There is a kind of poetic brilliance in the sterile simplicity of written decisions of the Parole Board of Canada. The federal agency has the unenviable task of cataloguing horrors inflicted on society by figures who are both tragic and frightening. Derek Anthony Wood (inset) is one of these – a teenage mastermind of multiple murder. Wood was just 18 years old on May 7, 1992 when he and two accomplices set out to rob the McDonald’s Restaurant where he worked in tiny Sydney River, Nova Scotia. Wood believed, wrongly, that the safe held hundreds of thousands of dollars. The trio slaughtered three restaurant workers –shooting, stabbing and bludgeoning them – and left a fourth permanently disabled. They fled with roughly $2,000 but were soon caught and convicted. Wood, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, appears to have “some psychopathic traits,” according to the written record of his parole hearing (read document after the jump) convened earlier this year. He was denied any form of release.
The horror of the McDonald’s murders, as they came to be known, is vividly recounted in this thorough story, by writer Mary Ellen MacIntyre, published in 2012 in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the crimes. According to MacIntyre, 20-year-old Arleen MacNeil was the lone survivor, though she was left permanently disabled after being shot in the face. McDonald’s manager Donna Warren, 22, was forced to open the safe, then was shot twice in the head. Neil Burroughs, 29, was shot in the back of the head, then shot twice more, beaten with a shovel and his throat was cut. Jimmy Fagan, 27, was shot in the forehead as he was arriving for work at the fast food outlet.
After 23 years behind bars, Wood appears an empty vessel that has not filled with remorse or guilt. The Parole Board says as much, in one stark paragraph in the four-page written record of his March 31, 2015 parole hearing.
At your hearing, in regard to the murders, you stated that you originated the idea to rob the McDonald’s, your place of work. You advised the Board that you were ignorant and immature and you did not know what would happen. You didn’t see the consequences at the time. The Board considers your inability to express or understand, beyond attitude, immaturity and ignorance, the contributing factors to your criminality, indicates your lack of insight to your criminality.
Wood has not been well behaved in prison. In 2006, he assaulted two correctional officers. In 1998, he assaulted a fellow prisoner with sharpened artist brushes and a toothbrush. He has remained in maximum security, and for long stretches in segregation, during his two-decades-plus incarcerated. Yet he insists he is overclassified and shouldn’t have to follow the correctional plan set for him by his keepers. He went to court in 2013, while he was confined at Kingston Penitentiary, to attempt to overturn Corrections Canada’s insistence in keeping him classified as a maximum-security prisoner. The Federal Court of Canada rejected his claim, in a decision released in 2015 (read it below).
Corrections told the Parole Board that Wood’s “violence is unpredictable and usually occurs with no warning signs.” A psychiatric assessment completed in October 2014 stated that “extreme caution should be exercised” in considering Wood for early release.
That head-shrinking analysis appears to have found, for the first time since the killings in 1992, a simple explanation for Wood’s monstrous actions. An assessment found that Wood appears “to have some psychopathic traits usually found with psychopaths however you do not meet the cut off point.”
One of Wood’s accomplices, Darren Muise, was paroled in 2012. The other killer, Freeman MacNeil, remains in prison.
Here is the written record of the Parole Board of Canada decision from March 2015, denying Wood any form of release from prison:
Here is the judgment of the Federal Court of Canada, released January 2015, denying Wood’s bid to have his security status in prison reduced from maximum to medium:
» How did the murders affect those who were involved in the criminal case? Read this excellent column by journalist Phonse Jessome, who also wrote a book about the case, Murder at McDonald’s: The killers next door