In­fa­mous crime re­mem­bered

Sunday marks 25th an­niver­sary of McDon­ald’s mur­ders

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING

Sunday marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the most in­fa­mous crime in Cape Bre­ton’s history and an event that’s been de­scribed as rob­bing the is­land of its in­no­cence.

On May 7, 1992, a botched rob­bery at the Syd­ney River McDon­ald’s restau­rant re­sulted in the mur­ders of work­ers James Fa­gan, 27, Donna War­ren, 22, and Neil Bur­roughs Jr., 29, while Ar­leen MacNeil was shot and left per­ma­nently dis­abled by a brain in­jury.

The bru­tal­ity of the crime shook the com­mu­nity and dis­cus­sion of it of­ten en­flames pas­sions to this day, de­spite the pas­sage of time.

“I don’t think that any­body could re­ally be­lieve that it was hap­pen­ing, I re­mem­ber the morn­ing that it oc­curred I woke up and heard that there was a triple mur­der at McDon­ald’s in Syd­ney and my first thought was, ‘well, thank God we’re in Cape Bre­ton and not liv­ing in a big city like Syd­ney, Aus­tralia’ and it turned out it was here,” Ken Ha­ley said in an in­ter­view


“I made a comment to my wife the other night, ‘it’s 25 years, it’s hard to be­lieve.’”

Now a jus­tice in the Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court fam­ily divi­sion, Ha­ley was part of the team of Crown at­tor­neys who worked on the tri­als of Derek Wood, Dar­ren Muise and Free­man MacNeil. He noted that his work on the prose­cu­tions — from the pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings to the tri­als and ap­peals — al­most ex­clu­sively took up about three years of his pro­fes­sional life, which in­cluded work­ing with the fam­i­lies of the four vic­tims.

“We were rep­re­sent­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est and … we had to be re­spon­si­ble to (the vic­tims), but we also had to be re­spon­si­ble to the com­mu­nity and to the pub­lic in­ter­est at large and we also had an obli­ga­tion to be fair to the ac­cused,” Ha­ley said. “At that time there was a lot of anger in the com­mu­nity about the three ac­cused but we had to treat them as any other ac­cused and treat them with fair­ness ac­cord­ing to the ju­di­cial sys­tem rules and the crim­i­nal pro­ce­dure rules.”

Those obli­ga­tions did on oc­ca­sion re­sult in mi­nor con­flicts with the fam­i­lies, who weren’t fa­mil­iar with the com­plex­i­ties of the ju­di­cial sys­tem and the role of the Crown, he said. The fam­i­lies were, how­ever, fully sup­port­ive of the

Crown team through­out the process, Ha­ley added.

“Un­for­tu­nately, what we did for the fam­i­lies did not bring back their loved ones, that was the worst of it,” he said. “No mat­ter what we did, we couldn’t undo the dam­age done by Derek Wood, Dar­ren Muise and Free­man MacNeil.

“My thoughts and prayers are still with the fam­i­lies … There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them and the con­se­quences of what hap­pened that evening. Here it is 25 years later and it still hurts.”

As dif­fi­cult as the pe­riod was, Ha­ley said it was prob­a­bly the most stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing his ca­reer as a lawyer and noted it did re­sult in three con­vic­tions.

Other mem­bers of the Crown team have also since been named to the bench, in­clud­ing pro­vin­cial court judges Brian Wil­lis­ton and Marc Chisholm, who re­cently re­tired.

The McDon­ald’s mur­ders oc­curred dur­ing what’s been de­scribed as the blood­i­est year on record in Cape Bre­ton, when there were eight deaths stem­ming from vi­o­lent crimes, in­clud­ing the grisly stab­bing death in Syd­ney of Big Ben’s con­ve­nience store clerk Marie Lor­raine Dupe, in the early morn­ing hours of March 22. That crime re­mained un­solved for the next decade.

“At the time, we didn’t know what we had go­ing on,” Ha­ley said. “As it turns out they were not re­lated, but the com­mu­nity was just lost by the crim­i­nal­ity in the com­mu­nity. We had well­known crim­i­nals call­ing the po­lice at that time dis­avow­ing any knowl­edge or in­volve­ment in the McDon­ald’s case be­cause it was so hor­rific and so over-thetop in terms of what we were used to deal­ing with.”

Now 43, Muise was 18 when he ad­mit­ted to killing Bur­roughs, a mar­ried fa­ther and main­te­nance worker. He

pleaded guilty to sec­ond-de­gree mur­der and was sen­tenced to life in prison with no pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role for 20 years. Muise was granted full pa­role in Novem­ber 2012. He is now liv­ing in lower main­land Bri­tish Columbia with his girl­friend, liv­ing a “sta­ble and fi­nan­cially se­cure” life, ac­cord­ing to his most re­cent pa­role board de­ci­sion.

Wood and MacNeil were able to be­gin ap­ply­ing for un­escorted tem­po­rary ab­sences and day pa­role be­gin­ning in 2014 and are el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for pa­role this year. In 2015, Wood lost his ap­peal of the de­ci­sion to deny him day pa­role.

Ear­lier this year, Cathy Bur­roughs told the Cape Bre­ton Post that the pain of los­ing her brother has never gone away.

“It’s get­ting harder now be­cause you know they’re out there,” she said.

She said it irks her that Muise is al­lowed to be friends with an­other re­leased of­fender un­der the amended terms of his re­lease, and this ap­pears to be an ex­am­ple of him re­ceiv­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. And that after all this time, she said Muise still hasn’t apol­o­gized for his ac­tions.

“He has never, never said that he was sorry or that he has any em­pa­thy for the vic­tims,” Bur­roughs said, adding the fam­i­lies also re­ceived life sen­tences when the crimes hap­pened.

“Those three in­di­vid­u­als have to know that there will be a Bur­roughs in their lives for the rest of their lives so I got a life sen­tence too.”


This file photo shows the Syd­ney River McDon­ald’s restau­rant the day after three work­ers were killed and an­other se­ri­ously in­jured in a botched rob­bery that has been de­scribed as an event that robbed the is­land of its in­no­cence.






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