© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
John Thomas Shaoulle covers up his face as deputy sheriffs escort him from the Court of Queen’s Bench towards a waiting van, following a judge’s decision that found Shaoulle guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 sexual assault and killing of Margaret Sewap. Shaoulle received an automatic sentence of life in prison without the eligibility of parole for 25 years.
A judge has found a Wollaston Lake man guilty of first-degree murder in relation to the brutal sexual assault, strangulation and burning of a Prince Albert woman in 2011.
Judge G.N. Allbright said Crown prosecutors had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that John Thomas Shaoulle was responsible for the death of 33-year-old Margaret Sewap more than two years ago.
Sewap’s naked body was discovered behind the Bolt Supply House store shortly before 6:30 a.m. on April 8, 2011.
Her body bore signs of numerous injuries including cuts and bruises, lacerations to the anus, soft tissue hemorrhaging of the scalp and first or third-degree burns covering 18 to 25 per cent of the body surface.
Conviction on a first-degree murder charge carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without eligibility of parole for 25 years.
In addition to life imprisonment, Allbright banned Shaoulle from possessing ammunition, firearms or other weapons for a period of 10 years should he ever be released from custody.
Shaoulle may apply in 15 years for a proceeding to review the legality of his sentence.
In a lengthy explanation for his decision, Allbright noted the many issues at play.
While the case largely revolved around circumstantial evidence, Allbright agreed with the Crown’s theory that the accused killed Sewap in the process of sexually assaulting her, which would automatically constitute first-degree murder according to the Criminal Code.
The identity of the killer, he said, was the crux of the case, since there was no dispute as to the identity of the deceased or her cause of death.
An April 2011 autopsy report from a Saskatoon pathologist unambiguously found that Sewap could not have died from any cause other than manual strangulation.
In the judge’s view, evidence from the autopsy report and accompanying photographs confirmed that Sewap died a “horrific” death from strangulation and other physical injuries, and that Sewap’s assailant -- in a “further indignity” -- subsequently attempted to burn her body.
Allbright accepted the pathologist’s statement that the burns must have taken place after Sewap’s death, and said that the shocking extent of her injuries indicate she could not have given consent for what happened to her.
Explaining the difference between inference and conjecture, Allbright pointed out that a guilty verdict cannot rest on mere speculation.
“An accused must not be convicted on a guess,” he said.
A range of circumstantial evidence implicated Shaoulle in Sewap’s murder.
A 13-minute video taken at the National Hotel showed Shaoulle and Sewap together in the hotel lobby shortly after 10 p.m. on April 7, hours before the victim died.
Traces of Shaoulle’s DNA were found under Sewap’s fingernails, which the Crown argued were the result of Sewap attempting to fight off her attacker.
One of the most convincing indicators for Allbright of Shaoulle’s guilt was the testimony of Joy Charles, Shaoulle’s former partner who was living with him at the time of the incident.
Charles testified that Shaoulle did not return home the night of April 7 and was wearing the same clothes he left in when he returned the next day.
Shaoulle, she said, seemed troubled and smelled strange. He was upset when he couldn’t wash his clothes immediately -- a departure from his usual lack of involvement in laundry.
Following the arrival of a water truck, Shaoulle immediately threw the clothing into the washing machine, including his gloves.
Charles noticed that Shaoulle had some scratches on his skin and his knuckles appeared beaten up. She described his jacket as having both a burning smell and another scent she could not place (variously described as either “perfume-y” or reminiscent of marijuana).
In terms of our theory and what we presented to the court in terms of the evidence that was available, we thought that [the judge] made the right decision. Jeff Lubyk
Prior to coming home on April 8, Shaoulle had been sighted at 3:46 a.m. in the detox centre of Victoria Hospital after staff called police complaining that an intoxicated man was causing a disturbance.
A staff member testified that Shaoulle appeared solemn and sad, said he had nowhere to go and didn’t want to keep living this way. He indicated a medium level of intoxication.
Progressing further in the chronology, Allbright noted that a judge or jury may draw inference of guilt from post-offence conduct such as misleading statements or attempts by the accused to hide the evidence.
He highlighted an incident after Sewap’s death in which police questioned Shaoulle. When an officer left the room, Shaoulle took out a lighter and began to burn a pair of his gloves.
Police promptly seized the gloves and arrested Shaoulle for obstruction of an investigation. Shortly afterward they laid first-degree murder charges against him.
Another episode that raised a red flag was a conversation between Shaoulle and an undercover Prince Albert police officer masquerading as a prisoner, which occurred while Shaoulle was being held in a correctional centre on an unrelated matter.
During their discussion, which Allbright described as an “interesting and very telling exchange,” the officer spoke about the fictitious problems a female partner was causing in his life.
In response, Shaoulle suggested “getting rid” of the woman. He warned that prosecutors could have DNA evidence if she scratched him and advocated burning the woman’s body.
Summing up the arguments offered by the Crown and defense, Allbright said that defense attorney Ian Mokuruk had shown himself to be an “experienced counsel” by not contesting aspects of the case that were not in dispute.
Rather, Mokuruk highlighted the lack of knowledge regarding precisely what happened in the hours before the discovery of Sewap’s body at 6:30 a.m. He argued that Shaoulle had no motive and pointed to gaps in the evidence.
Ultimately, however, Allbright sided with the Crown, arguing that the weight of evidence pointed to Shaoulle’s guilt as the only rational conclusion.
Shaoulle declined the opportunity to speak to the court before the judge announced his decision.
The head of the accused sank as Allbright pronounced Shaoulle “guilty as charged” and sentenced him to life in prison. The convicted murderer covered up his face as a pair of deputy sheriffs escorted him out of the Court of Queen’s Bench into a waiting van.
Crown prosecutors Jeff Lubyk and Cam Scott offered a ringing endorsement of Allbright’s verdict.
“In terms of our theory and what we presented to the court in terms of the evidence that was available, we thought that he made the right decision,” Lubyk said.
“We’re just appreciative he drew the appropriate inferences here at this point in time,” Scott said.
“He’s obviously considered it in a lot of depth, and in our view it’s come to the proper conclusion.”