Teen Describes Murders
Following their brutal murders in suburban Montreal last April, Frank Toope, a 75-year-old retired Anglican minister, and his wife, Jocelyn, 70, were uniformly praised by friends and former parishioners as a warm, caring and generous couple. But at least one 14-year-old Montrealer held a different view. Testifying before Montreal Youth Court Judge Lucie Rondeau on Dec. 7, the boy - one of three teenagers charged with the first-degree murder of the Toopes - said that he and a 15-year-old friend had targeted the Toopes' home for robbery because they knew that it would be filled with cash and items such as VCRs that they could sell on the street. He added that they had assumed the couple were out of town, but that even if they were at home, the Toopes were elderly and so would find it difficult to defend themselves or to call the police. Finally, the 14-year-old, who had been the Toopes' newspaper delivery boy the year before, testified that he did not like the couple because they never tipped him, not even at Christmas. "They were," he said, "cheap people."
That chilling bit of testimony came as the case against the first of the three teenagers - a 13-year-old who, like his alleged accomplices, cannot be named under the Young Offenders Act - went to trial. After final arguments by the defence and prosecution, the case adjourned last week, with a verdict expected on Jan. 26 (the other two defendants are still fighting a move to have them tried as adults). What emerged during the month-long trial was a disturbing portrait of young people high on drugs and alcohol, bludgeoning two senior citizens with beer bottles and a baseball bat and leaving them to bleed to death.
Suspected young offenders enjoy broader legal protections than those available to adults. For that reason, Judge Rondeau ruled several Crown submissions inadmissable, including conversations that the 13-year-old had with school authorities shortly after the attack and statements that he gave to police following his arrest. That meant Crown prosecutor Louis Miville-Deschênes had to rely largely on forensic evidence and the testimony of the other two alleged killers. Although their evidence was sometimes contradictory, the two teenagers did agree on several points. Both said that they had consumed alcohol and drugs (either marijuana or LSD) prior to the break-in. They also said that they were wearing gloves at the time and that the 15-year-old was carrying a baseball bat. The 14-year-old testified that as they donned the gloves in the victims' garage, he had commented that "the police don't take fingerprints for break-and-enter, but they do for murders." He said he meant it as a joke.
Both witnesses testified that once inside, the 15-year-old and the 13-year-old entered the bedroom, where they found the Toopes asleep. According to the 15-year-old, Jocelyn Toope woke up first. When she moved, the 13-year-old hit her with a beer bottle. After Frank Toope began to stir, the 15-year-old said, he hit him three times in the nape of the neck with the baseball bat. By the third swing, he added, his victim slumped on the bed (Toope was later found on top of the bed, his face battered beyond recognition). After the three boys fled, there was no thought of calling for help for the Toopes. "The only thing said was to keep quiet and not talk about it," said the 14-year-old.
Defence lawyer Hans Gervais argued last week that the Crown had failed to prove the boys intended to commit murder. At most, he said, his client could be found guilty of manslaughter, and then only if the judge decides that the boy could have foreseen that the robbery would lead to the killings. But Miville-Deschênes pressed for a finding of first-degree murder - which, under the Young Offenders Act, carries a maximum sentence of three years in detention. At one point on that April night, he told the judge, the boys' robbery plan changed and "three young men decided to kill people."
Maclean's December 25, 1995