Judge to decide serial killer Bruce McArthur’s sentence Friday morning

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After hearing new details about the murders of eight men, then carefully listening to the pain inflicted by their deaths, an Ontario Superior Court judge is expected to sentence serial killer Bruce McArthur Friday morning.

McArthur, 67, convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder, faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.
The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.  (Star Wire Services)

Citing the unique enormity of McArthur’s crimes — “even amongst those who commit multiple murders” — Crown prosecutor Craig Harper earlier this week asked for a parole ineligibility period of 50 years. McArthur would be 116, effectively assuring he would die in prison and sparing his victims’ families a parole hearing.

McArthur’s lawyer, James Miglin, argued before Justice John McMahon that, given McArthur’s guilty pleas and his age, 25 years of parole ineligibility is appropriate.

Either way, McArthur will be in prison until he is at least 91 years old, factoring in credit for time served in jail since his arrest.

As many of those statements were read out in court, McMahon listened intently, thanking each person for sharing their loss and grief.

McArthur pleaded guilty in court late last month, admitting to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village between 2010 and 2017. He showed little expression throughout the two-day sentencing proceedings, even as victims’ family members, friends and members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community spoke about how he has shattered their lives and sense of safety. On Tuesday, he waived his opportunity to address the court.

The sentencing hearing saw a fulsome agreed statement of fact read out in court, detailing for the first time the manner and location of McArthur’s murders and new details about how he posed and photographed his victims after death.

Court heard the serial killer maintained digital folders of images of each of his eight victims — photos taken before and after their deaths — and had created a ninth folder for a Middle Eastern man police found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed on the morning of his Jan. 18, 2018, arrest.

McArthur, court heard, selected victims with certain commonalities, seeking out and exploiting certain vulnerabilities to “continue his crimes undetected.”

“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their lives in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing,” reads the agreed statement of fact.

In his submissions to McMahon, Harper, the Crown lawyer, called McArthur a serial killer said the term was in fact “woefully inadequate to describe his moral blameworthiness … and heinousness of the offences.”

With files from Alyshah Hasham

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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What we learned from Day 1 of serial killer Bruce McArthur’s sentencing

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WARNING: This article contains graphic content.

Inside a downtown Toronto courtroom packed for the first day of sentencing submissions in the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur, the Crown prosecutor began with a grave acknowledgement.

“For years, members of the LGBTQ community believed that they were being targeted by a killer,” Michael Cantlon said in his opening address Monday.

“They were right.”

Cantlon went on to describe an unprecedented Toronto police investigation, revealing new details about past police contact with McArthur, new information about the deaths of the eight men McArthur murdered, and revelations about the ways he preyed on Toronto’s LGBTQ community.

Here are some major take-aways from the Day 1 of the serial killer’s sentencing.

How detectives broke the case

A combination of two key pieces of evidence lead Toronto police to “crack the case” of serial killer Bruce McArthur wide open, Cantlon said.

First, there was surveillance video that showed a glimpse of a red van outside the home of Andrew Kinsman, McArthur’s final victim. Second, there was a simple note in Kinsman’s calendar from June 26, 2017, the day he went missing: “Bruce.”

Toronto police Det. David Dickinson was able to determine the make and model of McArthur’s van — a special-edition 2004 Dodge Caravan. He then searched registry information to produce 6,181 matches for similar vehicles. Of those, five owners were named Bruce.

But only McArthur had any recent contact with Toronto police — he had been arrested, but not charged, in 2016 over a report the 67-year-old had attempted to strangle a man.

McArthur was made a person of interest in Kinsman’s disappearance. It was the start of the months-long investigation that led to his Jan. 18. 2018, arrest.

Two weeks after he was interviewed as part of Project Houston, McArthur purchased a new van: the 2004 Dodge Caravan that would lead to his arrest.

McArthur’s plan for a ninth victim and his rescue

McArthur was under police surveillance on Jan. 18, 2018, when a younger man was spotted entering his Thorncliffe Park apartment. It was then that Toronto police made the decision to arrest the killer, Cantlon said, reading the statement of facts.

The man told McArthur his name was “John.” He said he was a recent immigrant to Canada who was married and whose family and friends were unaware of his sexual orientation. The man told police he had been intimate with McArthur on several occasions, and on that day McArthur had asked if anyone knew the two were meeting.

“John told McArthur it was a secret and no one knew,” Cantlon said.

The two arrived at McArthur’s apartment, where the killer told the man to go to his bedroom. McArthur returned with handcuffs and told him “they were going to try something different.”

He then put a black bag over the man’s head. The man took it off then McArthur tried to tape his mouth closed.

That’s when police, “due to exigent circumstances, knocked on the door and arrested Mr. McArthur.”

Forensic analysis later revealed McArthur had a USB drive containing nine subfolders — one for each of the men he had killed , and a ninth labelled “John.”

That folder contained photos of the man police found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed.

On the day of Kinsman’s murder, forensic analysis found, McArthur had searched for “John” and downloaded photos of him from social media.

How McArthur ‘staged’ his victims

Court heard McArthur’s bedroom was a “frequent” site of the killings, most of which were made possible under the pretence of sex.

The investigation uncovered what Cantlon called “post-offence rituals,” including that McArthur posed his victims, took photos of them and kept some of their belongings.

McArthur took photos of Kinsman, Kayhan, Kanagaratnam, Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick after killing them. Forensic analysis showed McArthur looked at these photos, which were organized into separate folders, “long after the killings.”

The 2016 choking incident

Cantlon described new, detailed information about a June 20, 2016, incident in which a man told police McArthur had attempted to choke him, but the killer was released without charges.

The victim reported McArthur showed up at his place of work and asked him to meet later that evening in his van in a parking lot. The man did so and reported finding McArthur had removed the seat behind the driver’s seat so that there was room to lie down, revealing a plastic sheet on the floor of the van and a fur coat on top of that.

McArthur asked the victim to lie on the coat and instructed him to put an arm behind his back. Then, “with a look of determination on his face,” he “grabbed the victim’s throat and started strangling him,” Cantlon said.

“What do you want from me,” the victim asked. McArthur did not respond and “continued squeezing the larynx” of the victim, who was unable to swallow properly for a week, Cantlon said.

The victim managed to roll away and escaped the van. He later called 911.

McArthur went to the police station on his own and was arrested, but gave an exculpatory statement.

“An officer released Mr. McArthur without charges, believing his statement to be credible,” Cantlon said.

Police later located photos of the victim on McArther’s electronic devices. In some of those images, he is seen wearing a fur coat that “appears identical” to the one seen in photographs of McArthur’s victims.

The similar lives of the people he killed

McArthur’s eight victims shared several things in common, court heard, including ties to Toronto’s Gay Village and a “social life” within the community. Many also met and corresponded with McArthur through dating apps.

They also had physical similarities, including that most had facial hair or a beard. Six victims were immigrants of South Asian of Middle Eastern descent.

Read more: Eight men, eight stories: What we know about serial killer Bruce McArthur’s victims

“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their lives in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing,” according to the statement of facts.

“There is evidence that Mr. McArthur sought out and exploited these vulnerabilities to continue his crimes undetected,” it reads.

What police found in McArthur’s van

Investigators located a significant amount of evidence inside McArthur’s two vans: the 2004 Dodge Caravan he’d attempted to get rid of at a wrecking yard in Courtice, Ont., and a 2017 van he later bought.

That included: the DNA of some of McArthur’s victims; a metal bar wrapped in tape that contained Esen and Kinsman’s DNA; dark brown leather lacing, later found to contain Navaratnam’s DNA; and the fur coat police believe McArthur used to pose with his victims, in a hidden compartment.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Why experts say we should investigate Bruce McArthur’s motive — even if we never get answers

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“I don’t know if we’ll ever know why,” Toronto police Det. David Dickinson told reporters outside the court.

Even an exhaustive trial may not have provided an answer, but the search for an explanation after a horrific crime is common, experts say — it’s part of how we cope.

McArthur is next in court Monday for sentencing proceedings that are expected to include a detailed statement of facts and at least two dozen victim impact statements.

“People are really just hoping there’s a simple answer at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But criminologists and sociologists have been studying the motivations for violence for millennia and we still don’t really have a foolproof answer.”

Earlier this week, the FBI concluded its investigation into the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival, when Stephen Paddock killed 59 people, including himself, and injured 851 more while firing indiscriminately into the crowd from his 32nd-floor hotel suite. Despite a thorough, months-long investigation, authorities could not find a “single or clear motivating factor” behind the attack.

Surviving victims of last summer’s shooting on the Danforth and the families of Reese Fallon and Julianna Kozis may likewise never know why gunman Faisal Hussain did what he did.

The lack of explanation for a violent tragedy is part of the trauma, Lee said. “It’s part of the ongoing anxiety and stress that’s connected to thinking about your loved one, whose last moments were in all likelihood very traumatic.”

Trying to make sense of a senseless act helps construct a “grief narrative,” said Stephen Fleming, a psychology professor at York University who specializes in grief. “If we can find out what is motivating (the killer) we have some reason for it.”

Random deaths are “intolerable” to us, Fleming said. “It means that we’re all vulnerable.”

Knowing why a loved one was killed doesn’t make someone feel better, but it does allow people to put some “distance” between them and the crime, Fleming said. “If there’s no reason and it’s completely random it’s way too threatening. It means any of us could die. If you can get a reason you can build a sense of safety back into the world.”

But understanding a killer’s motive won’t bring closure, Fleming stressed — “Don’t ever use that word with bereaved people,” he said. Closure only applies to discrete acts, he said, so while McArthur’s guilty plea might give closure on the question of who is responsible, it doesn’t soothe the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the victims’ friends and families. “They go on a lifetime.”

That said, Fleming added, it’s only after the legal process is complete can grieving truly begin. Before that point “you’re kind of frozen,” he explained.

“To be able to begin to grieve and feel that vulnerability of loss, you have to feel a sense of safety and how can you do that if you’re being constantly retraumatized?”

Scott Bonn, a criminologist and author of a number of books on serial killers, said as humans we are uncomfortable with ambiguity. “We don’t like things that are unresolved, particularly when it involves something as heinous as murder.”

Bonn said we try to understand why a violent crime was committed in order to make it seem less frightening.

“Otherwise, if we don’t have the answer, then it’s just this terrifying idea that maybe we could become the victim of a perpetrator for who knows what reason.”

Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar

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After McArthur’s guilty plea, a devastated family of one of his victims wants him punished to the ‘maximum sentence’

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The “devastated” family of one of Bruce McArthur’s victims says they want the serial killer punished to “the maximum sentence,” and are renewing calls for a public inquiry into police handling of the case.

Ferhat Cinar listened in from his home in London, England, Tuesday as McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to killing his brother, Selim Esen, and seven other men in Toronto between 2010 and 2017, most of the killings sexual in nature.

Esen, a 44-year-old native of Turkey, was McArthur’s seventh victim, killed in April 2017. Esen’s DNA was located in McArthur’s van, as well as on the murder weapon, which was not specified in court Tuesday. A statement of facts read out said police found “evidence of the use of a ligature.”

Found in McArthur’s apartment was a notebook kept by Esen, who was described by his family as a lover of sociology and philosophy who had an “inquisitive mind.”

“We can’t come to terms with his savage murder,” Cinar said in a statement sent to the Star Thursday, on behalf of Esen’s family, many of whom remain in Turkey.

Submissions are scheduled to begin at Ontario Superior Court Monday, where McArthur’s lawyers and Crown prosecutors will begin deliberations on McArthur’s sentence. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, when McArthur will be 91 years old.

The hearings will decide whether McArthur serves the sentences for each first-degree murder concurrently, or if he will be granted consecutive sentences, pushing his parole eligibility far into the future.

Next week’s proceedings will hear at least two dozen victim impact statements, including from Esen’s family.

“We feel and think strongly that the murderer must be punished with the maximum sentence,” Cinar said.

Renewing a call he made last year when he travelled to Toronto for Esen’s funeral, Cinar stressed that more needs to be done to determine how McArthur went undetected for years. The former landscaper killed his first victim, 40-year-old Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, in 2010, seven years before Esen.

In between, McArthur killed Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam. After Esen, McArthur killed Andrew Kinsman, his last victim.

“We think that a full independent public inquiry must be carried out in order to get into the bottom of this neglect over many years,” Cinar said.

“Lives could have been saved, including Selim’s, if there were proper investigation in time and place.”

Former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein is conducting an independent review of how Toronto police handle missing person’s investigations. The probe was commissioned by the Toronto police board in the wake of controversy over the McArthur case and other high profile disappearances from the city’s Gay Village.

On Wednesday, Epstein wrote a letter to Toronto police board chair Andy Pringle asking that her review be broadened to allow her to examine the police investigation into McArthur himself. Currently, Epstein cannot review Toronto police handling of the serial killer — including past contacts with him — due to restrictions created to preserve McArthur’s fair-trial rights.

Pringle said the board will consider the request at a future meeting, considering McArthur’s fair-trial rights are now no longer a concern due to his guilty plea.

Toronto police spoke to McArthur twice in the years before his arrest, once during a previous investigation into the disappearances of his victims and again in 2016 after a man reported to police that McArthur had attempted to strangle him, but he was let go.

While many within Toronto’s LGBTQ community have praised the actions of the Toronto police officers whose work led to McArthur’s arrest, some feel a public inquiry could identify systemic issues that may have prevented McArthur from being caught sooner.

Mayor John Tory said this week there may be cause for a “broader inquiry” into the case — beyond Epstein’s missing persons review — and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province would consider it. A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said Wednesday that any consideration of an inquiry would happen after McArthur’s sentencing hearing.

“A full independent public inquiry should help learn the lessons and put measures in place in order for people of any sexuality, whatever their background, feel free and safe to express themselves and live in harmony,” Cinar said.

Esen’s family described him as selfless, someone who loved playing with his cousins, supported his sister after her husband’s death, and borrowed money to help his friends when they needed financial support. He had many talents and interests, Cinar said, including “nature, growing trees, textile design, managing a café among many other things.”

“We all loved our youngest brother Selim and miss him so much.”

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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