Edmonton

Judge to rule on Mr. Big evidence in Edmonton murder trial

This first-degree murder trial relies almost completely on voir dire evidence presented against Shawn Wruck gathered from a so-called Mr. Big sting. Justice Donna Shelley will announce her decision today at 10 a.m.

'He was led to believe ... he would be part of an elite organization of criminals ... above the Hell's Angels

Shawn Wruck is charged with first-degree murder inn the death of Shannon Collins. (Castanet News )

An Edmonton judge will rule Thursday morning on the admissibility of evidence gathered by RCMP officers during a sophisticated "Mr. Big" undercover operation.   

Shawn Wruck is accused of killing his girlfriend, Shannon Collins, in December 2007.  

The case stayed cold for years. Then Mounties launched a Mr. Big sting in late 2012 they dubbed "Operation Kolumbo."  

Over four months, a number of undercover officers posed as organized crime movers and shakers.

They wined and dined Wruck, who was living in West Kelowna, B.C. at the time.

Wruck was taken on "business" trips by his new friends to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

He even flew with them to Montreal for a championship MMA fight.

There were fancy restaurant meals, strip club visits, and the promise of a new extravagant lifestyle.

Wruck was paid between $5,000 and $6,000 for his time, with the suggestion of a much bigger payday ahead if he was accepted into the group.  

"He was led to believe that if he was admitted into the organization, money would no longer be a concern and he could finally live the life he had always wanted," said defence lawyer Ajay Juneja.

"He would be part of an elite organization of criminals that were above the Hell's Angels. He would finally get to lead the life of luxury he was searching for."

Wruck confessed 4 times

The price of admission into the group was honesty.

Evidence gathered during the sting shows Wruck confessed four times to different undercover officers that he killed his girlfriend.  

Prosecutor Jim Stewart argues the court should rely on those confessions.  

"He took responsibility for killing her right off the bat," Stewart said. "Mr. Wruck was never threatened and was told repeatedly he could walk away from the group."

The prosecutor argued Wruck provided details of his crime that provide "an abundance of confirmatory evidence."  

"He said he stripped Shannon Collins before dumping her, disposing of her clothes and a necklace that was torn off her," Stewart said. "No clothing or jewelry was found with the body."

Shannon Collins was last seen alive in 2007. (Court of Queen's Bench Exhibit )

Stewart told the court Wruck's confessions were not obtained by coercion. He described the accused as a "worldly man of above average sophistication."

The onus is on the Crown to prove to the Justice Donna Shelley she should admit the undercover evidence. The stakes are high. The prosecution has little else to rely upon without Mr. Big.

Wruck's lawyer tried just as hard to urge the judge to have the evidence thrown out.

'Concerns about a false confession'

"This is a prototypical Mr. Big operation," Juneja said. "It raises all the concerns about a false confession.

"All he had to do was convince them he wanted to be like them. Killers. Do the dirty work. He had a very strong incentive and motive to lie."

The defence argued Wruck kept changing key portions of his confession, and divulged nothing that would confirm the cause, time or location of Collins' death.

"There's an utter lack of detail," he said. "There are no intimate details that only the killer would know."  

Skeletal remains were discovered on the edge of Wruck's parents' Strathcona County acreage in June 2008, by a man walking his dog.

Human remains were found in June 2008 by man walking dog in Strathcona County. (Court of Queen's Bench exhibit)

The defence argues the body may not have been Collins.  

Juneja points to expert evidence given by the medical examiner, who identified the victim as likely aboriginal and five-foot-three. Collins was five-foot-five.  

A forensic anthropologist thought the remains belonged to someone who was at least 40 years old. Collins was 29 when she was last seen alive.  

The decision on admissibility now rests with Justice Shelley. If she allows the Mr. Big evidence, the defence plans to ask for a delay to prepare its case, which could include Wruck taking the witness stand.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story reported that the ruling would be on Wednesday. In fact, the ruling is scheduled for Thursday.
    Jun 29, 2016 9:35 AM MT

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