Manitoba

Killer of 3 homeless Winnipeggers appeals consecutive sentences in wake of Supreme Court ruling

Lawyers for homeless serial killer John Paul Ostamas have filed notice with the top Manitoba court they want to see his sentence reviewed in light of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down what's called "parole stacking" for multiple murders. 

John Paul Ostamas 'entitled to appeal to get the sentence lowered,' lawyer says

John Paul Ostamas was handed consecutive life terms for killing three Winnipeg homeless men in 2015. His sentence, which means he can't ask for parole for 75 years, has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court Of Canada. ( Jonathan Ostamas/Facebook)

The longest prison sentence ever handed down in Manitoba may soon be slashed by two-thirds. 

Lawyers for serial killer John Paul Ostamas, whose victims were homeless, have filed notice with the top provincial court that they want to see his sentence reviewed in light of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down what's called "parole stacking" for multiple murders.

Ostamas, now 45, was sentenced in 2016 to three consecutive terms of life without a chance at parole for 25 years for the murders of Miles Monias, Stony Stanley Bushie and Donald Collins in April 2015. The term effectively meant Ostamas would die behind bars.

If the Manitoba Court of Appeal agrees to hear his case and amend his sentence, he'd be eligible to apply for parole by the year 2040 instead of 2090. 

"I'd just point out to everybody that just means he can apply for parole — it doesn't mean he's going to get it," Ostamas's defence lawyer, Ryan Amy, said in a Sunday interview. 

The victims, who were homeless and chosen at random, were attacked by Ostamas separately in downtown Winnipeg. They were intoxicated and unable to defend themselves, court was told.

In a unanimous May decision, the Supreme Court struck down section 745.51 of the Criminal Code

It was enacted by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2011 and gave sentencing judges the power to combine parole eligibility in cases of multiple first- and second-degree murder charges. 

Writing on behalf of the court, Chief Justice Richard Wagner found the law constituted cruel and unusual punishment. 

Court records show appeal-related documents in Ostamas's case were filed with Manitoba's Court of Appeal late last week. An initial hearing date is pending for Thursday. Amy says he expects the court will hear the case and grant Ostamas's request in light of what the higher court has said. 

"The Supreme Court has made it clear the 75 years is unconstitutional. He's entitled to appeal to get the sentence lowered," Amy said. 

In an unusual twist, the sentence handed to Ostamas by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Vic Toews was jointly recommended to the court by the Crown and Ostamas's lawyer at the time, Greg Brodsky. 

Toews was blunt in his assessment of the killings just prior to endorsing the lawyers' recommendation and passing what became the longest-ever prison term in Manitoba history. 

"Not only are the nature of the offences among the most serious … the circumstances surrounding their commission amount to three cold-blooded killings accomplished by savage brutality," he said.

"These three homeless and vulnerable victims were sought out by Ostamas and bludgeoned to death in the most horrific manner imaginable."

At the time it was imposed, some legal experts warned Ostamas's sentence could be ruled unconstitutional due to its length. 

At the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling, federal Justice Minister David Lametti said the government would carefully review it. He said the Liberal government supported a judge's discretionary powers to impose a longer waiting period for parole eligibility.

RAW: Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky explains reason for John Paul Ostamas guilty plea

6 years ago
Duration 3:28
John Paul Ostamas has pleaded guilty to killing three homeless men in downtown Winnipeg.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Turner is a former courts and crime reporter for various Manitoba media outlets, including CBC Manitoba. He now teaches journalism and photography at Red River College.

With CBC News files

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