelm, pictured above, wrote a letter to him while the two were on the same unit in the Calgary Remand Centre where Wilhelm confesses to killing Ryan Lane and burning his body. (CBC)

A secret jailhouse letter slid by one brother into the cell of another that contained a damning confession was not allowed to go before the jury in the Ryan Lane murder trial.

Any information about or contained in the letter was not allowed to be published until the jury began its deliberations, but jurors are now sequestered until a verdict is reached.

Tim Rempel told Justice Alan Macleod last Wednesday in a Calgary courtroom that his brother, Wilhelm Rempel, wrote the letter and gave it to him in October 2015 when the two were in the same unit at the Calgary Remand Centre.

  • The full transcription of the letter as it was read out in court is at the end of this story.

Tim, Wilhelm and Tim's wife, Sheena Cuthill, are all charged with first-degree murder in Lane's death, accused of killing Lane after he began fighting for visits with the daughter that he and Cuthill shared.

Ryan Lane disappeared in February 2012 and his remains were found nine months later in a barrel near Beiseker, burned almost beyond recognition. (Submitted by Ryan Lane's family)

In the letter, Wilhelm confesses that Lane died while in his custody and that he then burned his body, but Macleod ruled it inadmissible and the jury did not see it.

"I took upon myself that cold cloudless morning, a very sad tragic event took place that morning, Tim," was the first portion of the letter read to the court.

'I made a very bad decision'

Tim told the judge that he immediately mailed the letter to his lawyer, Allan Fay, who argued it should be presented as evidence to the jury.

A voir dire hearing was held last Wednesday without the jury present to determine the admissibility of the letter, but ultimately the judge decided it was hearsay and unreliable.

Wilhelm Rempel, Sheena Cuthill and Tim Rempel are all accused of murdering Ryan Lane because he wanted visitation rights with the daughter he and Cuthill shared. (CBC/Global)

Two portions of the two-page, handwritten letter were read aloud but — because jurors did not hear the evidence — it was covered by a publication ban.

"I did not want to do anything but protect you and yours, Sheena, Jordan and Nathanial," reads part of the letter that Tim Rempel said was in his brother's handwriting. 

"I made a very bad decision to dispose of Ryan's body after he died while in my custody."

'Shit went south'

Earlier in the trial, Tim testified in his own defence and told the jury that he and Wilhelm convinced Lane to meet them in a parking lot on the night of Feb. 6, 2012. 

The Crown alleges the Rempel brothers lured Lane to a parking lot in northwest Calgary on the night of Feb. 6, 2012, in order to murder him. (Court evidence)

With each brother in his own vehicle, they transported Lane to a remote location on a gravel road outside the city.

Repeatedly Tim said the idea was to simply talk to Lane in an effort to get him to step up as a father, or step out of his daughter's life.

Tim said Lane pushed him, so he retaliated by hitting Lane in the face and giving him a bloody nose. Then Tim says he drove away and could see his brother do the same, with Lane left on the side of the road. 

But the letter tells a different story.

"I returned to where I left him on the side of the road to take him back home because it was so cold," wrote Wilhelm. 

"Shit went south and ultimately he ended up dead. I could not help him, he was dead," wrote Wilhelm. "I panicked and made a fateful decision to dispose of his body, I did this to try and protect you and yours.

"I could not have imagined that this nightmare would turn out this way." 

'Jailhouse trick' 

Crown prosecutor Tom Buglas argued the letter appeared to be a "jailhouse trick," a novel ploy that placed Wilhelm in the role of "sacrificial lamb." 

Earlier in the trial, court heard evidence of a recorded conversation between Wilhelm and his mother where he said he'd be willing to go down for the sake of Tim, Sheena and their kids.

A police detective identified the man washing a red truck the day after Ryan Lane was killed as Wilhelm Rempel during the trial, pointing him out in the courtroom. (Court evidence)

The letter, argued Buglas, was "much too dangerous" for the jury to hear and urged Macleod to invoke his role as gatekeeper.

At that point, Wilhelm Rempel had not yet elected whether he was calling evidence, so the Crown argued it couldn't be guaranteed the opportunity to cross-examine him on the validity of the letter.

His lawyer, Jim Lutz, pointed out the letter was self-serving, though his client was under no obligation to testify and could force him into a position where he would have to.

"The admission of this document would fundamentally affect trial fairness," said Lutz.

Even though the letter was beneficial to Cuthill, her lawyer, Alain Hepner, said he also did not believe it should be admitted as evidence.

In the end, the judge agreed with Buglas, Hepner and Lutz.

"The absence of an ability to cross-examine the evidence is fatal to its admissibility," said Macleod.

"He indicated if he came down to it he would sacrifice himself for Sheena, Tim and the children so there is a motive to fabricate." 

Transcription of the letter portion read in court:

I took upon myself that cold cloudless morning, a very sad tragic event took place that morning, Tim. I knew that my vehicle had been seen and my plate had most likely been taken down. I did not want to do anything but protect you and yours, Sheena, Jordan and Nathanial. I made a very bad decision to dispose of Ryan's body after he died while in my custody. 

Both you and Sheena told me repeatedly to make sure that he, Ryan, was not to be hurt or harmed in any way, shape or form. After you left that morning, I gave Ryan my gloves and explained to him how to get home and I had left as well. A short while later, my truck stalled out like it so often did. I returned to where I left him on the side of the road to take him back home because it was so cold. 

Shit went south and ultimately he ended up dead. I could not help him, he was dead. I panicked and made a fateful decision to dispose of his body, I did this to try and protect you and yours. I could not have imagined that this nightmare would turn out this way.

The coppers can prove that you and Sheena did not like Ryan, and you and Sheena cannot deny that, but even with all that evidence they are still a long long way off from proving murder. Ryan is dead, there is no question of that fact. The circumstances of his death has absolutely nothing to do with you or Sheena or anything to do with Jordan in any way shape or form.

Because I gave you little bits and pieces here and there, you have voiced certain theories; these theories have been manipulated by the coppers. I made the decision to dispose of his body. I went to great lengths to draw as much attention to myself and to deflect as much away from you as I could. The cops have ideas, I have facts. Their theory does not fit the actual timeline. My facts will 100 per cent fit the real events and timeline.