A career criminal who narrowly escaped the hangman for cold bloodedly killing two Moncton police officers has died after more than 36 years behind bars. James Hutchison (inset), 83, died Saturday evening at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary, in Kingston, Ontario. Corrections Canada notified Hutchison’s sister, who lives in the Toronto area, but has not given a cause or exact time of death, said criminologist Matthew Yeager, who had been helping the ailing murderer in a desperate last-ditch bid for freedom.
“I haven’t seen the death certificate,” said Yeager, who teaches at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. “Neither has his sister, who is the executor of the estate. I got a phone call from CSC telling me they couldn’t disclose any information.”
“He died of natural causes,” said Brian Joyce, an assistant warden at the prison.
Hutchison was an inmate of Beaver Creek, a minimum-security penitentiary in Gravenhurst, Ont., who was transferred in February to the regional hospital inside the Kingston Pen complex for medical care. He had cancer and other ailments.
Hutchison appeared before a two-member parole board panel on May 30, pleading for freedom so that he could be closer to his sister in the Toronto area during his final days. He was denied any form of release, according to a written record of the hearing. The two parole board members, both former police officers, said he still posed a risk.
“This is an example of what we’re going to see with [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s corrections policy,” Yeager said. “We’re going to see people that are allegedly too dangerous to release on parole but too ill and old to live.”
Yeager was present at the parole board hearing and argued that the board members were biased because of their previous careers.
Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose were sentenced to hang after they killed Const. Michael O’Leary and Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois on Dec. 13, 1974, in a savage crime that shocked the country. The officers were pushed into a shallow grave and shot in the head. Hutchison was on parole in New Brunswick at the time of the murders from a sentence for armed robbery. He had already amassed a 30-year record of violent crimes.
The death sentences were commuted to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years, after capital punishment was abolished in 1976.
Hutchison had an abortive parole hearing March 25 this year. He appeared in a wheelchair. He was unable to speak or to focus and appeared asleep or semi-conscious at times. The parole board members suspended the hearing, out of concern that Hutchison did not know what was happening.
The hearing was re-scheduled for May 2 but was cancelled that morning when Hutchison was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, Yeager said.
“They took him to Kingston General and his sister got a phone call from the doctor that things were not going well, they were looking at organ failure … and because the emergency room was too crowded and he couldn’t sleep, they shipped him back to KP,” Yeager said.
Yeager said he got access to some of Hutchison’s medical records.
“They had him on 19 medications at [the prison treatment centre], including morphine,” Yeager said. “I believe they were dosing him heavily with all kinds of stuff on the 25th of March so that literally he couldn’t function. I do have proof without doubt that on the second of May he was given a morphine overdose because that’s what his discharge summary from Kingston General says.”
Officials at Corrections Canada’s regional headquarters in Kingston would not respond to questions about Yeager’s claims.
“I can’t comment about the specifics of the case,” said spokeswoman Wendy Smith.
Hutchison was lucid and able to speak at his hearing May 30 because Yeager had specifically asked that he not be given any morphine that day, Yeager said. He said he has not been retained by family members to investigate further.
Deaths in custody are subject to coroner’s inquests and are reviewed internally by Corrections Canada.
Yeager said Hutchison had agreed to a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order being placed on his medical file.
At the parole hearing last month, the board members spent two hours questioning Hutchison about the 1974 murders.
“Although you admitted at your hearing today to involvement in the hostage taking and kidnap of the officers to a secluded location, your explanation calls into question your credibility, insight and your understanding of the impact of your offending on those you victimized,” the parole board members concluded, according to the written record.
O’Leary and Bourgeois were part of a dragnet established after the 14-year-old son of a wealthy restaurateur, Cy Stein, was kidnapped. Stein paid a $15,000 ransom to Hutchison and Ambrose, who returned the boy unharmed. Police were hunting the kidnappers after the exchange. The officers disappeared and their bodies were found several days later.
The parole document reveals that Hutchison contacted police in 2009 and met with officers, “for the purpose of providing a statement about your involvement in the [murders].” Police concluded that his information was “self serving.” The document does not reveal what Hutchison told police, except that he refused to swear an oath of truthfulness, telling the officers he would “break an oath almost immediately.”
Ambrose, who changed his name to Bergeron, remains behind bars in western Canada. He was denied parole at a hearing in September 2010.
(this story appeared first in the Moncton Times and Transcript)
Written record of the parole hearing held May 30, 2011: