‘Your free life is done’: Victim’s family tells cold-case killer at Toronto sentencing

Click to play video: 'A cold case killer who sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed two women, four months apart in 1983, is about to be sentenced'
A cold case killer who sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed two women, four months apart in 1983, is about to be sentenced
WATCH: As Catherine McDonald reports, the families of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice spoke about the anguish of not knowing who killed their loved ones for 40 years – Mar 4, 2024

In a packed Toronto courtroom, family and friends of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour addressed convicted killer Joseph George Sutherland Monday, sharing how the unsolved murders of the two women who lived alone, four months and roughly four kilometres apart in 1983, left them scared, empty and grief-stricken for nearly 40 years.

“You murdered and assaulted two wonderful women and went on to live your life. Your free life is done,” said Ben Tice, Susan Tice’s oldest son, remembering his mother as a light force whose tragic death has left him feeling exhausted, depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sutherland sat quietly in the prisoner’s box with his head down, gazing at the floor. For nearly four decades, Toronto police knew Tice and Gilmour were attacked and sexually assaulted by someone who had broken into their respective homes prior to their killing, but did not know who was responsible.

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In 2000, DNA retrieved from both women confirmed the same offender was responsible for both murders but there were no matches in the National DNA Data Bank. It wasn’t until 2021, after police submitted a sample of the offender’s DNA to a U.S. company for analysis using a new technology called investigative genetic genealogy, that investigators were finally able to identify the Sutherland family as persons of interest.

Then, through a process of elimination, detectives were able to narrow down Joseph as the person with that DNA. Sutherland was served with a DNA warrant in November 2022, and after giving a blood sample, confessed to a friend who was a retired OPP officer that he had committed the two murders. His friend contacted police and made arrangements for Sutherland’s arrest.

The 62-year-old pleaded guilty last October to two counts of second-degree murder.

Tice, a 45-year-old social worker and mother of four, was found stabbed to death in her Grace Street home on Aug. 17, 1983. According to an agreed statement of facts read out in court when Sutherland pleaded guilty, she had been attacked in her bedroom and raped. She also had defensive wounds on her hands and head and had been stabbed 13 times.

Gilmour, 22, was found dead in the bedroom of the apartment she was renting on Hazelton Avenue on Dec. 20, 1983. She had also been attacked and raped. Her mouth and hands bound, Sutherland stabbed her two times before making his getaway.

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Neither woman knew one another, and neither woman knew Sutherland.

At the time of his arrest, investigators with the Toronto police cold case unit said Sutherland had been living in Toronto in 1983 and had never been charged with or convicted of any other crime.

Kaelin McCowan, Gilmour’s younger brother, recalled the horror of what it was like to learn his sister had been murdered in 1983 and then the years of uncertainty of not knowing who did it.

“With each new development came hope and finally disappointment and a re-hashment of our pain,” McCowan said, referring to it as a 40-year marathon from the time of his sister’s murder until the day of Sutherland’s arrest.

Click to play video: 'Toronto police charge man in connection with 2 cold case homicides from 1983'
Toronto police charge man in connection with 2 cold case homicides from 1983

Kirsty Spence, Susan Tice’s niece, recalled how her father went looking for Tice after she failed to show up at her parents’ home in Brampton for a scheduled dinner in 1983.

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“I can only imagine how harrowing it was to discover his sister-in-law as he did. The back door ajar, calling her name, no response. The horror to discover her lifeless body and eventually learned she had been murdered.”

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Gilmour’s older brother Sean McCowan’s voice trembled as he turned and addressed Sutherland.

“How do you put into words something you’ve been thinking about for 40 years?” he said.

Sean McCowan said he will never find forgiveness given that Sutherland didn’t come forward on his own, and carried on with his life, something his sister never had a chance to do.

“The only reason we’re here is because of Det. Sgt. Steve Smith and his team, who never gave up looking for you,” Sean said, choking back tears.

Justice Maureen Forestell will consider the victim impact statements in deciding on an appropriate period of parole ineligibility. Second-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence but the judge must decide on an appropriate period between 10 and 25 years.

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Crown Attorney Michael Cantlon told the court that Sutherland violently and egregiously attacked, sexually assaulted, stabbed and murdered two women in the city. He called them horrific killings that shocked the community at the time.

“Joseph George Sutherland was a stranger to both Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour. The decisions he made four decades ago have left permanent, intergenerational emotional scars on the families directly impacted by these disturbing and vicious acts,” Cantlon explained.

He suggested a range between 20 and 22 years of parole ineligibility would be appropriate.

“One brother was murdered in the late 1990s in Moosonee. He had opportunities throughout his life to deal with the impact that homicide had on his family. It happened to him but it was insufficient to motivate him to come forward,” said Cantlon, who cited a pre-sentence report in which Sutherland expressed that he contemplated bringing these crimes to the attention of the authorities.

“Joseph said that he considered turning himself in at different points of his life especially when he suffered depression. He decided not to and tried to forget what he had done. He tried to live the life of a ‘good human’, quit drinking and got into good education to better himself.”

Cantlon said while Sutherland is remorseful and hoping for forgiveness, he is unable to explain the motivations for his violent crime. “He protected himself by blocking it out. He does not remember committing the murders,” Cantlon added.

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Cantlon told Forestell these two homicides were at the highest brutality level, adding both happened in a senseless and brutal fashion in the women’s homes where they ought to have been safe.

Defence lawyer Anthony De Marco disagreed with the Crown and suggested a parole ineligibility period of 18 years would be more appropriate. De Marco told Forestell that Sutherland, who was 21 at the time of the murders, did horrendous, monstrous things at the time but since then he’s bettered himself.

“Prior to the murders, he had no criminal record and he’s had no criminal involvement since,” he said.

He explained that Sutherland, who is Indigenous, was a survivor of the St. Dan’s residential school, which he called “an evil place” created by the Catholic church.

“It cannot be overstated that this was a genocide thanks to the government and it leaves its mark generationally,” he said.

De Marco pointed out that his client confessed shortly after his arrest and pleaded guilty. “We have evidence of good character in the 40 years that Mr. Sutherland bettered himself. We are not the type of society that wants to throw away the key.”

Responding to the victim impact statement given by Tice’s daughter Christian, who told the court that her mother’s murder left her with anxiety, having to sleep with a baseball bat next to her bed, and the thought that there was a boogeyman out there, a monster unknown, De Marco explained his client is no monster.

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“There is no boogeyman out there. He is a human being who has to be dealt with proportionally.”

De Marco told the court Sutherland got married, had a son and went to school for information technology. He went to work for the Bank of Montreal in 1995 and was laid off, before going back to the bank where he was employed until his arrest in 2022.

Sutherland also stood up and addressed the victims’ families, expressing his remorse for taking their loved ones away. “Over the years, I’ve experienced grief, depression and sleepless nights. I’m still trying to understand what went wrong.”

He said in an effort to ask for forgiveness, he turned to his native spirituality and underwent a so-called spirit quest, suggesting it happened before his arrest.

“Although I didn’t know their names when I entered the spirit world, they knew me. I asked forgiveness from Susan Tice and I found her spirit warm and kind. She forgave me. In the next spirit quest, I asked forgiveness from Erin Gilmour. I found her spirit young and angry. She did not forgive me. I was sad but I understood,” Sutherland said in a soft voice.

Justice Forestell will deliver her sentence on March 22.

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