GLOBE AND MAIL |
Saturday, December 21, 1996
Pair guilty in slaying of Regina prostituteVerdict shows two classes of justice, band chief says
A jury convicted two Regina men of manslaughter yesterday in the slaying of a 28-year-old woman, in a case that has galvanized public attention in Saskatchewan because of its uncomfortable racial undertones and the widely divergent backgrounds of the clean-cut accused and the marginalized victim.
Steven Tyler Kummerfield and Alexander Dennis Ternowetsky, both 20 and the products of middle-class homes, were found guilty in the beating death of Pamela Jean George, a native woman and single mother, on April 18, 1995.
Relatives of both the men and their victims burst into tears when the Court of Queen's Bench jury in Regina announced its verdict, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The men, who will be sentenced Jan.3, appeared emotionless as the verdict was read.
They had been charged with first-degree murder, which requires a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for at least 25 years.
The verdict infuriated Chief Lindsay Kaye of the Sakimay Indian band, who attended the six-week trial off and on.
"All this goes to prove to me is that there are two justice systems," he told reporters outside the courtroom. "One justice system for white people and one justice system for the Indian people. It's all right for a white person to kill an Indian person. Nobody cares if an Indian person dies.
Regina pair to be sentenced Jan. 3 in manslaughter
Defence lawyers contend that alcohol played more of a role in the crime than did race.
The all-white, eight-woman, three-man jury (a 12th juror was excused for health reasons) took 12 hours over two days to reach the verdict.
"The jury made a fair decision," Mr. Ternowetsky said on the way to the prison van. "But most importantly I'd like to reiterate my apology to the George family. I didn't mean for anything to happen and I'm sorry it did."
During the trial, the court was told how the two men, fuelled by liquor and testosterone, cruised the streets of the Saskatchewan capital on the night of the killing looking for a hooker. Rebuffed by several prostitutes, one of the men hid in the trunk of their car as they finally lured Ms. George into the vehicle, the court also heard. According to testimony, she was taken to a remote area near the airport, performed oral sex on the men and then was hauled from the car and beaten to death.
The court heard that the men split a bottle of Southern Comfort and a case of strong beer before venturing out in Mr. Kummerfield's father's car.
According to testimony, a friend asked Mr. Kummerfield the nest day what he had done the night before. "Not much," was the reply. "We drove around, got drunk and killed this chick."
The court heard that Mr. Ternowetsky also told a friend after Ms. George's body had been discovered that "she deserved it. She was an Indian."
During the trial, the men admitted beating Ms. George but claimed she was still alive when they left her battered and face down in a muddy field. An autopsy showed she had a broken nose, swollen eyes and hands, and cuts on her face and lips. She died of brain-stem hemorrhaging.
Members of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism demonstrated outside the courthouse during the trial, noting the gulf between the social and economic backgrounds of the killers and their victim.
Mr. Kummerfield, the grandson of a former New Democratic Party cabinet minister, starred on his university basketball team. Mr. Ternowetsky's father was once a professor of social work at the University of Regina.
Ms. George was a Sauteaux woman from the Sakimay Indian Reserve north of Regina. the eldest of six children and the product of a broken home, she left school in Grade 9 and moved to the capital where, like many natives, she lived on the margins of society, her life marred by violence and economic insecurity. A single mother while still a teen-ager, she lost a two-year-old son in a 1989 drowning accident. Her friends said she worked as a prostitute twice a month to help support her two other children.
"Pam very much loved her family and her children, and she was always there for them," said her father, Terry Sangwais.
During the trial, the men offered backhanded apologies to Ms. George's family.
"I just apologize for whatever part we played in this," Mr. Kummerfield told the jurors. "I don't know what happened -- if we were the ones who did it or not."
His words were echoed by Mr. Ternowetsky. "I just apologize to the George family for the way I treated Pamela. She didn't deserve it and there's no excuse for what I did. I'm just sorry."
Throughout the trial, a few of Ms. George's relatives sat quietly in the courtroom, hugely outnumbered by the friends and family of the accused.
The defence argued that the pair were too drunk to know what they were doing: Each had an estimated blood-alcohol level of at least 0.31 to 0.34 -- four times the legal limit for driving. However, the Crown said that although alcohol may have lowered their inhibitions and affected their judgment, the men could still form the intent to kill.
University of Regina criminologist Barrie Anderson said the case has captured public interest because it illustrates so starkly the two cultural solitudes in Saskatchewan, where natives make up about 14 per cent of the population. In Regina, three out of four prostitutes are aboriginal, a statistic attributed mainly to economic circumstances.
"You've got two middle-class white boys who killed a native woman -- look at the media interest," Mr. Anderson said. "We've had seven murders in Regina this year and most of those were natives killing natives. Nobody can recall the names of the victims or the accused. If it was a native man who was responsible here, you wouldn't be interviewing me right now -- that's the racist aspect of it."
He added that "obviously they [the men] wanted a native prostitute," noting they could have gone to an area where non-native women work the streets.
There is some disbelief and denial among mainstream Regina residents that two young men with no previous criminal records could commit such a crime.
"People are saying, 'Middle-class boys just don't do this, so there must have been something that provoked them,'" Mr. Anderson said. But "would they have beaten up a white prostitute?"
Ron Bourgeault, a Métis professor of sociology at the Saskatchewan Federated Indian College, said the slaying probably was not premeditated. But the circumstances of the crime point to a form of "systemic economic racism," he said.
Last year, a Saskatoon man was convicted in the slaying deaths of three native women there. All were said to have worked as prostitutes.
"What options do you have if you're poor and native?" Mr. Bourgeault asked. "You're part of the underclass. For women, what are you going to do? Chances are you're going to try to make ends meet any way you can, and you might do a little hooking on the side."
But Mr. Bourgeault said it appears Ms. George's killers are part of a generation that, despite its apparent privilege, sees little hope for the future.
"They wanted to use her for sex and then give her a licking," Mr. Bourgeault said, noting that the pair were products of public schools in south Regina, where there have been race-related incidents.
With a report from freelancer Sharon Gerein in Regina.
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