Appeal court doubles sentences for central Alberta killers to 50 years

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Alberta's highest court has decided two killers should spend half a century behind bars before they're eligible to apply for parole.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal issued a 32-page decision on the sentences imposed in Jason Klaus' and Joshua Frank's murder convictions.

Both men were found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder for the December 2013 deaths of Klaus's father and mother, Gordon and Sandra, and his sister Monica.

Klaus hired Frank to murder his family at their farmhouse near Castor, Alta., in the middle of the night while they were asleep. Klaus provided Frank a gun and drove him to and from the farm. All three victims were shot in the head.

After they were killed, the farmhouse was set on fire in a bid to destroy the evidence.

During the trial, neither accused accepted responsibility for the murders, each blaming the other.

"There can be no doubt that the murders committed were an appalling manifestation of selfishness, callousness and cold bloodedness," the appeal court justices wrote. "The trial judge concluded that denunciation and deterrence were important considerations in sentencing for murder."

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RCMP

But the trial judge, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin, rejected the Crown's request to sentence Klaus and Frank to a life sentence with more than a 25-year parole ineligibility.

"Setting parole ineligibility for 50 or 75 years was, in his view, overly harsh and deprived the offender of hope," the appeal court decision states.

In his sentencing decision, Macklin added 17 paragraphs which he admitted was incidental commentary about the legislation passed by Parliament that allowed periods of parole ineligibility to be stacked.

"In his view, these provisions might actually undermine the public's confidence in the sentence for multiple murders," the appeal court noted. "He repeated his skepticism about the deterrent effect of extending parole ineligibility."

Two Alberta Court of Appeal judges, Justice Peter Martin and Justice Jack Watson, suggest Macklin overstepped his bounds and made an error in law.

"The trial judge's excursions into sentencing policy and the sentencing policy choices legitimately made by Parliament pushed the appropriate boundaries of judicial explanation," the decision notes. "It is not common for judges to add comments of that sort and judicial inclination to criticize legislation should be resisted."

'No evidence that they would be rehabilitated'

When Macklin sentenced Klaus and Frank, he said there wasn't any evidence indicating they could not be rehabilitated in 25 years.

Until their convictions, neither man had a criminal record, but Klaus hatched the scheme to kill his family because of gambling debts.

He had written fraudulent cheques and didn't want his father to find out. Killing his sister meant he wouldn't have to share the inheritance.

Frank went along with the plan because he was unemployed and addicted to drugs. He agreed to the murders in exchange for money and a truck.

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"The evidence inclines away from the possibility that they would be rehabilitated," the appeal court decision states. "There is certainly no evidence that they would be rehabilitated."

The Court of Appeal determined another 25 years of parole ineligibility would be added to their sentences for the first-degree murder of Monica Klaus.

"In the end, we are persuaded that the crimes of Klaus and Frank are not adequately represented in terms of proportionality and not adequately denounced by not distinguishing the killing of Klaus' sister, which was an intentional extension to the main scheme," the appeal court wrote.

Justice Frans Slatter wrote a dissenting opinion saying the stacking legislation does not apply in cases of convictions for murder entered at the same trial.

Jason Klaus will be 92 before he can be considered for release. Joshua Frank will be 82.

Frank's lawyer, Amanda Urquhart, told CBC News she anticipates being given instructions to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In a written statement, Alberta Justice press secretary Blaise Boehmer welcomed Monday's decision.

"The Government of Alberta ... expresses its sincere gratitude to both the Crown prosecutors and the police for delivering justice to the family of Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus," Boehmer wrote.