Slain tot's grandparents welcome new bail law

A couple whose son and grandson were murdered are celebrating a new law that empowers Canadian courts to refuse bail when a suspect's child may be in danger. Their year-old grandson was killed by his mother in Newfoundland while she was out on bail awaiting an extradition decision.

For the first time in years, David Bagby and his wife Kate are decorating their home for Christmas. Since their son was murdered in 2001 and their year-old grandchild was killed in Newfoundland in 2003, the California couple hasn't bothered decking the halls, but now they're celebrating a legal victory in the case.

Shirley Turner and her son Zachary, before they died in August 2003. ((Canadian Press))

"With Andrew gone and then Zachary gone, we didn't give a damn about putting up a Christmas tree or lights outside or any of that stuff," Bagby said from their home in Gilroy, about 30 kilometres south of San Jose.

This year is different. The couple's long fight for legal changes in Canada ended Wednesday with a new law. It changes the Criminal Code, allowing courts to refuse bail for suspects accused of serious crimes when an accused's child or children under the age of 18 may be in danger.

It could spare other families the rage and pain suffered by the couple since the murder of their grandson, Zachary, at the hands of his mother in Newfoundland. The youngster's death followed the killing of his father, Andrew Bagby — the couple's only child.

"This was our goal," said Bagby. "This is it … recognition by the legal community, which includes Parliament, that bail had something to do with Zachary's death. This provision has a good chance of causing judges and prosecutors to fix what got Zachary killed."

The 13-month-old boy died when his mother, Dr. Shirley Turner, held him and jumped into the frigid North Atlantic near Conception Bay South, N.L. They drowned Aug. 18, 2003, in what was ruled a murder-suicide. At the time, Turner was wanted in the U.S. to face trial for the murder of Andrew Bagby.

Son slain in Pennsylvania

Her former lover was found dead in a parking lot at Keystone State Park in Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh. The 28-year-old California native, a family medical practice resident, died Nov. 5, 2001. He'd been shot five times, including in the back of the head.

The couple had met in medical school at Memorial University of Newfoundland. After Andrew Bagby's death, Turner left Pennsylvania for Newfoundland, her home province, and gave birth to their son.

She was granted bail and awarded custody of the child despite the fact that she faced charges of premeditated murder and had fled the U.S.

David and Kate Bagby moved to St. John's. They forged a relationship with the woman they believed killed their son so they could see Zachary, their only grandchild.

But their efforts to safeguard him weren't enough and they say that both the justice system and the child welfare system failed them.

Turner, a general practitioner, was 42 when she killed herself and her son.

Coroner critical of presumption of innocence

A three-volume report released in 2006 by coroner Peter Markesteyn blamed fundamental flaws in the province's social services for Zachary's preventable death. He found that officials working on a presumption of Turner's innocence were more worried about her welfare than that of her son.

Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews introduced the private member's bill to reform bail provisions. The new law enhances ongoing child welfare improvements that can be traced back to Zachary's death, he said in an interview.

"At some point in the future, a judge will see this and research it and I'm hoping that it will protect minor children."

Andrews said he was inspired to act two years ago when he saw the documentary film Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.

Kurt Kuenne created the movie as a kind of big-screen scrapbook to immortalize Andrew Bagby, one of his best friends from childhood.

He interviewed old friends who recalled Andrew as a gregarious, well-loved soul who starred in Kuenne's earliest attempts at filmmaking.

The project took a tragic turn and became a catalyst for legal change when Zachary didn't live to see it.

Kuenne said he's grateful that politicians championed a law that could save lives. He was especially delighted to hear that David and Kate Bagby are once again hauling out boxes of Christmas decorations that went unused for so long.

"Honestly, that's one of the things that makes me most happy about the passage of the law," he said from Burbank, Calif.

"I hope it will enable them to kind of move on mentally and enjoy good things in life. What they've been doing with their activism is wonderful. I just would love to see them enjoy regular life again, too, as much as possible."