‘No sentence can bring her back’

Rosie
Rosie Gillingham
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Ann Marie Shirran’s killer has to spend 15 years in jail before applying for parole

There were no tears this time, no outbursts of emotion, no cries of joy.
The final chapter in the David Folker murder trial quietly came to a close Tuesday at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s as the 43-year-old was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom for the last time.

Convicted murderer David Folker is led out of Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's today. The court ruled Folker will have to serve 15 years of his life sentence before being eligible to apply for parole. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

Folker will be sent to a federal prison outside the province to serve a mandatory life sentence.

Justice Wayne Dymond ruled Tuesday that Folker can’t apply for parole until he spends 15 years behind bars.

“Mr. Folker, you will be in your late 50s before you will be eligible for parole,” Dymond said in the final words of his decision.

“Whether you will be successful will now depend on how you conduct yourself. You will have time to reflect on what you have done and, hopefully, you will do something to help alleviate the grief and pain you have caused both families in this tragic case.”

On Nov. 8, following a lengthy trial, a jury found Folker guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Ann Marie Shirran — his common-law wife and his young son’s mother — and of committing an indignity to her body.

Shirran’s skeletal remains were found by campers on Sept. 3, 2010, in a wooded area in Cappahayden. Some of her body parts had been dragged off by animals.

Experts testified at the trial that Shirran suffered two fractures to her head caused by forceful blows.

In the opening days of his trial, Folker admitted Shirran died during a physical altercation between the two at their apartment in Kilbride on July 18, 2010. At the time, their relationship was coming to an end.

He also admitted he disposed of her personal items in the woods off Blackhead Road and dumped her body. He admitted he lied to police about her being missing, despite the extensive search that was underway.

Folker had insisted Shirran’s death was an accident and that he disposed of her body because he panicked.

The jury didn’t buy it and took a little more than a day of deliberation to convict the Nova Scotia man. The verdict triggered plenty of reaction in the courtroom from Shirran’s family and friends.

Victims’ voices

There was also plenty of emotion at the sentencing hearing earlier this month, when Shirran’s mother, Diane Baggs, and brother, Dana Harrell, presented their victim impact statements.

“When does the pain and heartache cease?” Baggs said at the time.

Also during the hearing, Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland and Iain Hollett recommended Folker be ordered to wait 18 years before applying for parole. Defence lawyers Scott Hurley and Jason Edwards suggested 12-14 years.

The jurors also made a recommendation. Half of them said Folker shouldn’t be eligible for parole for 20 years. Three recommended 25 years, one said 17 years and two suggested 18 years.

The judge’s decision

In making his decision, Dymond took these suggestions into consideration, along with several other factors — Folker’s character, the nature of his offence and the circumstances surrounding it.

Dymond said Folker’s actions after he killed Shirran — dumping her body in the woods — spoke volumes about his character.

“Mr. Folker’s lies resulted in the human remains being ravaged by animals and in complete decomposition,” the judge said.

“No one wishes to be reminded of this. However, it has to be stated, because it goes to the lack of remorse for what Mr. Folker did up to that point in time. The fact that Mr. Folker could allow this to happen speaks to his makeup as a person.”

He said it’s difficult to determine whether the remorse Folker expressed at the trial is true or further deception.

“But whatever remorse there is, is late in coming and does little to ease the hurt of the victims in this tragedy,” he said.

Dymond said Folker’s post-offence conduct was one of the most aggravating factors — “the lies, deception and leaving the body in the elements.”

The fact that the couple’s young son was present during much of what happened the night Shirran died was also an aggravating factor.

Other issues included the fact that Shirran was Folker’s common-law spouse, which constitutes a breach of trust.

“Partners usually trust the other person not to cause them harm,” he said.

The judge also pointed to the degree of force used in killing Shirran.

Dymond said there are a few mitigating factors — Folker is a first-time offender, there was no indication of any previous threats or assaults on Shirran, and she died instantly and there was no prolonged suffering.

Crown prosecutors opted not to comment, but defence lawyer Edwards later told The Telegram it’s possible Folker will appeal his conviction.

No going back

But even before delivering his sentence, Dymond acknowledged  there’s nothing the court can do that would change what happened to Shirran.

“No sentence, however harsh, can bring her back,” Dymond said before making his final decision.

“No sentence can take away the pain, the suffering and the nightmares that have occurred as a result of the actions of David Folker.”

Dymond said the highly publicized tragedy and trial may affect the couple’s son.

“(The boy) has lost both a mother and a father,” he said.

“Hopefully, the family will be able to counsel him and obtain professional advice as to how this should be carried out. I am sure they will be able to rise to the occasion, having already endured much pain and suffering.

“Anything decided here today will change nothing.”

After the proceedings, Shirran’s father, Jon Baggs, told reporters he wished the punishment had been much harsher.

“I guess that’s all we can expect under the system we’ve got,” he said.

“I’d like to see him doing the scaffolding here today, but that’s not in the books anymore, so I guess I’ve got to accept it.”

He said he’s relieved the court process is over, but said he will never have closure with his daughter gone.

“I’m glad that it’s all over, for one thing. Travelling back and forth is not very easy,” said Baggs, who lives in Steady Brook.

“But it’s a chapter in our lives that’s over with and we’ll just have to move on … and we’ll get on with our lives.

“That’s it now, I guess,” Baggs said, backing away from the microphones. “I’ve got to find my way home.”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Geographic location: Cappahayden, Kilbride, Blackhead Road Nova Scotia Steady Brook

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