Friday, January 31, 1997

David Roberts

p. A1

Natives scorn killers' sentences

White men get 6 1/2 years each

Steven Kummerfield, left, and Alexander Ternowetsky apologized in a Regina courtroom yesterday for beating and killing Pamela George in April 1995. The judge said the regrets would have been meaningful if they had been offered immediately after the woman's death. (Canadian Press)

REGINA -- The sentencing of two white men to 6 1/2 years each in the slaying of a native woman has drawn the immediate scorn of Saskatchewan native leaders and women's groups.

Steven Tyler Kummerfield and Alexander Dennis Ternowetsky, both 20 and the products of middle-class homes, expressed regret as they were jailed yesterday in the beating death of Pamela Jean George, a single mother of two girls working as a prostitute, on April 18, 1995.

At their trial, the court heard that the two men cruised the streets of the Saskatchewan capital the night of the killing in search of a prostitute. Rebuffed by several, one of the men hid in the trunk of their car as Ms. George was lured into the vehicle. They took her to a remote area near the airport, where she performed oral sex on the men and then was hauled from the car, beaten and left for dead.

"I'd like to apologize with my whole being, my mind, and more than that, with my heart," Mr. Kummerfield, who had been a basketball star at the University of Regina, read from a statement as he turned to face his victim's family in the courtroom.

"I'm sorry for ruining so many lives, I'm so sorry," Mr. Ternowetsky said.

White men's sentences draw scorn of natives, women

p. A6.

The men, who appeared choked with tears, did not look at each other during the proceedings.

Describing the killing as cruel, cowardly and despicable, Mr. Justice Ted Malone of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench said the regrets would have been more meaningful if they had been offered immediately after the killing.

"A human being, Pamela George, has lost her life," he said. "She was a victim of mindless violence. ... They cast her aside as if she were something less than human."

An all-white, eight woman, three man jury (a 12th juror was excused for health reasons) convicted the pair of manslaughter last month. They had been charged with first-degree murder. The case galvanized public attention in Saskatchewan because of its racial undertones and the widely divergent backgrounds of the accused and the victim.

Although a manslaughter conviction carried a maximum sentence of life in prison, the usual upper limit in Saskatchewan recently has been 10 years, Judge Malone told the court. Taking into account the time served since the men's arrest, the 6 1/2 year sentences are equivalent to 10-year terms he said. He ordered that neither should be eligible for parole until he has served half his sentence -- in about 40 months.

Friends, family and aquaintances of Ms. George crammed the courtroom, and more than 100 people, including aboriginal drummers and singers, protested outside the building. Ms. George's relatives left the courtroom in tears before Judge Malone had completed his reasons for the sentences.

Even before those were given, Ms. George's parents, Ina George and Peter Sangwais, were demanding the manslaughter verdict be overturned. It is under appeal by the Crown. They also called for Judge Malone's removal from the bench for comments he made in his charge to the jury.

He told jurors it would be "dangerous" to convict the young men of first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence with no parole elegibility for 25 years, because Ms. George "was indeed a prostitute" and therefore the question of whether she consented to have sex was muddied.

Those comments caused an uproar, and the Crown took the unusual step of filing an appeal even before the sentencing.

"Judge Malone hold responsibility to oversee due process whereby sexual history is irrelevant in law and whereby death resulting from sexual assault and forcible confinement may hold a conviction of first-degree murder," Ina George and Mr. Sangwais said in a statement.

Ms. George was a Saulteau from the Sakimay Reserve northeast 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 she lived a 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.

"I just kept asking why anyone would want to kill her," Ina George said in a victim impact statement, "It'll be hurting me all my life."

Chief Lindsay Kaye of the Sakimay band, who occasionally attended the six-week trial, said the men should have been convicted of first-degree murder.

"I'm angry," he said. "I listen to that judge. Don't you try to correct the wrong you've done? Right from Day 1, I had a bad feeling about this. There's got to be an inquiry. It's not even a race thing anymore. It gives the right to anybody to go give a woman a licking."

Native leaders in Saskatchewan have compared the case to that of Helen Betty Osborne, a native teen from The Pas, Man., who was killed in 1970 after being pulled from the street by four white men. It took 14 years before Dwayne Archie Johnson was convicted in that murder.

Blaine Favel, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said that after countless reviews and inquiries into the treatment of native people by Canada's justice system, aboriginal people are becoming deeply cynical over the lack of action.

"Two standards apply," he said. "We have case after case where it has been clearly demonstrated that the justice system is tipped against native people. It seems justice can't be found for First Nations people."

An elder from the Peepeekisis Reserve said natives convicted of similar crimes routinely draw life sentences. "I don't feel very good because we have two young girls who are denied a mother," Mike Pinay said. "The justice sytsem is a two-way system: one for natives, aboriginal, First Nations people, and one for non-natives, unfortunately. Hopefully the government and the justice system will open their hearts and their minds and listen."

"There's a lot of people losing faith in this justice system," agreed Leon Francis, a friend of Ms. George's brother. "I'm very disappointed. You put the shoe on the other foot. I don't think the judge would've said that if she [Ms. George] was a white prostitute."

Defence lawyers argued that alcohol played a bigger role in the crime than race.

But in trial evidence, a friend testified that he asked Mr. Kummerfield the next day what the accused had done the night of the slaying. According to the friend, Mr. Kummerfield replied: "Not much. We drove around, got drunk and killed this chick." Mr. Ternowetsky also was quoted as telling a friend, "She deserved it. She was an Indian."

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 men and the victim.

Mr. Kummerfield is the grandson of a former New Democratic party cabinet minister. Mr. Ternowetsky's father was once a professor of social work at the University of Regina.

In Saskatchewan, 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.

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Created: January 31, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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