Court of Appeal upholds murder conviction in death of elderly mother

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He’s already served his time, but convicted killer Gregory Hetrick had hoped the Alberta Court of Appeal would make him a free man.

But the province’s top court on Thursday denied a bid by Hetrick’s lawyers, Gavin Wolch and Meryl Friedland to overturn his murder conviction and substitute one for manslaughter.

A three-member appeal panel agreed with Crown prosecutor Brian Graff the defence had failed to establish a reviewable error in Hetrick’s trial decision.

Hetrick was convicted in March 2009 in connection with the death of his mother, Margaret, 79, inside their Hawkwood home.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Suzanne Bensler rejected arguments he was too drunk to form the specific intent to commit murder when he choked her to death before plunging a knife into her lifeless body after she refused to give him cash to buy more booze.

Hetrick strangled his mother after consuming a 750 mL bottle of vodka when she refused to give him money for more booze.

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Bensler sentenced Hetrick to life in prison without eligibility to parole for at least 10 years in connection with the March 2, 2007 killing.

He was granted full parole last year.

The appeal judges rejected arguments Bensler didn’t adequately explain her reasons for rejecting Hetrick’s intoxication defence.

“This evolved into a single issue trial, which essentially required the trial judge to weigh the various items of evidence on intoxication, and conclude whether the Crown had proven the intent necessary for murder beyond a reasonable doubt,” they said in their written ruling.

“The trial judge was well aware that intoxication was the determinative issue,” they said.

“She ultimately had no doubt that the appellant’s undisputed intoxication did not prevent him from forming the necessary intent.”

Hetrick initially appealed his conviction, but eventually abandoned his bid to have Bensler’s decision overturned.

In 2017, while Hetrick was serving his sentence in Quebec, he learned of Innocence Canada and the McGill Innocence Project, which assisted him in getting his appeal back on track.

Last September, Court of Appeal Justice Marina Paperny granted an application by Hetrick to have his appeal reinstated.

Paperny accepted affidavit evidence from Hetrick that he felt “defeated” at the time he abandoned his original appeal.

While he is no longer incarcerated, the life sentence means he will remain on parole for the rest of his life and will be subject to supervision and potential reincarceration if he were to breach release conditions.

On Twitter: @KMartinCourts

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