Imprisoned cop killer wins court battle for transfer
A judge has ordered Corrections Canada to move an ailing, geriatric double cop killer to a minimum-security Ontario prison with no fences and no armed guards so he can be closer to his sister. James Hutchison (inset), 82, went to court because Corrections denied his transfer to Beaver Creek Institution, near Gravenhurst. Hutchison is currently behind bars at Bath Institution, a medium-security prison just west of Kingston, Ontario. Hutchison suffered a “deprivation of liberty,” when Corrections blocked the transfer in July last year, Ontario Superior Court Justice Stanley Kershman ruled, in a recent judgment (full judgment here). “There was no new evidentiary basis being put forward to increase the applicant’s escape risk from low to moderate,” the judge wrote.
Hutchison is serving a life sentence for the cold-blooded murder in 1974 of two Moncton police officers. Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose pushed Const. Michael O’Leary and Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois into shallow graves that the killers had dug in a wooded area near Moncton, N.B. They shot the officers in the head and buried them. The killers were quickly captured, tried and order to hang. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison after the death penalty was abolished in 1976 (the Supreme Court of Canada turned down an appeal by the killers in 1977). In January last year, Hutchison’s parole officer recommended that the convict’s security status be changed to minimum, making him eligible for a transfer to a minimum-security prison, a stepping stone to release. In April, the warden of Bath approved Hutchison’s transfer to Beaver Creek but Hutchison voluntarily postponed the move because he was making frequent trips to Kingston General Hospital. He has a host of medical problems, including a recent bout of lung cancer, past heart problems that required bypass surgery and he has had knee replacement surgery. It’s expected he’ll need more surgery in future. In his decision, Justice Kershman noted that a story appeared in the Whig-Standard on May 26 that detailed Hutchison’s crime and his planned transfer. Two months later, as he was being prepared for transfer, Hutchison was reassessed by a new parole officer he had never met and a recommendation was made to change his security status to medium. At the time, the warden of Bath who approved the original transfer request and Hutchison’s usual parole officer were on vacation, according to the court decision. Hutchison was re-designated as a medium-security inmate, his escape risk was deemed to be moderate and his transfer was cancelled. He filed the court action in response. In defending its decision, Corrections argued that it had new information, including more details of his escape in 2000 while on a work pass from minimum-security Pittsburgh Institution in Kingston. The information showed that the escape “was much more calculated than first believed.” Hutchison was at large for several days before he was recaptured. Corrections also cited a decision by the National Parole Board in 2008 to deny Hutchison any form of release. The judge said all of this information was available previously and there was no new material. “There is no evidence before the court to show that between April 8, 2009, when the warden approved the transfer to Beaver Creek, and July 13, 2009 ... the date that his escape risk was reclassified by the Deputy Warden, that he had committed any offences or had exhibited any inappropriate behaviour,” Kershman wrote. Corrections could not immediately say if the decision will be appealed. In an interview last year, Dale Swansburg, the retired RCMP officer who caught Hutchison in 1974, said he didn’t believe the killer should ever be released, regardless of his age or frailty. “I don’t know what physical shape he’s in, but my [concern] is, there’s all kinds of young people that would think he was a hero-type thing,” Swansburg said. “What he couldn’t do now, he could have somebody else do for him.” Kershman’s judgment cited a quote from the Whig story from Dean Secord, president of the New Brunswick Police Association. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if he escapes and it comes right down to it, he would kill again,” Secord said. Hutchison’s accomplice remains behind bars in Western Canada. O’Leary and Bourgeois were part of a police dragnet thrown up after the 14-year-old son of a wealthy restaurateur was kidnapped. The businessman paid a $15,000 ransom to Hutchison and Ambrose, who returned the boy unharmed. Police were hunting the kidnappers after the exchange. O’Leary and Bourgeois were assigned to check out a suspicious car when they disappeared and were found dead two days later. Hutchison already had a 30-year criminal record at the time of the killings. He was on parole from a robbery sentence at the time. Prisoners at Beaver Creek live in rooms in small, residential-style units where they prepare their own meals. Inmates can simply walk away from the prison, which operates on an honour system.
Imprisoned geriatric double cop killer James Hutchison (inset in 1974) is staying put in higher security. The ruthless murderer, who is serving a life sentence at medium-security Bath Institution, a federal prison just west of Kingston, Ontario, has not been moved to a minimum-security prison as scheduled because he's undergoing treatment for cancer, sources have told me. In May, I revealed the plan by Corrections Canada to quietly ship Hutchison, 81, to a comfy, minimum-security prison in central Ontario, Beaver Creek Institution, where there are no fences and no armed guards. Transfer to a minimum-security pen is a stepping stone to release for convicts, so news of Hutchison's pending move sparked anger, particularly since he escaped in 2000 when he was at another minimum-security Kingston prison.
Dean Secord, president of the 400-member New Brunswick Police Association, condemned the plan to move Hutchison.
"This person should be in a segregation cell for 23 and a half hours a day and let him rot there," Secord told me. He said Hutchison is no less dangerous because of his age. "He's got nothing to lose," said Secord, a constable with the Saint John police force. "He hasn't seen freedom and now he's going to have the opportunity to escape. "There's no doubt in my mind that if he escapes and it comes right down to it, he would kill again." The retired Mountie who caught Hutchison, Dale Swansburg, told me he thinks Hutchison is still a threat.
Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose murdered two Moncton, New Brunswick police officers, Michael O'Leary and Aurele Bourgeois, in cold blood in 1974. The killers dug shallow graves, pushed the officers in and shot them in the head. They covered the bodies and fled but were soon caught. They were sentenced to hang but the sentences were commuted to life in prison after Canada abolished the dealth penalty. For the full story of the killings and the complete parole records of Hutchison and Ambrose, see this previous post.
James Hutchison (jumpsuit) and Richard Ambrose (hat) are led into court in Moncton, New Brunswick, on Dec. 16, 1974.All photos courtesy, Moncton Times and Transcript
Thirty-five years ago, Canadians were stunned by a ruthless murder in Moncton. The picturesque east coast city was rocked by the slayings of two city police officers, Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois and Const. Michael O'Leary, who were pushed into shallow graves by a pair of kidnappers, then shot in the head. The killers were condemned to hang, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison when Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. One of the killers, Richard Ambrose, has been free on parole, but is back behind bars. The other man, James Hutchison, who was fingered by investigators as the mastermind behind the kidnapping and the killings, is behind bars in Ontario but is working his way toward freedom, for the second time. After the jump, the parole records of both killers, the memories of an RCMP officer who caught the murderers, and the exclusive story of Hutchison's pending transfer to a prison with no fences.
A ruthless double cop killer is being prepared for community release by prison authorities, a move that has sparked anger and concern. "I don't think he should ever be released," warned Dale Swansburg, a retired RCMP officer who lives in Moncton, N.B., and who caught the murderer in December 1974. James Hutchison, who is now imprisoned at medium-security Bath Institution, just west of Kingston Ontario, has been approved for transfer to a minimum-security prison. Convicts are moved to minimum-security prisons as a stepping stone to release into the community.
Hutchison escaped in Kingston in November 2000 while on a work-release pass at the Kingston Humane Society. At the time, he was being held at minimum-security Pittsburgh Institution in Kingston. Hutchison and accomplice Richard Ambrose were sentenced to hang after they killed two Moncton police officers on Dec. 13, 1974, in a cold-blooded crime that shocked the country. Hutchison was on parole in New Brunswick at the time of the killings from a sentence for armed robbery. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison when capital punishment was abolished in 1976.
Const. Michael O'Leary and Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois were taken to a wooded area on the outskirts of Moncton. "They were handcuffed to a tree about 20 to 30 feet from where the graves were dug," Swansburg said. "They could hear the graves being dug." The officers likely were taken to the site stuffed in the trunk of a car. Swansburg said Hutchison and Ambrose first tried to dig with snow shovels but the ground was too hard. They drove into Moncton and bought shovels and picks at a Moncton hardware store at 8:15 a.m. on Dec. 13, receipts showed.
Swansburg said he believes, based on his investigation, that there was some sort of scuffle at the tree, where O'Leary was shot in the shoulder. The two officers were forced into the graves where each was shot through the head once. "There was hardly any blood anywhere else," Swansburg said. Hutchison and Ambrose filled in the graves and fled.
Swansburg interviewed Hutchison several times. "At no time before or after the convictions did he ever admit he did [the murders]," he said. The officer believes Hutchison, who is now 81, is still a threat. "I don't know what physical shape he's in, but my [concern] is, there's all kinds of young people that would think he was a hero-type thing," Swansburg said. "What he couldn't do now, he could have somebody else do for him." Transferring Hutchison to a prison with no fences and no armed guards is wrong, said Dean Secord, president of the New Brunswick Police Association, which represents more than 400 officers in the province. "This person should be in a segregation cell for 23 and a half hours a day and let him rot there," Secord said. He said Hutchison is no less dangerous because of his age. "He's got nothing to lose," said Secord, a constable with the Saint John police force. "He hasn't seen freedom and now he's going to have the opportunity to escape. "There's no doubt in my mind that if he escapes and it comes right down to it, he would kill again."
Corrections officials will not discuss Hutchison's case, citing privacy laws. Spokeswoman Stephanie Fullerton said public safety is the number one consideration in all transfer decisions. "The offender must present a low probability of escape and a low risk to the safety of the public in the event of an escape," she said. "The offender must require a low degree of supervision and control within the penitentiary."
Hutchison has been approved for placement at Beaver Creek Institution, near Gravenhurst, about 230 kilometres west of Kingston. Prisoners at Beaver Creek live in rooms in small, residential-style units where they prepare their own meals. Inmates can simply walk away from the prison at any time. Hutchison has been confined for several years at medium-security Bath Institution, following his escape in 2000. He remained at large for three days, prompting police to issue a nationwide alert that he was considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached.
He was recaptured and thrown back into maximum security for a time. Parole records reveal that most of Hutchison's prison term has been marked by continuous escape plots, institutional charges and security concerns.
Swansburg was a member of the RCMP major crime unit that caught Hutchison and Ambrose 35 years ago. 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. Swansburg said O'Leary and Bourgeois were assigned to check out a suspicious car. "They replied they would check it and they were never heard from again," Swansburg said. "They didn't know they were missing for about two hours."
The next day, Swansburg and a partner were looking for one of Hutchison's known criminal associates when they crossed paths with a local drug dealer, Ricky Ambrose, who was driving his father's car. "We caught up to him and stopped him and he had [about] half the ransom money in his pocket," Swansburg said. Ambrose was carrying rolls of $10 bills. The bank had marked some of the bills Stein used to pay the ransom. The keys to the car the police officers were driving were also found in Ambrose's car.
Two days later, the graves were found in a wooded area about 25 kilometres outside Moncton. By that time, news alerts had been issued that Hutchison was wanted by police.
Const. Michael O'Leary's body is removed on Dec. 15, 1974, from a wooded area about 25 kilometres outside Moncton, New Brunswick.
"He ended up calling our office to give himself up because he thought if it was the Moncton city police found him first, he may not make it," Swansburg said. The killers pleaded not guilty but were convicted during a trial in 1975. They did not testify.
Hutchison has never fully admitted his role in the killings. "There's no question in my mind he was the mastermind behind it," Swansburg said. The officer believes Ambrose pulled the trigger as well as Hutchsion. I don't think Ambrose would have walked out of the woods if he hadn't shot one of [the officers] himself," Swansburg said. "[Hutchison] would have done him in too."
At a parole hearing last year, (all parole records also appear as e-docs at the bottom of this story) Hutchison took responsibility for the abduction and the killings, according to parole records, but his "re-telling of events was vague and lacked details." Hutchison minimized the trauma he caused the young boy and his family. "The Board also notes that you did not seem particularly remorseful for your crimes and the dramatic consequences suffered by your numerous direct and indirect victims," the parole document states. He was denied any form of release at the hearing, held in May. Hutchison asked to be released to a halfway house or to be granted unescorted passes from prison to visit family. "The board must be extremely cautious given your inappropriate behaviour in 2000," board members wrote. The board said Hutchison had lost credibility in the eyes of the Correctional Service and the parole board. (at a hearing in 1997, the board denied any form of release, in part, because Hutchison was considered an "ongoing escape risk.")
Hutchison already had a 30-year criminal history by the time he killed the two Moncton officers, primarily for armed robberies and property crimes. He has confessed that he "always carried a gun." He also has admitted to handcuffing a police officer to a steering wheel in an incident in Ontario before the murders. Investigators believe Hutchison planned to kill the officer but was talked out of it by two accomplices.
Ambrose, who has since changed his named to Bergeron, was paroled from prison in 1999 and was living in Edmonton, Alta. His release was revoked in July 2005 after he violently assaulted his wife and threatened his sister. He was not charged, according to parole records. He also stopped taking medication, against the advice of his psychiatrist. According to parole documents, he became "verbally abusive and threatening" to staff of a community residential facility. He asked to be released again in June last year but the parole board rejected the request. Board members stated he represents "a risk to women you are in relationships with, including those of your current family," according to a record of a parole decision. The document describes Bergeron as "unreceptive" to advice and "combative" with staff managing his case. "In the opinion of your Case Management Team you have done little to prepare for any type of release," the document states.
For the first 18 years of his prison term, he refused to discuss the murders. Bergeron, 60, remains behind bars in Western Canada.
Swansburg believes the killers should have been executed. "When they committed the crime, there was capital punishment," Swansburg said. "It should have been carried out."
Cancrime is Rob Tripp's blog about Canadian crime and justice and a repository of documents – parole records, investigation reports, confidential memos. I'm a pack-rat investigative reporter with 20 years experience writing about crime and justice and an urge to share. Cancrime's breeding ground is Kingston, Ontario, Canada's prison capital, home to seven federal penitentiaries and The Kingston Whig-Standard, Canada's oldest daily newspaper, where I'm the crime writer.