Surprise guilty plea in jailhouse murder trial in London
Ontario jail has long faced allegations of unsafe environment, overcrowding
Inmate Anthony George has made a surprise guilty plea to second-degree murder in the 2013 beating death of his cellmate Adam Kargus, just as George's three-week trial was set to begin.
Twenty-nine-year-old Adam Kargus was found dead on Oct. 31, 2013, in the shower at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre outside London, Ont.
Kargus's family could be heard weeping in the courtroom Tuesday as George, 32, stood calmly, with his hands neatly folded behind his back, and answered questions from Justice Bruce Thomas in a level voice.
"Yes, sir," George said in response to whether he was sure he would be changing his plea.
George's startling about-face brings a sudden end to four years of emotional preparation by Kargus's mother, Deb Abrams, who declined to speak to CBC News.
Kargus's brother Shane delivered a short statement to the media outside court not long after George changed his plea.
Crown lawyer Joe Perfetto briefly summarized what happened at the jail on the night Kargus died, contained in an agreed statement of fact that was tendered by both sides in the case.
Before the dinner hour on Oct. 30, 2013, George was with two other men in cell three of section 6L in the provincial jail, where they consumed a jailhouse brew — "an alcoholic substance made by allowing fruit to ferment and thereby produce alcohol," Perfetto said.
George could then be seen smoking a cigarette on surveillance video taken inside the jail, but what George apparently didn't know at the time was the cigarette was laced with phencyclidine, which is also known as angel dust or PCP.
Kargus was placed in the cell with George sometime later, according to the Crown. The two men were locked in the cell for the evening.
A nurse noticed the smell of alcohol and told the guards that it was her opinion George was intoxicated because he seemed "animated, loud and happy."
Surveillance video captures beating
The response from the guards, court heard, was that they wrote a note on a white board that there was a possible brew in cell three and that the two men were left in there because of a "staffing issue" at the jail.
Between 7:56 p.m. and 8:55 p.m., a surveillance camera with a limited view inside cell three recorded the nearly hour-long beating Kargus received at the hands of his cellmate, during which he was choked, punched, kicked and stomped to death.
The video apparently shows George choking Kargus by holding his neck and head against the cell door.
The violence then escalates and Kargus can be seen near the ground, being punched, kicked and stomped.
As this was happening, the Crown said, other inmates were banging on their cell doors, some cheering, while others were trying to alert the guards about the violent spectacle taking place in cell three.
"No guards responded," Perfetto said.
The cells were unlocked the next morning, and surveillance cameras show George dragging Kargus's body, wrapped in blood-soaked bed sheets, to the shower area.
"He then retreated back to the cell and common area," Perfetto said, noting other inmates at the jail helped George clean up Kargus's blood.
When guards found Kargus's body in the shower, he was already dead.
His face was so badly beaten that it was unrecognizable, and Kargus had to be identified by his tattoos, the Crown said.
Blunt force trauma
The autopsy on Kargus showed a large number of injury sites and multiple fractures.
The cause of death, according to the post-mortem, was blunt force trauma to the neck, head and face.
George told investigators that he didn't remember attacking Kargus because of his intoxication from the jailhouse brew and the PCP-laced cigarette.
As Crown lawyer Joe Perfetto relayed the facts of the case to the court, George sat in the prisoner's box and looked at the floor, showing no emotion as Kargus's friends and family wept behind him.
Terry Brandon, who is George's lawyer, wouldn't say why her client had a sudden change of heart before his trial was set to begin, other than that prosecutors offered a deal.
"It's a situation where the Crown attorney made a proposal yesterday for a resolution," she said.
Brandon wouldn't say whether the guilty plea would affect what the Crown will seek at the sentencing hearing scheduled for Oct. 6.
"You'd have to ask the Crown attorney about that, it really was a new offer," she said.
Brandon said the jail is just as guilty as her client when it comes to Kargus's death.
Lawyer Kevin Egan, who has represented Kargus's family in a civil action against the provincial jail, said that George's guilty plea seemed to take everyone by surprise.
Egan said it will mean many of the problems at the troubled jail won't be made public through the criminal courts.
The Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre has been embroiled in one lawsuit after another over allegations that inmates' rights are routinely violated.
Six staff were fired after Kargus's death for failing to do their jobs. However, three of the guards returned to work in April 2017 after an Ontario grievance settlement board found that the actions of the guards had "gone on for years, if not decades, and they were open and obvious."