You might expect that a self-confessed hitman who carried out at least three mob-ordered executions, many beatings and robberies might spend the rest of his life locked up. But Kenneth Murdock served just 11 years of his third penitentiary sentence behind bars, after confessing to three murders and cutting a sweet plea bargain in which he agreed to testify against former mob bosses. He was sentenced to life in prison, with parole eligibility after a mercifully short 13 years. Murdock has been turned loose, again, after convincing authorities that threats he made online did not portend more violence by a man with a long history of it (read the latest decision by the parole board, after the jump, and read 12 other decisions in his case, 61 pages spanning eight years).
Murdock, 54, sweet talked the parole board into releasing him in early November 2017. He had been detained and his parole suspended in July 2017 after he made online threats against a corrections worker. At the time he made the threats, he was living in Western Canada on full parole (his case is managed out of the Edmonton parole office). Murdock was first released from penitentiary on day parole – after his imprisonment for the murders – in 2009 and he was granted full parole in 2015, despite frequent breaches of rules, lapses back into drug use and his previous history of committing new violent crimes while on conditional release from prison.
Murdock told authorities, during a parole hearing November 7, that the threatening message he sent to a corrections employee was meant to be teasing and he expected the officer to respond with sarcasm. He also made a “threatening statement” on social media in September 2016 and in November 2016 he breached parole conditions that barred him from associating with known drug users/dealers.
“I got a pretty good lesson on political correctness,” Murdock told the parole board during the hearing this month, when asked about his threat against the Corrections worker. “I took a good swipe at his [the officer’s] dignity.” He expressed remorse, according to the written record of the hearing. A parole officer said, during the hearing, that Murdock is “manageable in the community and pose[s] no added risk.”
The board concluded that Murdock could get out of prison again because his actions didn’t elevate his risk in the community “to an unmanageable or undue level” and “the board is convinced that there was no malice or criminal intent.” New conditions were imposed; Murdock must live at a halfway house or other residential facility for six months and he must not consume alcohol. He’s also forbidden from associating with criminals, particularly organized crime figures and can’t contact victims.
Murdock’s adult criminal record begins in 1980 and includes more than a dozen violent crimes, culminating with the murder in May 1997 of Ontario mob boss John Papalia, on the orders of the rival Musitano crime family. Murdock, who worked for the Musitanos, shot the 73-year-old mobster in the back of the head outside Papalia’s business office in Hamilton, Ontario. Two months later, in July 1997 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Murdock shot to death a Papalia cohort, Carmen Barillo, 52. Murdock claimed, in testimony, that payment for the two contract hits was about $2,000 and 15 ounces of cocaine. The hits were ordered by brothers Pasquale (Pat) and Angelo Musitano, Murdock testified. They weren’t his first killings. In November 1985, Murdock peppered the garage of a Hamilton home with machinegun fire, killing steel plant janitor Salvatore Alaimo, 53. Alaimo owed money to the Musitanos.
Psychological assessments conducted on Murdock in prison warn he poses a “moderate risk” to commit new, violent crimes. A psychiatrist concluded that techniques usually employed to assess risk are virtually useless in Murdock’s case. A 2009 psychological assessment “found no evidence of psychopathy,” a cluster personality traits and socially deviant behaviour that combine to create a conscienceless predator bent on self gratification. Many serial murderers possess many of the traits consistent with psychopathy, but Murdock’s assessment concluded that:
“While not a psychopath, Mr. Murdock does have a significant antisocial and criminal history. His history is something that is not changeable and will always be a significant contributor to his level of risk.”
Murdock has often played the part of a damaged young man seeking a path to reformation. In 1989, he and two accomplices robbed a Burlington jewelry store. Murdock beat the 56-year-old shopkeeper, who was hospitalized for weeks, while his cohorts stole $90,000 worth of goods. At Murdock’s sentencing for the crime, he told the judge he was trying to turn his life around and didn’t think a prison term would help.
“I’ve been through a lot for [age] 29 and I do not wish to continue like this,” Murdock told the judge, according to a Hamilton Spectator report. “There may be some cases where people have to be locked up all the time … but I’m not one of those people. I’m not sick minded.”
It’s unclear if the judge bought the sob story. Murdock was sentenced to six years in prison. At the time he committed the jewelry store robbery, he was free prison after serving time for shooting a drug dealer and, of course, he already had committed the 1985 murder not yet pinned on him, as well as amassing 14 other convictions for assault, robbery, and weapons offences.
In 1992, Murdock’s parole (he was on early release from the jewelry store robbery sentence) was suspended when he failed to return to a halfway house. He was found in hospital with stab wounds that authorities believe stemmed from a drug deal gone awry.
Drugs have been a constant in Murdock’s criminal life. His parole was suspended in September 2010 after he confessed to using cocaine but he was released again, a year later. During his first two penitentiary terms, he was involved in the prison drug trade and assaults on other inmates. He was caught attempting to smuggle contraband into prison after returning from passes.
Despite all of his violations of parole conditions, breaches of prison rules and he repeated lying, Murdock continues to get positive evaluations from authorities. The dozens of pages of parole records from the past eight years overflow with positive commentary that describes him as working hard to turn his life around.
“The Board also noted the changes you made in your life,” one document states. “You have managed to achieve full parole release to the community where you have maintained yourself without issue; you have avoided substance abuse, negative associates, violence and other criminal behaviour.”
The records boast that Murdock agreed, during one parole hearing, to describe his crimes in detail “without minimizing the severity of your crimes or the harm you caused other people. While you described the difficulties you experienced during your developmental years, you nevertheless took full responsibility for your actions and acknowledged that these crimes were all carefully planned and premeditated acts.”
Of course, Murdock claimed, when he struck his plea bargain in 1998, that he was simply following orders when he committed the mob murders. Murdock’s testimony against his former bosses, Pat and Angelo Musitano, was likely expected to put those much bigger fish away for lengthy prison terms. Instead, the pair also struck deals, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Carmen Barillo. They had been charged initially with first-degree murder in Barillo’s death and the execution of John Papalia. Charges related to Papalia’s death were dropped. The Musitano brothers were sentenced to 10 years in prison and were released in 2007. Murdock pleaded guilty to three charges of second-degree murder and charges of extortion and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. His deal gave him the relatively light sentence of life with no chance of parole for 13 years. He was out in 11 years.
Gangster life has a way of catching up to even the highest ranking evildoers. Angelo Musitano was murdered in the driveway of his Waterdown, Ontario, home in the spring of 2017. Pat Musitano’s Hamilton home was hit by a fusillade of bullets in June this year.
The written record of the November 2017 parole hearing that resulted in the decision to release Murdock (who has changed his name to Bishop), on parole, again (to read 12 additional decisions, 61 pages, spanning eight years, visit the Parole Records library):
Murdock lived in relative comfort at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary in 1999 after he pleaded guilty to the three mob murders. The special treatment he was afforded irked fellow convicts. I wrote this expose in July 1999, while I was a staff reporter at the Whig, about Murdock’s life at KP:
By Rob Tripp/Kingston Whig-Standard
July 17, 1999
A mafia hitman is living in relative luxury in prison, dining on steak he cooks himself inside a spacious double cell equipped with a hot plate, fridge and microwave, complain fellow convicts at Kingston Penitentiary.
The treatment afforded Kenneth Murdock, 35, who confessed to three mob murders, has enraged his peers.
“This is just ridiculous,” said convict Randy Garrison, in a telephone interview from Kingston Pen. “I smell steaks cooking at one in the morning.”
Murdock pleaded guilty in a Hamilton court room in December 1998, to three counts of second-degree murder, all mob executions.
He was handed the relatively light sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility after just 13 years.
It’s believed Murdock made a secret deal with prosecutors, agreeing to testify against Pasquale Musitano, 31, and Angelo Musitano, 21. The brothers, arrested in November 1998, are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two reputed mob bosses gunned down in Hamilton and Niagara Falls in 1997.
If Murdock has made a deal to testify, it makes him a marked man in the criminal community, particularly in prison, where informants, known as rats, are despised.
“I’ve seen a lot of rats and I’ve never seen one treated like this,” said Garrison, who is serving a life sentence for manslaughter.
Garrison said Murdock is housed in a spacious, double cell inside the prison hospital, isolated from other convicts.
Half the cell serves as a kitchen where Murdock cooks his own food, delivered to him from local grocery stores.
The measures are designed to guard against a prisoner being poisoned or attacked.
Garrison said he’s upset because Murdock‘s presence has interfered with access to medical treatment for him and other prisoners.
“I was kicked out of the hospital because they needed my cell,” Garrison said, adding that he was eventually allowed to return to a hospital cell.
Prisoners also complain that if Murdock is moved within the prison for any reason or is taken outside the institution, the entire facility grinds to a halt and all prisoners are confined to their cells.
Corrections officials say they cannot discuss Murdock‘s case.
“Mr. Murdock is an offender involved in a high profile case in the community and we feel that discussing the case may jeopardize that investigation or his own safety,” said Chris Stafford, a Corrections spokesman at the regional headquarters in Kingston.
Garrison said he understands that Murdock needs special protection, but objects to the preferential treatment he’s getting.