Investigative reporter James Turner has become a journalistic force to be reckoned with on the Manitoba crime scene.
While I don’t always agree with his point of view, I appreciate the insatiable appetite he has for all things related to crime, punishment and justice. He not only has the innate ability to find meaningful stories, he also has the unshakeable desire and determination to dig deeper than many of his colleagues in the crime reporting world. It’s Turner’s commitment to investigative reporting that distinguishes him from other crime reporters.
He brought that commitment to his latest journalistic exploit, “The Case Against Lamb,” published in the Winnipeg Free Press on December 21, 2013.
In his search for a deeper understanding of the Police investigation, Turner and his editor fought to gain access to information contained in sealed search warrant applications. Once they got it, Turner went to work conducting analysis, creating timelines and laying out a detailed account of the investigation for his readers.
The story read more like a Police report than a newspaper article.
I’m not writing this story to celebrate James Turner’s journalistic prowess or to applaud his editors commitment to become involved in litigation to ensure sealed warrants are unsealed to defend the publics right to know. I’m writing this story to provide clarification on the case that got lost in the white noise.
“What about Tanya Nepinak,” Turner asks in the postscript.
It’s a fair question.
During Lambs sentencing hearing, the Crown indicated his controversial confession factored significantly into the plea bargain arrangement. In fact, the Crown went as far as conceding the confession would likely be excluded from evidence as a result of the unorthodox methods used by Police during their dealings with Lamb.
As I sat in the court room the question regarding the Nepinak case loomed large in my mind.
“How could they not even mention her,” I thought to myself.
Days later the Crown quietly stayed the charges indicating they had no reasonable likelihood of securing a conviction against Lamb.
While I believe the Crown had a fighting chance in the Nepinak case, my opinion matters little.
An important part of Turner’s postscript centres on twelve (12) redacted paragraphs from one of the search warrant applications used to secure judicial authorization to search Lambs suite. The redacted paragraphs originate from Lambs June 23, 2012 Police interview and appear to focus on the Nepinak case.
Turner and his editor Paul Samyn are preparing to fight the fight to have the redacted paragraphs made public. “The Free Press is committed to challenging the Nepinak related redactions in court. Getting the fullest picture possible is of vital public interest,” Turner writes.
While I respect the efforts of good intended reporters and newspaper editors I doubt their commitment will translate to any meaningful revelations in the Nepinak case.
The first hurdle Turner will encounter is trying to have the redacted information unsealed. Now that the Nepinak charges against Lamb have been stayed the status of the case changes from solved to unsolved. More often than not, Police are vehemently opposed to the release of any information related to an “ongoing” or “unsolved” Homicide cases. They will likely to take this position on the Nepinak case despite the fact Shawn Lamb is their one and only suspect in the matter.
What kind of revelations might the redacted paragraphs conceal?
Experienced Homicide investigators need not know the content of the redactions to understand what impact, if any, they might have had on the case. There can be no doubt the Police questioned Lamb about Nepinak’s killing once he provided confessions to the murders of Sinclair and Blacksmith.
That was their job.
Lamb presented himself as a cold-blooded, sociopathic, serial killer. His interrogators would have seen him for what he was and would have tried to extract as much information from him as possible. They clearly questioned him about the Nepinak killing and he clearly implicated himself. The redacted paragraphs undoubtedly contain details related to Lambs interrogation.
What’s important to remember is that Shawn Lamb was a hard-core crack addict at the time of these horrific killings. The use and abuse of crack cocaine was an admitted motive of sorts in the killings of both Sinclair and Blacksmith. Those facts give us a great deal of insight into Tanya Nepinak’s killing.
There can be little doubt that Lambs recollection of the events leading to Nepinak’s killing was clouded by the crack cocaine induced haze he operated under during this chapter of his life. After interviewing hundreds of hard-core drug users and addicts I can tell you with no hesitation that they often provide substandard information lacking in detail and clarity.
That aside, the Police had every reason to believe Shawn Lamb was responsible for killing Tanya Nepinak. The Sinclair, Blacksmith and Nepinak cases have a number of compelling circumstantial parallels that includes victim traits, time line, geographical locations and modus operandi. The anti is upped considerably when you take into account that Nepinak and members of her family were “known” to Lamb before her murder. Combine all the similarities and known facts with the results of Lambs interrogation and you have the grounds to lay a murder charge. Once that charge was laid the case simply did not evolve. Follow up interviews with Lamb went nowhere and the search for Nepinak’s remains ended up being a confused experiment.
The inability to recover the victims remains turned out to be a dark cloud that hung over the Nepinak investigation. The Police and Crown knew the case hung on a very thin thread. That thread was stretched even thinner once Nepinak’s case was severed from Sinclairs and Blacksmiths. The fact is, very few murder cases are successfully prosecuted when the victim’s body is not recovered.
That doesn’t mean Shawn Lamb is not Tanya Nepinak’s killer.
It just means that at some point the Crown lost faith in their ability to successfully prosecute him.
While I have no interest in discouraging a top-notch crime reporter or newspaper executive in their quest to unseal the redacted paragraphs, I will be so bold as to put some context on the Tanya Nepinak case.
So what about Tanya Nepinak?
The answer to the question is no mystery at all.
Tanya Nepinak was murdered by an unsophisticated, sociopathic, crack addicted serial killer who implicated himself in Nepinaks killing after confessing to the murders of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. The Police investigation was complex, difficult and yielded little in the way of forensics or any other “hard” evidence. The failure to recover Nepinaks remains had catastrophic implications on any potential for a prosecution. Simply put, the Nepinak case got caught up in a tangled prosecutorial web and was ultimately dropped because of a lack of evidence.
The redacted paragraphs will never explain the case any better than that.
In the end, the Nepinak family is left feeling fractured, helpless and disappointed by an investigation and prosecution that seemed to leave them out in the cold. Unfortunately, the Nepinak family has learned the painful lesson that so many families have learned before them.
That justice is an abstract concept when it comes to the aftermath of Homicide.