Edmonton Mac's store killer should wait 50 years for parole, Crown argues

A judge will decide Friday whether convicted killer Colton Steinhauer, who murdered two Mac's store clerks, should be eligible to apply for parole in 25 or 50 years. 

Colton Steinhauer will spend at least 25 years behind bars for double shootings

Colton Steinhauer, 31, will be sentenced Friday for first-degree murder and robbery. (Facebook)

A judge will decide Friday whether convicted killer Colton Steinhauer, who murdered two Mac's store clerks, should be eligible to apply for parole in 25 or 50 years. 

Steinhauer, 30, will automatically serve a life sentence for each murder. Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice Ken Nielsen will decide whether those sentences will be served consecutively or at the same time.

In May, a jury found Steinhauer guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The 12 jurors were asked at the time for sentencing recommendations. Half thought Steinhauer should serve his sentences consecutively, three recommended concurrent sentences and the other three offered no recommendation.

The two store clerks, Karanpal Bhangu and Ricky Cenabre, were shot to death during a robbery spree in the early hours of Dec. 18, 2015. They were working overnight shifts alone at two south-side Mac's stores.

During a hearing Thursday, Crown prosecutor John Watson urged the judge to hand down consecutive sentences, calling Steinhauer's level of moral blameworthiness "extremely high."

Watson said the robberies and shootings were planned and deliberate, and the victims vulnerable.

"It was nothing short of a gratuitous execution," Watson said. "The robbery was done. Neither [clerk] had shown any resistance. So why did you kill them?" 

The judge agreed with Watson's characterization that the sentencing decision is a philosophical choice. 

"It all depends on this court's philosophy," Watson said, noting the choice of 25 years would focus on rehabilitation while the longer term would emphasize denunciation and deterrence.

Karanpal Bhangu, 35, and Ricky Cenabre, 41, were shot and killed in a pair of Mac's store robberies on Dec. 18, 2015.

"Isn't there a greater chance," the judge asked, "of someone turning their life around if they think they have a hope of getting out of prison in 25 years?"

The judge said if he imposed consecutive sentences, Steinhauer would be 77 years old before he could apply for parole. 

Apology from Steinhauer 

During Thursday's hearing, Nielsen asked Steinhauer, 31, if he had anything to say. The prisoner rose and read from a piece of paper. 

"I made the biggest mistake imaginable," Steinhauer said. "I tragically made a decision I will live with for the rest of my life. 

"For this I take full responsibility. I am being judged for what I did in the worst time in my life and I accept the consequences of my actions."

Bhangu's family was not in the courtroom for the hearing. The judge was told they have chosen to "move on" from the tragedy. Steinhauer directed his apology to two of Cenabre's nieces sitting in the gallery. 

Faith Alcazaren, John Cedric Cenabre and Editha Alcazaren outside the Edmonton courthouse last year. (Sam Martin/CBC News )

"I can only imagine the pain and heartache I've caused you here today," Steinhauer said. "I pray you can heal, forgive, but not forget." 

Court heard a victim impact statement written by Cenabre's teenage son. 

"You could have stopped," John Cedric Cenabre wrote. "You have no sign of remorse and show no mercy. I'll never forgive you for this."

Because Steinhauer is Indigenous, a Gladue report was prepared for the sentencing hearing.

In that report, Steinhauer told the author: "I don't want to be in here forever. I want to get my life back on track if I ever get out of here." 

Steinhauer's lawyer asked the judge to impose concurrent sentences. 

Anna Konye pointed out that Steinhauer's accomplice, Laylin Delorme, received concurrent sentences, though that court decision has been appealed by the Crown.

Delorme is appealing his convictions. 

A 13-year-old relative of Delorme's who took part in the crimes pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has already finished serving his three-year sentence. 

"It's clear Mr. Delorme is the main aggressor throughout the robberies," Konye said. "The court should think about the age of the offender and the possibility for rehabilitation."

'It was a party all the time'

The judge will take Steinhauer's troubled past into consideration when passing sentence. 

Steinhauer said he experienced physical abuse and acts of violence growing up, along with rampant alcohol and substance abuse in his family. 

"I seen shit kids shouldn't see," Steinhauer told the Gladue report author. "A guy getting stabbed up, a lot of fights going on. I seen my mom try to commit suicide, slash her wrists, my grandma take a whole bunch of pills at one time."

Steinhauer admitted he became addicted to crack cocaine when he was 15 and began selling the drug to feed his habit. He is also a self-admitted alcoholic with a lengthy criminal record. 

"Every time I'd get out of jail, I'd try to do good, but I'd just go back to my old life," Steinhauer said. "It was easy money, fast money. Drinking and doing drugs. It was a party all the time." 

He said the drinking and drugs led him to commit the double murders, but admitted his drug use has continued while in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre, including heroin and fentanyl.

"Things I'd never try on the street, I tried in here," he said of the remand centre. "I just do it in here to pass the time." 

Steinhauer told the Gladue report author he's frustrated with how he has been portrayed in the media and the impact of the publicity on his family. He did not elaborate. 

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday at 10 a.m.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston