COLUMN: A family on a nightmare train of justice
Three weeks ago, Justice William Grist pronounced Jesse Blue West guilty of the first-degree murder of 14-year-old Chelsey Acorn.
Sitting in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack, her mother clapped, and exclaimed “Yes!” Outside the court, family and supporters hugged and cried in relief over West’s automatic life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
The ordeal was finally over.
Those close to young Chelsey have been riding a nightmare train since she went missing on June 10, 2005 from an Abbotsford foster home.
Her remains were found April 8, 2006 in a shallow grave near the Carolin Mines exit off the Coquihalla Highway outside of Hope.
One agonizing chapter had come to a close. Another was about to begin.
Working on a variety of tips and leads, police investigators eventually closed in on a former long haul trucker and his son. Jesse West, now 60, and Dustin Moir, now 27, were charged with Chelsey’s murder.
Both went on trial in November 2009, but two months later, West’s proceedings were severed from Moir’s.
The teen’s family would have to sit through not one, but two lengthy trials, and hear the grisly details of her death yet again.
And ugly they were, so much so that many don’t bear repeating here.
Suffice that Chelsey had been buried naked, her skull crushed with a rock.
The men’s relationship with her in the preceding months can only be described as depraved.
Police used a “Mr. Big” sting to nail the pair. Playing them separately, an officer posing as a crime boss led them to confess what happened to Chelsey, and their roles in her violent end.
A jury found Moir guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced him to life in prison. One down, one to go.
West’s trial began last September. Again, Chelsey’s family sat through the disturbing details of her involvement with West and his son, and the stark autopsy details of a young girl who has been described as “vibrant, beautiful and just loved life.”
Tried by judge alone, West shifted the blame to Dustin, and claimed he had lied to the “crime boss,” but the judge wasn’t buying. Guilty.
After the verdict, a family member told the media “We’re very happy that justice has been served...”
They had closure, and hopefully, the long-term healing could begin.
Just nine days later, the unthinkable occurred.
A panel of B.C. Court of Appeal judges decided there were errors in the instructions to the jury by the judge in the case, in part relating to possible motive, and inconsistent statements to police and at trial.
No recanting of testimony. No new compelling evidence. Seemingly, just procedure.
In the isolated, clinical language of law, there must be merit in the findings.
Yet in the world of a family struggling with the loss of a loved one, and grittily dealing with the courts’ measure of her murderers, there can only be immense bewilderment, frustration and pain.
It has been said many times that the current justice system is weighed in favour of the accused and convicted, frequently leaving victims feeling ignored and under-valued.
In this type of trial appeal, cannot there be another level of judgment, which would determine if the “errors” are so significant that they overturn an overwhelming case?
Could the jury be reconvened and asked to determine whether the appeal findings are sufficient to make them change their minds?
If nowhere else in the criminal justice process, do the victims and survivors not hold some higher consideration at this point?