Saskatchewan

Regina man pleads guilty to murders of Kelly Goforth, Richele Bear

Clayton Eichler has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the deaths of two Indigenous women: Kelly Goforth and Richele Bear.

Clayton Eichler faces life in prison for killings, ineligible for parole for at least 10 years

Clayton Bo Eichler covered his face as he was escorted into the Queen's Bench courthouse on Monday.

Warning: This story includes graphic details that some readers may find offensive

Clayton Eichler, the Regina man about to go on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of two Indigenous women, on Monday instead pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on both counts. 

The 35-year-old has accepted responsibility for killing Kelly Goforth, 21, and 23-year-old Richele Bear.

In Bear's case, Eichler had also been charged with offering an indignity to a human body. It was alleged Eichler had sexual intercourse with Bear's body after she was dead.

That charge has been stayed. 

The Court of Queen's Bench in Regina had set aside two weeks for the trial, which was to start today. 

Maxine Goforth, Kelly Goforth's mother, said the family is relieved they won't have to go through with the two-week trial. (CBC)

The day began with the Crown telling court Eichler suffered a "medical situation" earlier in the morning and had to be taken to hospital.

About half an hour later, Eichler walked into the courthouse under police escort, his shirt pulled up to cover his face.

He appeared to have a bandage on his right wrist.

He then pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Justice served 

Kelly Goforth's mother, Maxine Goforth, said family members were shocked by the plea, but relieved they will be spared going through the two-week trial. 

"It spared my children unnecessary tears. They shed too many," she said. 

Clayton Eichler, 35, had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He had pleaded not guilty, but in a surprise development, he pleaded guilty Monday to the lesser charge of second-degree murder. (Facebook)

Eichler's lawyer, Morris Bodnar, said he recommended the guilty pleas after reviewing the transcripts and evidence that would be brought forward.

Bodnar said if the trial went through, he thought Eichler would have been convicted of second-degree murder on one count, and there was a strong possibility he would be convicted on the second count. 

"If he was ever convicted of first-degree, he would be ineligible for a parole for a minimum of 25 years just on one count. So what I suggested was better than that," he said. 

We felt this was a compromise we could live with.— Crown prosecutor Bill Burge

Crown prosecutor Bill Burge said he's satisfied with the pleas, as there was uncertainty about whether Eichler would be found guilty of first-degree murder.

"There were risks. We felt this was a compromise we could live with. That's why we took the plea of second-degree," Burge said. 

Both the Crown and defence said they believe justice has been served.

Maxine Goforth agreed.

"If that means he felt remorse in some way — to plead guilty — then we're getting justice," she said to reporters outside the courthouse. 

Automatic life sentence

Murder comes with an automatic sentence of life in prison, but with first-degree, the parole eligibility period is 25 years. With second-degree, the minimum period the offender must wait before becoming eligible for parole is 10 years.

Court heard both the Crown and defence are requesting that Eichler be kept behind bars for 20 years before becoming eligible. 

Before Monday's surprising turn of events, the Crown was prepared to call 15 witnesses: as many as 10 police officers, four civilians, a pathologist and another expert from the crime lab.

Eichler had originally pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by judge and jury. He later changed his mind and requested a trial by a judge only.

There was no word a guilty plea was in the works until court proceedings were underway Monday.

Eichler has also been charged with the aggravated assault of another Indigenous woman.

That case is set for a pretrial hearing on Sept. 23.

Bear's body never found

Goforth's body was discovered Sept. 25, 2013, in a back alley of an industrial/commercial area east of downtown.

Police said Bear was reported missing several weeks earlier, on Sept. 5, although her body was never found.

Eichler's lawyer said he hasn't discussed the body's location with his client. 

Richele Bear's body was never found. (Facebook)

The Crown began releasing details of its case against Eichler on Monday.

The Crown believes both women were strangled. Goforth's body was wrapped in plastic and put in a hockey bag.

Photos obtained by the police after Eichler's cellphone and computer were seized showed Bear in the back of Eichler's vehicle, partially undressed, with her head and face covered. There were also photos of Bear on his bedspread and sleeping bag.

The Crown's evidence also included a necktie being found on Goforth's body with Eichler's DNA on it.

Eichler displayed no reaction while the Crown read details of his murders.

Closure for Goforth family 

Maxine Goforth said it's been turmoil waiting for answers since her daughter's body was found. 

Goforth said she and her family have a message for Eichler. 

We've had to learn to live without her and we're still learning to live without her.— Maxine Goforth

"I want him to know what he's taken from us. He's taken a beautiful … our rock. Our foundation," she said. 

"She was very a big part in our family and we've had to learn to live without her and we're still learning to live without her."

She said the family plans to visit her grave together later today to "say good-bye."

"We held on three years. That's a long time to hold onto somebody. We'll hold onto her forever, but to let her go, to let her rest, that's what we want to do," she said. 

Court has adjourned for the day but will hear victim impact statements from Goforth's family tomorrow.

When Eichler was first charged, Regina police said if he were found guilty, he would fit the FBI's definition of a serial killer — someone responsible for two or more murders at different times.

Kelly Goforth was 21 years old when she was killed in 2013. (Facebook)

With files from CBC's Adam Hunter

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