‘I just can’t imagine how scared he was …’
Guilty plea in 13-year-old homicide case leaves Page family with mixed emotions
TOOK YEARS and an elaborate undercover police operation to get to this bittersweet moment for the family of homicide victim Jay Page. Richard Bennett, one of four men who burst into Jay’s apartment at gunpoint hoping to find a stash of marijuana, pleaded guilty to manslaughter Thursday in a short and simple court appearance. His arrest for first-degree murder in December 2013 came after he admitted his part in the deadly home invasion to an undercover cop. Bennett, 41, answered “Uh, guilty,” when asked how he would plead to the reduced charge of manslaughter.
An agreed statement of facts was read in court. But with no trial, the full story of Jay’s murder may never be told. That is hard to accept, his parents, Roger and Marlene Page, say.
“We’re worn out,” Marlene says, weeping. “So we are grateful that this is over for now. But we are disappointed that all the details won’t be heard.”
Bennett and Jay, 29, worked together at Gentek, a factory in Burlington. Bennett had been to Jay’s apartment on Grosvenor Avenue South in Hamilton a couple of times, court heard. Jay lived there with his girlfriend, Crystal Burns.
In July 2004, Jay mentioned he would soon be buying weed “for his own use.” Bennett said he could score better weed for Jay at a lower price.
Bennett then told his drug dealer friend, Shaka Reid (who has since died), about Jay. Bennett and Reid had ripped off drug users before and a plan was hatched to do this to Jay.
Bennett would pretend to visit Jay and the others would force their way in behind him.
“This would allow Bennett to appear to be uninvolved,” according to the agreed facts, “which was important to Bennett since he worked with Mr. Page and would expect to see him at work again after the robbery.”
It was after 10:30 p.m. on July 28, 2004 that Bennett, Reid and two other men were driven by Aurick Vernal, to Jay’s apartment. When Jay opened his door to Bennett, the other men pushed inside. At least two men had handguns. All four were wearing gloves. “I just can’t imagine how scared he was when they charged in the door with guns,” Marlene says.
Reid and his two pals held Jay and Bennett at gunpoint, with Bennett feigning innocence. Jay — who was six feet and seven inches tall — was forced to the kitchen floor, his hands and feet bound by zip ties. He managed to break his hands free, but his captors used shoelaces to tie him up again.
In the courtroom, listening to these details, was Jay’s son, Parker, a tall teen in size 15 Converse running shoes. He was seven when his dad was killed.
Bennett searched the apartment, but found no pot. Meanwhile, Burns called home. Bennett answered and said Jay was in the shower. Burns thought the man’s voice sounded like one of Jay’s coworkers named Richard.
Eventually, Jay was strangled with a cord, hit in the head with a gun and “stabbed many times with a knife by Shaka Reid, including a large stab wound to the neck,” court heard.
“Bennett had not planned or intended for Page to be injured during the robbery,” says the agreed statement.
Before leaving the apartment 90 minutes after they arrived, the men took Jay’s wallet. Reid would try to use Jay’s bank card at two ATMs before heading to the home of Bennett’s girlfriend, Kizzy Baptiste.
Jay’s girlfriend found his body when she came home after working a night shift.
A few days later, Jay’s jacket and wallet were found in a flower box behind Hamilton City Hall. DNA inside the jacket matched Bennett’s.
Four sets of homicide detectives have worked on Jay’s file over the years. Eventually, they launched Project Chapter, an undercover operation targeting Bennett.
Details of the operation are reduced to just a few paragraphs in the agreed statement of facts. Bennett was introduced to two undercover cops. To one, he admitted his involvement in the death of Jay. There is an audio recording of that, but it was not played in court Thursday.
The other undercover cop played the part of a businessman involved in the drug trade. Bennett sold him two ounces of cocaine for $3,000.
On Thursday, Bennett also pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine. Sentencing for both convictions will take place Sept. 6.
No other arrests have been made in Jay’s homicide.
Marlene and Roger say, through tears, that they have met many good and kind people who have worked hard on Jay’s case. They specifically want to thank Det. Angela Abrams and victim services co-ordinator Susan Double.
“Some days are still hard,” says Roger, wiping away tears.
Jay Page was killed in 2004 during an attempt to steal marijuana believed to be in his apartment.
Roger and Marlene Page, parents of murder victim Jay Page, still want to know just what happened to their son.