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BIKER NEWS: Guilty plea closes files on 1982 prison murder

BN- Police files were closed Wednesday on the more than three-decades-old slaying of a 19-year-old Collins Bay Penitentiary inmate, when ...



BN- Police files were closed Wednesday on the more than three-decades-old slaying of a 19-year-old Collins Bay Penitentiary inmate, when the victim’s onetime friend, Jeffrey David Peck, pleaded guilty in Kingston’s Superior Court to being an accessory after the fact to his murder.

Peck, a longtime resident of Winnipeg who is now 52, was initially charged as a party to first-degree murder and had been scheduled to stand trial in late October.

The charge was reduced in pretrial discussions between defence lawyer Patrick McCann and assistant Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis, however, and on their joint recommendation, Justice Gary Tranmer gave Peck enhanced credit on 1,062 days he’d already spent in pretrial custody and sentenced him to a further year in jail.

The mystery of 19-year-old Robert Frank Conroy’s violent 1982 death was actually lifted three years ago when career criminal and self-proclaimed killer-for-hire Robert Simpson pleaded guilty in a Kingston courtroom to stabbing his friend to death while still a teen himself.

Laarhuis, who also prosecuted Simpson for the murder in front of Justice Tranmer, told the judge the Crown was relying on the same facts put into evidence in November 2012, and noted that Peck, Simpson and Conroy had all been friends from boyhood, growing up in the Ottawa area. As youths, they’d committed crimes together and had done reformatory time together, he said.

But in 1980, Laarhuis told the judge, Simpson was sent to penitentiary as a 17-year-old and ended up in Collins Bay. There he fell in with an older group of outlaw-biker-connected inmates known as “the French Group,” who controlled a block of the prison. Years later, Simpson described himself to police interviewers as “a soldier” for the group.

In January 1982, two years after Simpson had found his prison niche, Conroy and Peck were convicted of crimes arising out of a robbery in the Ottawa area and the trio of 19-year-olds were reunited in Collins Bay.

Simpson told police that he took the pair under his wing, introducing them to the French Group.

But not long after their arrival, the judge was told, Simpson claims one particularly powerful member of the group, Claude “Coco” Bard, now deceased, decided Simpson’s friends were undesirables.

More than 30 years later, but only after he was already serving life, having pleaded guilty to committing three separate 2010 murders in Montreal, Simpson revealed that he’d believed all those years ago that his own life was in jeopardy if he didn’t kill his friends.

He claimed to police investigators that Bard came to his cell on June 7, 1982, and told him in front of others that he’d brought Conroy and Peck into the group and it was his responsibility to “clean up this f---ing s---.” He also told police that Bard instructed him to take Conroy out first and then, if he could, to kill Peck. And it was Bard, he claimed, who supplied him with gloves and an eight-inch knife, possibly a boning knife stolen several months earlier from the prison’s kitchen.

Simpson claimed that he approached Peck and enlisted his help to murder their friend. But Peck disputes that, and, Laarhuis told Justice Tranmer, the prosecution wasn’t contesting the point.

Simpson claimed sole responsibility for the actual deed, however. He admitted in his statement to police that he slipped into his friend’s cell that same day and plunged the contraband knife into Conroy’s torso as he lay on his back on his bunk with a cloth over his eyes.

He recalled hearing his friend yell “mother f-----”, as he slipped out of the cell, and he told police that Conroy somehow managed to stand and walk a few feet before collapsing. Justice Tranmer was told that a subsequent post-mortem examination found the blade thrust had cut right through Conroy’s fifth rib, penetrated both ventricles of his heart and stabbed into one of his vertebra, travelling 16 centimetres through his prone body.

Afterward, Simpson, Bard and Peck came under suspicion from Collins Bay’s security intelligence officers and they were all shipped out to Millhaven Penitentiary. But no charges were laid against any of them — then.

Peck’s involvement, according to Laarhuis, came after the stabbing. He told Justice Tranmer that Simpson had arranged to hand off the bloody knife to Peck and had told him to wear a towel around his neck to wrap it.

The Crown prosecutor said what Simpson didn’t tell Peck, but later told police, was that his instruction to his friend to drape the towel over his shoulders was to give himself a plausible reason to have the knife near Peck’s neck. The judge was told Simpson confessed that he’d intended to kill Peck, as well, but he hesitated and lost the opportunity and he claimed that failure got him into trouble with the French group.

The following day, the murder weapon was retrieved from its hiding place in the prison yard, still wrapped in a towel, according to Simpson’s account to police, and he claims that he and Peck melted it down in the prison welding shop with an acetylene torch.

Laarhuis told Justice Tranmer a bloody towel was found in Peck’s cell after the murder, and 30 years later it turned out to have been preserved. Advanced DNA testing, he said, was able to match those blood stains to Conroy.

In presenting their joint recommendation on sentencing, Laarhuis told the judge that the resolution traded the uncertainty of a trial for the certainty of a conviction. He also suggested it reflects the realities of prison culture in 1982 and, as well, the realities of who Peck is, noting that he’s “a full patch member of the Hells Angels in Manitoba.”

Justice Tranmer, in passing sentence, observed that the entire episode was, “needless to say just a tragic, tragic outcome.”

More: http://www.thewhig.com/2015/09/25/guilty-plea-closes-files-on-1982-prison-murder

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