Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Shift Start 7:00 am.
Homicide Unit officers returned to work looking fresh, enthusiastic and ready to go. When any murder case is solved, investigators share a sense of euphoria. That sense of euphoria was exponentially multiplied with the resolution of the Lafantaisie murder.
The feelings of euphoria normally lasted until we were called out to work the next senseless killing.
The day started out as usual. A shift briefing was held where all follow-up investigations were reviewed and discussed. Often times, murder cases can rise and fall on the investigator’s ability to tie up loose ends. I despise loose ends and go to great lengths to hound investigators to stay on top of their “shit.”
Loose ends can often translate to the discovery of more evidence against an offender, and you can never have enough of that.
On this date, one of those loose ends involved matching the keyless entry key seized from Brines backpack to Elizabeth Lafantaisie’s car. This task was completed and confirmed by our CSI investigators.
It was a very significant piece of evidence.
The fact Brine kept a “trophy” after the killing tells me something about just how dangerous he really is.
A killer motivated by extremely dark forces reminiscent of sexual predators and serial killers the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez.
Even with this evidence the case was not a slam-dunk by any stretch of the imagination. I wanted more, a lot more. I hoped for an irrefutable forensic link that could only come from microscopic examinations of Elizabeth’s body.
The autopsy would not take place until Friday, March 4, 2011, a full two weeks after the murder.
The results made it clear Thomas Brine was a violent, inhumane, sadistic killer. The motivation for the killing appeared to be sexual. (The graphic details have been extensively reported in media and need not be explored in this series.)
The cause of death was strangulation.
Over the next ten (10) days investigators continued to tie up loose ends and began the tedious process of writing detailed reports describing their involvement in the case.
Completing paper work is the achilles heel for most Police investigators.
The reports can be complex and lengthy. Some Detectives find excuses to avoid getting their paper work done and eventually find themselves getting buried by it. It was my job to make sure that didn’t happen. Lucky for me, the guys working in the Unit during this time were self starters who didn’t need much in the way of supervision.
On Monday, March 14, 2011, I received an email from CSI specialist Sergeant Marty Lucas informing me that spermatozoa had been located on swabs taken from Elizabeth.
This was everything I’d hoped for, my coup de grace.
Subsequent DNA testing would provide a forensic link of astronomical proportions connecting Elizabeth Lafantaisie to her “alleged” killer Thomas Anthony Brine.
The statistical probability of the DNA obtained from the swabs belonging to someone other than Brine was estimated at 1 – 68,000,000,000,000. (1 – 68 trillion)
It was one of the best days of my Law Enforcement career.
As fate would have it, the next day would be the worst.
On March 15, 2011, my new Divisional Commander called me into his office and proceeded to blind side me in what was later characterized by Labor Arbitrator Arne Peltz as a punitive, patently unfair transfer.
The experience was character building.
On April 8, 2103, Thomas Brine’s case proceeded to preliminary hearing at the Winnipeg Law Courts at 408 York Ave. I made a point of being there to support the Lafantaisie family. It was important for me to let them know we cared.
Senior Crown Prosecutor Brian Bell retained conduct of the case and presented it in his usual organized, well prepared & professional style.
Brine was ordered to stand trial on First Degree Murder charges.
If convicted, he will automatically receive a life sentence with no chance of parole for twenty-five (25) years.
Nothing happens quickly in the world of Canadian criminal justice.
That is even more true when it comes to justice in the Province of Manitoba.
Thomas Brine didn’t seem to be in any rush to deal with the heinous criminal charges laid against him. In fact, the opposite was true, he seemed bent on playing a waiting game. As the case made its way through the courts, Brine found ways to continually hijack justice.
After he fired his defence lawyer rumours circulated he intended to represent himself.
I’ve been involved in high-profile criminal trials where the accused offender represented himself. It’s a painful process for the Judge, Crown and Police. There’s a saying in criminal justice, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
There’s much truth in those words.
On February 8, 2016 the theatrics came to an end and Brine’s trial commenced.
Senior Prosecutor Brian Bell retained conduct of the file and represented the prosecution.
Experienced criminal defence attorney Mr. Bruce Bonney represented Brine.
Prior to the start of the trial, Sergeant Wes Rommel was called to court to provide testimony on a voir dire held to determine the admissibility of Brine’s video taped interrogation. The interrogation was an important piece of puzzle and would show the jury exactly what kind of person they were dealing with.
When the interrogation was ruled admissible people close to the investigation believed the first nail in Brine’s coffin had been struck.
I was extremely curious to see what kind of defence Mr. Bonney would try to advance.
As it turned out, Bonney didn’t have much to work with. The case against Brine was solid and there wasn’t much he could do other than attack the forensic investigation and the way the DNA evidence was collected.
The problem for Mr. Bonney was his strategy had to coalesce with the outrageous account of the events Brine put forward during his police interrogation.
I’m sure that complicated things.
The case took but a week to close.
Bell did his usual masterful job presenting the evidence.
Bonney did what he could.
Brine declined to take the witness stand in his own defence.
(Unfortunately, work related obligations kept me from attending court to support the family and observe the proceedings.)
On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, the Crown and Defence completed their closing arguments.
News media reported the Crown’s closing argument was a remarkably brief twenty (20) minute recantation of the evidence. If you have any experience in criminal justice you will know just how remarkable that is. Lawyers simply do not talk for just twenty minutes, ever.
On the morning of Wednesday, February 17, 2016, Manitoba Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey gave the jury her instructions and sent them off to deliberate.
At 3:15 pm, I received a text message from Rommel indicating the jury had reached a verdict;
In all, the jury deliberated for approximately 2 1/2 hours.
The news spread rapidly throughout social media with a number of crime reporters tweeting the dramatic events on Twitter. Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre never disappoints and was right on top of the story;
On Thursday, February 18, 2016, Thomas Anthony Brine was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for twenty-five (25) years.
Ironically, his fate was delivered exactly five (5) years from the date he killed Elizabeth Lafantaisie.
After consideration is given for time served in custody, Brine will be eligible for parole in the year 2036.
As I watched the evening news I was impressed by the way Elizabeth’s family supported each other through their horrific ordeal. I was equally impressed with their resolve and ability to recognize the importance of convicting the man responsible for the repugnant murder.
It will be a very long time before Thomas Brine has the opportunity to victimize another human being.
If there’s a positive takeaway in the tragedy, that would be it.
Solving a homicide case is extremely important for the people left to pick up the pieces. A solved case provides a sense of closure that people connected to an unsolved case don’t get to experience. Even so, solved homicide cases rarely answer all the questions.
The most common question usually relates to the “why.”
“Why did this happen?”
Surviving family members long for a reason, something they can rationalize or make sense of.
I’m sure a number of Elizabeth’s family members are struggling with this question.
After working twenty-six (26) years in Law Enforcement, the majority of which was spent investigating violent crime and homicide, I’ve come to know and accept the reality.
That reality is there are predators among us.
Predators who act on extremely dark impulses.
Predators who are capable of committing incredibly grotesque acts of violence
These predators pose a threat to all of us.
That’s why we need Police Officers.
Many of us will live out peaceful lives and will never become prey, but some of us will simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Elizabeth Lafantaisie was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
That unfortunate coincidence had tragic consequences.
I send my thoughts, prayers and support to Elizabeth’s family, relatives and friends and leave the last words to her daughter Lise Gosselin. Her touching words expressed in the courtroom during her victim impact statement captures the reality and essence of her families loss;
“A human life is so priceless, the pain in our hearts is unexplainable and the reality is, it will never end. It’s hard to accept or understand what happened to our loving mother, but we are forced to continue and find a way to live with it.”