Carolyn Solomon, a mother of two from Sudbury, Ontario, travelled 1,500 kilometres, past razor-wire topped steel fences and gun-toting watchtower guards, into the bowels of a federal penitentiary, to confront the man who murdered her son. Why did she do it? What did the killer say when Solomon looked into his eyes and demanded to know why he shot her son? Solomon explains in The Mother and the Murderer, Episode 8 of the Cancrime podcast (after the jump).
Solomon says she wasn’t on a “forgiveness journey” when she confronted triple murderer Michael Hector inside a Nova Scotia prison in 2013. Solomon felt that she needed to see firsthand that the career criminal was safely locked behind bars. At the meeting, held in a small room inside Springhill Institution, Solomon was the more fearsome of the pair – an aggrieved and determined mother bent on ensuring that the man who shattered her family and who has tricked the system repeatedly, remains imprisoned.
“I don’t trust them … to keep him from falling through the cracks again,” she says.
Michael Hector was on parole when he murdered 29-year-old Kevin Solomon on January 9, 1997 in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Hector murdered another man, Solomon’s roommate, Robert McCollum, that day, and, roughly a month later, he shot to death a third man, gas bar attendant Blair Aitkens, 20. Hector shot Aitkens in the head twice after robbing him of $944. Hector pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The events sparked investigations of the correctional and parole systems that had freed a repeat offender with a history of parole violations who went on to commit three murders, while supposedly under the watchful eye of supervisors.
The investigations produced troubling revelations. The community parole supervisor didn’t have a complete picture of Hector’s violent criminal past and didn’t check in with Hector’s family and friends. He didn’t know that Hector was spiraling out of control in the months leading up to the murders. Parole board members who freed Hector didn’t read his complete file before making their decision to turn him loose. The head of the Correctional Service at the time, Ole Ingstrup, admitted these failures, in an appearance before a parliamentary committee (Read a transcript of that hearing).
An investigation report deferred blame, asserting that not even a complete and thorough tracking of Hector’s case could have foreseen his murderous rampage.
In effect, three deaths were bloody evidence that, in many cases, Corrections experts and parole authorities are just guessing when they predict whether a violent criminal will reoffend and can be set free.
Hector had been paroled from prison and jail sentences many times before the 1997 murders. He was 32 years old in 1997 but already had a lengthy criminal record stretching back to his teen years that included armed robberies, conspiracies and weapons offences. Each time he was freed, he committed new, violent crimes. In 1995, roughly halfway through a cumulative 13-year sentence, he was given full parole, the most permissive form of freedom. His most recent crime was an armed robbery of a store in Winnipeg in 1991. Records documenting the 1995 decision to parole him claimed that he had made “positive progress on his day parole,” he had “recognized the motivating factors of his past criminal behaviour” and he learned that it was necessary to “put his greed for money aside.” The record also noted that his federal record began in 1982 and was followed by “a relatively consistent pattern of increasingly serious offences.” The records suggest he didn’t have a problem with drugs and alcohol and did not have mental health problems. One psychiatrist wrote that “it is doubtful Mr. Hector will require ongoing therapy on a regular basis.” A judge would later say Hector was a psychopath – a remorseless and egocentric predator bent on self gratification at any cost.
Carolyn Solomon and the family of victim Blair Aitkens sued Corrections, the parole board and the John Howard Society, which was contracted to supervise Hector in the community. Lawyers for those Solomon sued put her through hell, she says, until they finally made a cash settlement – a paltry amount she says was a “joke” – enough only to cover her costs. It was hush money, Solomon says, designed to silence her.
Instead, she has raised her voice. Solomon joined a prominent organization based in Ottawa, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. Solomon is now a board member with the agency. She has given speeches and lectures and joined government-established advisory bodies. She has pushed politicians to give victims a greater role and voice in the criminal justice system and she has demanded greater access to information about criminals. Her commitment to the issue is unflinching.
She says there have been some small improvements in the way the criminal justice treats victims but, she says, it still fails many. She believes the entire system is too focused on criminals. Senior bosses, including the commissioner of the Correctional Service, don’t give, in her words, “two hoots about victims.” She says she’ll never stop pushing to balance the scales of justice in favour of victims.
Two parole records for killer Michael Hector, a 1994 decision granting him day parole (release to a halfway house) and a 1995 decision granting him full parole:
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» In a decision released in 2000, Ontario’s top court rejected Hector’s appeal. Read the decision
» The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime provides support and information for victims and their families. You can call them at 1-877-232-2610 or contact them through their website