Father time is completing the sentence the hangman could not. James Hutchison (inset), the imprisoned 83-year-old who murdered two Moncton police officers in 1974, could die within weeks, a parole board panel was told Friday during a hearing (I was the only reporter at the hearing) inside maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario. Because of a sudden, dramatic decline in the prisoner’s health, the parole board members made the surprise decision to adjourn the hearing, suggesting that Hutchison quickly submit a new application for a “compassionate, end-of-life” release.
“It’s not even clear whether Mr. Hutchison is aware what’s going on here,” said parole board member John Muise. “I’m not altogether certain he hears us and if he hears us, whether he understands us.”
Hutchison was sentenced to hang but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the death penalty was abolished in 1976.
The once fearsome outlaw who robbed, kidnapped and murdered in a 30-year orgy of crime has been reduced by cancer and other ailments to a quivering, crumpled shell.
Hutchison, his eyes closed, was pushed in a wheelchair up to a conference table inside the small hearing room. He was only a metre or so away from the parole board members.
His face was waxy, framed by deeply creased jowls. His partly bald head was ringed by thin, wispy white hair. Often, his chin flopped onto the right side of his chest as he seemed to lapse into sleep or unconsciousness. At other times, his head bobbed about from unexplained tremors. Sporadically, he grunted and moaned.
The parole board members and other staff in the room asked Hutchison if he could hear them. His eyes flickered.
“He’s nodding, ‘Yes,’ ” said Matthew Yeager, a London, Ont., criminologist assisting the killer.
Hutchison appeared before the board asking for parole so that he could live in a hospital near his sister in Newmarket, just north of Toronto. He was in better condition when he submitted the application.
“This is a marked change,” said Gail Cosgrove, the parole officer handling his case at Beaver Creek Institution, a minimum-security prison in Gravenhurst, in central Ontario. Cosgrove explained to the board that Hutchison was moved to Beaver Creek last year after he won a court judgment against Corrections Canada, which had refused to move him to a low-security facility.
Hutchison was transferred to the regional hospital at Kingston Penitentiary early this month because Beaver Creek did not have the facilities to deal with his breathing problems. Cosgrove said medical staff at Beaver Creek concluded that Hutchison met the criteria for designation as palliative, meaning he has three months or less to live, though that diagnosis was not confirmed in Kingston.
“If he’s not palliative, he appears to be on the way,” Muise said.
Cosgrove said Corrections Canada will have to complete an assessment in the Newmarket area to gauge reaction to Hutchison’s possible release to the community.
“The police are going to be opposed to this,” Yeager noted.
Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose killed Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois and Const. Michael O’Leary in December 1974. The officers were part of a dragnet for the two criminals who had abducted the 14-year-old son of restaurateur Cy Stein. Stein paid $15,000 ransom for the safe return of his son. The officers disappeared and were found dead three days later.
Bourgeois and O’Leary were taken to a wooded area, pushed into shallow graves and shot in the head with their own service revolvers (complete account of the killings). Ambrose, who changed his name to Bergeron, is behind bars in Alberta. He was denied release (written record of parole decision) in September last year, though he was free on parole for six years, beginning in 1999, until a series of incidents including an assault on his wife.
Records of previous parole hearings (2008, 1997) note that Hutchison does “not seem particularly remorseful” and has denied that he intended to kill the officers. In November 2000, Hutchison escaped while on a work pass from a Kingston prison. He was quickly recaptured.
No date was set for the reconsideration of Hutchison’s case.
“I think time is of the essence,” Yeager said. “I don’t think we have three months left.”
(this story appeared first in the Moncton Times and Transcript)