Court hears appeal of stayed charges against 2 jail workers in connection with inmate's death

Crown prosecutors argued before the Court of Appeal Wednesday that "several clear legal errors" by a lower court judge led to incorrectly stayed charges against two correctional officers in connection with the death of an inmate at a London, Ont., jail in 2013.

Charges against Stephen Jurkus, Leslie Lonsbary stayed last year due to delays

Adam Kargus, 29, was found beaten to death in a shower stall at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont. (Deb Abrams)

Crown prosecutors have argued before the Ontario Court of Appeal Wednesday that "several clear legal errors" by a lower court judge led her to incorrectly stay charges against two correctional officers in connection with the death of an inmate at a London, Ont., jail in 2013. 

Stephen Jurkus and Leslie Lonsbary, who were correctional officers at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., were each charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to inmate Adam Kargus. The 29-year-old Sarnia resident was found beaten to death in a shower stall at the jail on Oct. 31, 2013.

Kargus's mother Deborah Abrams made the journey from Sarnia to a downtown Toronto court to hear Wednesday's appeal.

"We don't want another family to go through this, we don't want another inmate dying," she said outside the courthouse.

The court is expected to release its written decision on the appeal within months.

Deborah Abrams, right, says a trial may reveal flaws in the correctional system that contributed to her son's death. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Unreasonable delays

Last February, lawyers for Jurkus and Lonsbary asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss the charges because too much time had passed since they were charged.

They argued the charges had lingered for nearly three years without a resolution. Justice Alissa Mitchell ruled in their favour and stayed the charges.

The time that had elapsed from when the accused were charged was over the 30 months allowed by a landmark 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling called the Jordan decision, which calls for the dismissal of cases that have been subjected to unreasonable delays.

This case marked the first time the Jordan decision had been cited in the London area.

In a written submission for the appeal, the Crown argues that a combination of mistakes made by defence lawyers in addition to "exceptional circumstances" should be counted against the total length of court proceedings. Under this scenario, the Crown argues the proceedings add up to less than the 30 month limit as determined by the Jordan decision.

If the decision to stay the charges is overturned and a trial is held, Abrams believes new information may be revealed that could contribute to larger prison reforms.

"My goal is for this to be overturned, for the two guards to face trial, and for even more evidence to come out," she said.

No guards responded

In jail surveillance video from 2013, Anthony George could be seen beating his cellmate Kargus to death and then dragging the body in the shower area the next morning. Kargus was choked, punched, kicked and stomped to death.

Surveillance video released in October shows Anthony George beating his cellmate Adam Kargus to death and then dragging the body in the shower area the next morning. (Ontario Superior Court of Justice)

On Oct. 7, 2017, George, 32, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 10 years.

Throughout the beating, which the surveillance video shows lasted about an hour, no guards responded, even though it was caught on a closed circuit camera.

Defence asks for dismissal of appeal

Although the Crown argues there were "several clear legal errors" in Justice Mitchell's 2017 ruling, the defence says the judge was in fact "correct" in her application of the Jordan decision and "analysis of the unreasonable delay in bringing this matter to trial."

The defence is asking for a dismissal of the appeal partly because of the Crown's decision to proceed against the two men jointly, saying that this "added complexity, in terms of scheduling and voluminous disclosure, to a case where there was none."

With files from Colin Butler and Nick Boisvert