After third trial, jury convicts Alberta Mountie of murder in jail shooting

Thu Sep 30, 8:25 PM ET

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. (CP) - After his two previous trials ended in hung juries, an Alberta RCMP officer was convicted Thursday of manslaughter for shooting a prisoner.


Const. Mike Ferguson had been charged with second-degree murder, but the Court of Queen's Bench jury rejected that.


Ferguson was charged in the 1999 jail cell death of Darren Varley, a man he had arrested for public drunkenness in the southern Alberta town of Pincher Creek.


Sentencing was to take place Friday at 10 a.m. MT. A manslaughter conviction with a firearm carries a minimum sentence of four years in prison and can go as high as life.


Court was told that on Oct. 3, 1999, Ferguson was dispatched to the Pincher Creek hospital to deal with a complaint from Varley, who mistakenly believed his fiancee had been abducted.


Varley and Ferguson got into a fight at the hospital. Varley was arrested and taken to police cells where a second scuffle occurred 10 minutes later.


In his charge to the jury, Hawco had said there was only one question to be answered - was the shooting self-defence?


Crown prosecutor Rick Saull successfully argued that the officer was guilty of second-degree murder because he fired his gun in a fit of rage.


He said self-defence was not a credible option because evidence indicated Varley was likely bent over, clutching his abdomen, when he was shot in the head.


"Dead men don't speak; the evidence does," he said. "When you shoot somebody in the head from whatever direction, they're going to die. That's not manslaughter; it's murder. That second bullet stopped his heart forever."


Defence lawyer Earl Wilson admitted his client shot Varley in the head and abdomen, but suggested he acted in self-defence after the prisoner grabbed his pistol.


He pointed to evidence that painted Varley as a violent drunk who was capable of holding his own in a scuffle with Ferguson at the hospital.


"You don't have some kind of slobbering drunk here," Wilson said. "Const. Ferguson stands between Darren Varley and freedom."


Juries had twice before been unable to reach a decision in the case.


Ferguson's first trial ended Nov. 9, 2002, when the jury failed to reach a verdict after 30 hours of deliberation. His second trial ended the same way May 15, 2003, after three days of deliberations.


Ferguson has served with the RCMP for over 19 years, working at Alberta detachments in Lethbridge and Peace River. He moved to Kamloops, B.C., about six months after the shooting.


Ferguson's lawyer had argued unsuccessfully that trying his client a third time was an abuse of process.




However, Canadian law does not stipulate a maximum number of times a person can be prosecuted for the same offence, and there are several other cases of multiple prosecutions on the same evidence.

Juries twice convicted an Edmonton woman and her former husband of beating a young foster child to death. Both convictions were overturned on appeal and a judge refused to allow a third trial - largely out of concern for the divorced couple's child, who had attempted suicide.

Thomas Sophonow was tried three times and spent nearly four years in prison for the 1981 murder of a Winnipeg doughnut shop clerk. He was cleared of the crime in June 2000.