VICTORIA, B.C. — Fifteen years ago, Greg Parsons couldn’t resist leaning over a courtroom railing in Newfoundland and telling off the man who had just been convicted of stabbing his mother to death with a kitchen knife.
“Enjoy your stay in hell, Brian,” Parsons said to Brian Doyle. A childhood friend of Parsons, Doyle had remained silent as, years earlier, Parsons had been accused — and wrongfully convicted — of the murder.
On Friday, the two men were reunited in a hearing room at the minimum-security William Head Institution near Victoria, B.C. But this time Parsons sat stone-faced, as two members of the Parole Board of Canada announced they were granting Doyle’s application for temporary escorted releases.
Moments earlier, in an emotionally wrought victim impact statement, Parsons, 47 — who had flown in from St. John’s, where he is a firefighter — implored the parole panel to see Doyle as a “hardened murderer” who should not be allowed into the community.
But while acknowledging the gravity of Doyle’s crime and a prison psychologist’s assessment that he was a “moderate” risk to reoffend, the board members said they were satisfied allowing Doyle to have “escorted temporary absences” did not pose an undue risk to society and would be beneficial for his rehabilitation.
“We’ve suffered enough. This just adds to the pain and suffering. … I feel cheated,” Parsons said later, railing not only against the decision but the “country club” atmosphere of the oceanfront prison.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, William Head Institution — which overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca, features a tennis court and is surrounded by deer feeding on grass — has been derided by critics who call it “Club Fed.” After serving time in maximum security prisons, including Ontario’s Millhaven Institution, Doyle was transferred there in 2015.
Parsons was 19 when he found his 45-year-old mother Catherine Carroll’s body in the bathroom of her home in January 1991. She had been stabbed or slashed 53 times.
Police initially suspected Parsons, and in 1994, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence that Carroll had feared her son and that he had taken part in recording a song titled “Kill Your Parents,” media reports said at the time.
DNA evidence later exonerated Parsons, however, and investigators turned their attention to Doyle who confessed to the murder in the course of an undercover sting. In 2003 he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for 18 years.
I never meant to cause so much painBrian Doyle
A subsequent inquiry led by retired Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Antonio Lamer was critical of certain police investigative techniques and a culture among Crown prosecutors that encouraged “overreach.”
“Parsons’ case became a runaway train, fuelled by tunnel vision and a noble cause, and picking up many passengers along the way,” Lamer’s report said. Parsons received $650,000 in compensation.
During Friday’s hearing, parole board members — appearing via teleconference — pressed Doyle about his propensity for lying. They asked: You’re able to lie to police?
“Yes,” he answered softly.
Are you a skilled liar?
They quizzed Doyle about the night of the murder.
Doyle — his back facing observers the entire time, as is customary — explained that after attending a New Year’s party, he headed over to Carroll’s house and broke a rear window to get inside. They had been in a relationship, he said.
When he crawled naked into her bed, they got into an argument, which spilled into the bathroom.
“I turned around and swung at her with the knife,” he said.
But why 53 times?
“Just a build-up of rage over the years,” he offered, adding that she wanted to end the relationship.
Asked what he was doing when Parsons had been pegged as the killer, Doyle responded: “Hiding in myself.”
How is it hiding when he attended Carroll’s funeral and even signed the guest book, the board asked.
“I guess I went on with a normal life — be who everyone thought I was.”
Doyle acknowledged that while he was the target of the undercover sting, he had talked about committing another murder but insisted “that’s not who I am” and that he was merely “playing up” to his associates.
“My whole life I’ve tried to be a kind person,” he insisted, adding that he now turns to meditation and gardening to deal with his emotions.
“I’m so sorry,” he told the panel. “I never meant to cause so much pain.”
I feel that I am truly the person in prisonGreg Parsons
At one point, Parsons’ brother, Todd, who flew in from Yellowknife to observe the hearing, crumpled forward in his seat unable to contain his emotions.
Corrections officials say escorted temporary absences are an important “first step” in gauging an offender’s readiness for reintegration into society. And Doyle had two supporters to make the case for his temporary releases.
His parole officer told the board that while there was no question Doyle had committed a “callous, brutal” crime, he had shown “excellent” behaviour in custody, actively participated in his programs and showed a “high level of accountability and remorse.”
His temporary releases would be limited to 16 hours per month for three months and only involve attending community Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she said.
A prison chaplain, who said he meets one-on-one with Doyle weekly, described Doyle as forthcoming and not prone to sugarcoating.
In his victim impact statement, Parsons described the “guilt” he felt for not being able to protect his mother and the toll that losing her and being wrongly accused had had on him.
“People still say to me, ‘Aren’t you the fellow who got off with killing your mother?’ Because of this I am becoming a hermit in my house,” he said.
“I have too many PTSD triggers to count. The public are triggers, seeing the news is triggers, seeing police is triggers, which unfortunately has made my career (as a fireman) a trigger. I feel that I am truly the person in prison.”
Outside the hearing, Parsons said he couldn’t stomach the possibility of Doyle’s return to the community.
“He is such a dangerous criminal and he’s skating through the justice system,” he said.
“This is not your regular guy who made a mistake once in his life.”
Parsons said he once had a conversation with Guy Paul Morin, who was wrongly convicted of the 1984 abduction and killing of his 9-year-old neighbour, Christine Jessop. Morin told him the best advice he could give him was to not dwell on the past.
But Parsons said he’s now reached the conclusion that that is an impossible goal — not when you’re related to the victim and not when the offender is beginning the process of returning to society.
“I’m going to be an advocate for people in situations like this. I’m going to be an advocate for what’s right.
“I’m on a mission,” he said.
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