Killer denied faint-hope hearing for early parole
A judge has denied killer Robbie Soomel a chance at early parole, saying that a jury is not likely to vote unanimously in Soomel’s favour if he ordered a faint-hope hearing.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice George Macintosh agreed with Soomel’s lawyer Brent Anderson that his client has made strides toward rehabilitation over the last six years in jail.
But Macintosh also said Soomel was involved in two brutal murders in 1997 and 2000 and had poor prison behaviour for the first 12 years of his life sentence.
Soomel was convicted of the first-degree murder of friend-turned-drug trade rival Gurpreet Sohi, who was shot to death in a Delta basement suite in September 2000. And Soomel pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder for assisting with the contracted killing of Jason Herle in Abbotsford in 1997. Soomel was just 18 at the time.
At his murder trial, he was also identified as a suspect in the still-unsolved 1998 assassination of journalist Tara Singh Hayer, who had agreed to testify for the Crown in the Air India terrorism case.
The faint-hope clause allows murderers who killed before December 2011 to apply for a chance at early parole after serving 15 years of their sentence. The clause has been eliminated for those who killed after the 2011 cut-off date.
In a two-step process, a judge only orders a faint-hope hearing before a jury if he or she believes that jury would rule unanimously to reduce the parole ineligibility period.
“I do not find on the balance of probabilities that there is a substantial likelihood that a 12-member jury would find unanimously that Mr. Soomel’s parole ineligibility should be reduced,” Macintosh said Thursday. "I view Mr. Soomel’s prospect at this stage as being more of a long shot than what could be termed a reasonable prospect.”
He said if a jury was empanelled to hear Soomel’s fainthope application, he doubted it “could get past the fact that Mr. Soomel killed two times — once in the first-degree murder he orchestrated and the other in the conspiracy to gun down a man in front of his girlfriend.”
Soomel watched the proceedings Thursday via video link from William Head prison near Victoria, where he was moved in 2014 after getting classified as a minimum-security prisoner. He looked solemn when Macintosh read out his conclusion.
Crown Dan Mulligan argued that Soomel has continued to minimize his role as the leader of the Sohi murder plot and not shown any deep remorse.
He also pointed to dozens of institutional charges and convictions Soomel racked up in prison for offences like possession of a knife and various illicit substances.
Anderson said in his submissions that Soomel has qualified for escorted trips into the community to attend a Sikh temple, has taken many courses in jail, and participates in the annual Williams Head drama production. Soomel meets all the criteria for a fainthope hearing, he said.
Macintosh said “Soomel’s marked improvement in the last six years is commendable, but it is not enough in my view. The application is dismissed.”
RCMP Cpl. Carla Rivard, who worked on the Hayer murder investigation dubbed Project Expedio, was in court for Soomel’s faint-hope application.
She said afterwards that “it’s the position of the RCMP that Mr. Soomel serve his sentence to its fullest measure.”
“Out of respect for Mr. Sohi and Mr. Herle and their families, we will always be here adamantly opposing any consideration of Mr. Soomel’s early parole,” Rivard said.
Left, a Grade 8 photo of Robbie Soomel, who was convicted of the first-degree murder of friend-turneddrug trade rival Gurpreet Sohi, right.