Terry Baker felt guilty 'every single day' for murder she helped commit, friend says

A longtime friend of Terry Baker - the women found unresponsive in her cell at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener Monday and who died Wednesday - said her friend was remorseful for her role in the death of 16-year-old Robbie McLennan in 2002.

'She is loved, even if she didn’t believe she deserved it,' friend says

(Meesh/Flickr)

A friend of Terry Baker said the woman who was incarcerated at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener for first-degree murder and died this week felt guilty "every single day" for her crime.

And Rosemary Redshaw, the former chaplain at the prison, says Baker had a great sense of humour and she grew fond of Baker during her time in the facility working with her. 

V., of Windsor, Ont., who cannot be identified because she met Baker as a young offender, said Baker was "the most loving and sweetest person you would ever meet. She was so giving she even made sure that when she died, that her organs were going to be donated so she could save a life."

Baker was found unresponsive in her cell Monday and died Wednesday.

Death of Robbie McLennan

The portraits of Baker from the two women are at odds with the nature of the crime that landed her in prison.

Baker was 16 years old when she helped two other people torture and kill 16-year-old Robbie McLennan of Orangeville, Ont., on April 18 to 19, 2002. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced as an adult to life in prison in 2006. She needed to serve at least 10 years of her sentence before she was eligible for parole.

Baker's 21-year-old boyfriend at the time, William Bronson Penasse, was also convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 and a second defendant who was 16 at the time of the murder was sentenced to 18 months for second-degree murder.

The circumstances surrounding the case are brutal. Reports said McLennan was tortured for three hours – the attack included being hit and kicked, cigarettes were used to burn his body and he was sodomized with a stick. By the time he died, he was unrecognizable.

Mental health concerns

The 30-year-old Baker battled mental health problems. Corrections Canada did not give a cause of death, but Kim Pate with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies said Baker took her own life.

Baker had also attempted suicide Monday night, had recently been in segregation and had been on suicide watch at some point over the past few weeks, Pate said.

Redshaw was a chaplain at the woman's prison for 17 years and knew Baker.

"I really liked her. She had a childlike sense of humour and was great to get along with. In the midst of her struggle, she seemed to get help in the time I was there."

Redshaw said Baker shouldn't have been in prison, but should have been in a facility that was equipped to deal with her needs. She also never should have been put in isolation.

Rosemary Redshaw was a chaplain at the women's prison for 17 years and says "segregation is like going through a death" and it's a place where offenders lose hope. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"Segregation is like going through a death. Because you go through the same scenario, you know that, 'I can't believe I'm here,' to, 'Get me out of here,' to that sense of denial to that sense where you lose hope," Redshaw said, although she also said in the current system, it may be necessary.

"Sometimes the only safe place for a person in a crisis sadly is segregation which is not necessarily a healthy place to be especially when you're in crisis.

"But it's the only safe to be," she said.

Prisons ill-equipped for those with mental health concerns

In a 2013 report called Risky Business, the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported on the treatment and management of chronic self-injury among federally sentenced women. The report noted in 2012-13, there were 901 cases of recorded prison self-injury involving 264 women. Of those 264 women, 37 accounted for almost 36 per cent of the cases.

The findings of the report also included:

  • Prisons are ill-equipped to safely and appropriately manage the complex mental health needs of federally sentenced women who chronically and seriously self-injure, yet CSC makes limited use of transfer of complex-needs cases to external psychiatric facilities.
  • Within CSC, the management of self-injury incidents tends to elicit a security and/or punitive response, namely containment, isolation, seclusion and/or segregation. Such responses tend to exacerbate the frequency and severity of self-injury and/or escalate the resort to other resistive/combative behaviours.
  • Self-injurious offenders are hesitant to disclose thoughts of self-harm for fear of punishment or placement in segregation.
  • There are significant gaps in the availability of treatment options for the most complex or chronic cases of self-injury.

Baker saved friend's life

V's mother emailed CBC News to say Baker was "a very polite, quiet, almost shy girl."

She said Baker's remorse for her crime is why she attempted to kill herself several times while in prison.

Her daughter met Baker in 1998 while young offenders. The two were together at the Vanier Women's Centre in Brampton in 2002 when V's daughter tried to take her own life.

"It was Terry that found her and Terry kicked, banged and screamed until guards finally came in," V's mother wrote.

"Terry was very much a part of my daughter's life while she was serving her time and after," she added. "Terry has plans of visiting my daughter upon release and wanted to volunteer at youth centres in hopes of swaying teens away from peer pressure and bad choices."

'She is loved'

Kyle Lawlor, the communications manager for Correctional Service Canada (CSC), said staff had worked with Baker.

"A tremendous amount of work was undertaken with this inmate, including by mental health professionals and frontline staff, and there have been many interventions with her over the past few months," Lawlor said.

V, who briefly spoke to CBC News on Facebook but became too upset to continue, said there are people who don't think Baker deserves sympathy.

But she believes her friend of 14 years does.

The two friends had plans for their future so Baker could have a normal life.

"She loved animals and she loved my children," V said. "People can say all the bad things they want, but she is loved, even if she didn't believe she deserved it."

with files from Joe Pavia, Alison Crawford