Supreme Court Upholds First Degree Murder Convictions for Death of 6-Year-Old

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) has upheld the first-degree murder convictions of Spencer Jordan (“Jordan”) and Marie Magoon (“Magoon”), who were charged in the death of six-year-old Meika Jordan (“Meika”).

Defence lawyers requested that the SCC reverse a decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal, which upgraded Jordan and Magoon’s second-degree murder convictions after ruling that Meika had been confined prior to her death (a condition that automatically increases the severity of a murder offence).

Under the original second-degree murder convictions, Jordan and Magoon had been sentenced to life in prison without parole for a minimum of 17 years. The upgraded first-degree murder convictions carry an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On November 14, 2011, Meika died after spending the weekend at the home of her father, Jordan, and stepmother, Magoon. The six-year-old was tortured for days leading up to her death by being forced to run stairs, dragged up and down the stairs by her ankles, repeatedly hit and even burned. She suffered damage to her internal organs and a subdural hematoma and cerebral swelling caused by at least five blows to her head. No medical attention was sought until Meika was in complete cardiac and respiratory failure. Jordan and Magoon told police that Meika had fallen down the stairs, however, the medical evidence supported a pattern of frequent and intentional violence.

Jordan and Magoon were charged with first degree murder and convicted of second degree murder at trial in 2015. They appealed their convictions and the Crown prosecutors appealed the first degree murder acquittals. The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the accuseds’ appeals, but allowed the Crown appeals. The Appeal Court held that the accused unlawfully confined Meika rendering them liable for first degree murder under section 231(5) of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”).

The SCC refused to hear an appeal to have the convictions entirely quashed, but did hear arguments on the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to upgrade the charge from second-degree murder to first-degree murder.

The nine SCC justices took less than 10 minutes to come to the decision to dismiss all appeals in November, 2017. The SCC found that the Court of Appeal did not err in substituting verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree. The written reasons for the ruling were released on April 13, 2018.

MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE

The crime of murder is deemed as the most vicious of crimes in Canadian society. This is reflected in the harshness of the sanctions and punishments for this crime.

In Canada, there are two divisions of murder and one of manslaughter. First degree murder is planned and deliberate (with a few exceptions), whereas second degree murder is defined as murder that is not first degree (not premeditated). Manslaughter is defined as a homicide committed without the intention to cause death.

First degree murder bears an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Once on parole, offenders remain on parole for the rest of their life and must report to a parole officer and are subject to conditions of their parole. If any of the conditions of parole are broken, they are sent directly back to prison without a hearing.

WHAT IS FIRST DEGREE MURDER UNDER SECTION 231(5) OF THE CRIMINAL CODE?

There are some homicides automatically deemed first degree murder, even if they were not intentional or planned. These include assassination of a police officer or prison employee on duty (section 231(4) of the CC) or murder committed in conjunction with one of the following offences (section 231 (5) of the CC):

  • hijacking;
  • sexual assault;
  • sexual assault with a weapon;
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • kidnapping;
  • forcible confinement;
  • hostage taking;
  • terrorism;
  • intimidation;
  • criminal harassment; or
  • any offence committed on behalf of a criminal organization.

The section of the CC that was applied in Meika’s case was section 231(5)(e), which reads as follows:

(5)       Irrespective of whether a murder is planned and deliberate on the part of any person, murder is first degree murder in respect of a person when the death is caused by that person while committing or attempting to commit an offence under one of the following sections:

            (e) section 279 (kidnapping and forcible confinement);

The case of R. v. Pritchard explained Parliament’s intention to “treat murders committed in connection with crimes of domination as particularly blameworthy and deserving of more severe punishment”.

The applicable test to be applied in determining guilt of first degree murder under section 231(5)(e) of the CC was set out in R. v. Harbottle. The Crown must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. the accused was guilty of the underlying crime of domination or of attempting to commit that crime;
  2. the accused was guilty of the murder of the victim;
  3. the accused participated in the murder in such a manner that he/she was a substantial cause of the death of the victim;
  4. there was no intervening act of another which resulted in the accused no longer being substantially connected to the death of the victim; and
  5. the crimes of domination and murder were part of the same transaction.

In Meika’s case, the SCC found that although there were no physical restraints used, Meika was physically restrained and restricted to remain in her bedroom or the basement. Furthermore, given the parent child relationship there is less of a requirement for physical restraints due to the unequal relationship that exists. “[D]isciplining a child by restricting his or her ability to move about freely (by physical or psychological means), contrary to the child’s wishes, which exceeds the outer bounds of punishment that a parent or guardian could lawfully administer, constitutes unlawful confinement.” Therefore, the SCC found that the Harbottle test was met.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.