Nova Scotia

Harley Lawrence fire death accused plead guilty to murder

The Crown says that the two men who pleaded guilty Monday to the 2013 murder of Harley Lawrence, a homeless man from Berwick, N.S., believed he was a police informant or an undercover police officer.

'They viewed him as a possible rat or narc,' Crown attorney tells court

2 men admit setting N.S. homeless man on fire

The National

6 years ago
2:44
Daniel Surette, 27, and Kyle Fredericks, 25, plead guilty to the 2nd-degree murder of Harley Lawrence 2:44

The two men who pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Harley Lawrence, a homeless man from Berwick, N.S., believed he was a police informant or an undercover police officer, says the case's Crown prosecutor.

Daniel Wayne Surette, 27, and Kyle David James Fredericks, 25, who doused Lawrence with $10 worth of gas and set him on fire, appeared in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Kentville on Monday.

"There seems to have been this animus towards Mr. Lawrence that had been festering for a while. They viewed him as a bum, they viewed him as a possible rat or narc and that seems to have played some part in their eventual decision to do this horrific act," said Crown prosecutor James Fyfe.​

The pair will be sentenced on April 28. Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for between 10 and 25 years.

Lawrence was found dead inside a burned-out bus shelter on Commercial Street in Berwick on Oct. 23, 2013.

During a preliminary inquiry earlier this month, the court heard testimony from Becky Surette, Daniel Surette's mother. She said everyone in Berwick knew Lawrence, but there was a rumour he was an undercover police officer.

She said her son and Fredericks sold drugs to buy party supplies, which included hard liquor, four dozen beer, cocaine, dilaudid, ecstasy and marijuana.

Surette testified her son arrived home the night Lawrence was killed and told her, "Mom, I did something bad to the homeless guy."

Police used security video from various local businesses to figure out the movements of Surette and Fredericks leading up to the killing.

Both men told Justice Gregory Wagner that they understand they will serve at least 10 years in prison before having a chance at parole.

It took six months for police to declare Lawrence's death a homicide, and some time after that before Surette and Fredericks were charged.

Ken Greer, Surette's lawyer, said his client expressed remorse immediately about the crime he had committed, citing the fact he had told people about what he had done when he was drinking and even told police two weeks after the crime.

"Certainly, this was somebody who throughout this process was regretful for his actions," said Greer.

Greer disagrees with the Crown's statement that Lawrence supposedly being a police officer played into his client's decision to commit murder.

Greer said that while his client was in police custody, Surette made "some utterances and bravado that were recorded in the police cell from one offender to another. In other words, justification after the fact. How do I justify to my conscience that I did this terrible thing?"

Ron Lawrence, the brother of the victim, said the pleas bring some closure.

"It's very emotional and the family needs it," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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