10 years ago, a man confessed to murder. Why is the case unsolved?

https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/bc-killing-peter-schnellhardt

III.

In a recent interview with CBC, Roe said she has vivid memories of the day Schnellhardt turned up dead. She spoke with Doe that day, and said she asked if he’d heard anything about the crime scene in Williams Lake.

“He said that nobody would ever find out what happened,” Roe said.

Another witness, who testified during the trial, also remembered speaking with Doe on the day of the murder. Doe told him he’d done something “you wouldn’t believe,” according to the B.C. Supreme Court reasons for judgment in Doe’s trial.

“It kind of took my breath away.”

By December 2006, there had been no arrests in the case. Bunn and her family announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Schnellhardt’s killer.

There was no movement on the case until 2009, when Doe and Roe were chatting over Facebook. He told her, unprompted, that he was responsible for Schnellhardt’s death, according to the judgment.

“It kind of took my breath away, but then on the same note, it almost didn’t surprise me,” Roe said. She went to the RCMP with what she’d learned, and they got authorization for a wiretap.

On May 30, 2009, Roe called Doe from a hotel room. While an undercover officer listened in, the two made small talk and chatted about mutual friends. When the conversation turned to Schnellhardt, the two switched to MSN Messenger, where Doe reiterated that he was responsible.

“I beat the fuck out of Peter and Guy cut his neck,” Doe told her, according to a transcript of their conversation. His description of how they’d shot, beaten and slashed Schnellhardt lined up with the forensic evidence.

Doe said they’d done it because Schnellhardt was accused of raping a teenager they knew — though RCMP later spoke to the girl in question, and she said there was no rape, according to the judgment.

In the online chat with Roe, Doe said he wasn’t paid for the hit, but “I got to smoke [crack] 4 free.” He was arrested and charged with murder that October.

Before his trial began, Doe asked for a deal. He said he would plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for testifying against the other man, Guy, and even produced a video statement for police, according to a letter from B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch.

But Doe’s statement was not supported by any independent evidence, as then-assistant deputy attorney general Robert Gillen explained to Bunn in a letter written after the trial. The prosecutors “determined his testimony was not likely to result in a conviction,” Gillen wrote.

John Doe was tried for second-degree murder in Kelowna. (Kyla Lee)

John Doe was tried for second-degree murder in Kelowna. (Kyla Lee)

John Doe was tried for second-degree murder in Kelowna. (Kyla Lee)
John Doe was tried for second-degree murder in Kelowna. (Kyla Lee)

Doe went to trial in October 2011. His video statement was not entered into evidence — prosecutors believed it would likely be ruled inadmissible, because the statement was obtained on the understanding Doe would be offered a plea deal, according to Gillen’s letter.

The case was heard before a judge at B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna.

The trial lasted five days. Justice Paul Williamson considered the arguments for less than 24 hours, delivering his reasons for judgment the day after both sides had wrapped up their submissions.

“I am led inexorably to the conclusion that the Crown has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I therefore have no choice but to find Mr. [Doe] not guilty,” Williamson said.

The judge explained that Doe had a “habit of puffing himself up in conversation with women,” and that a brain injury had left him with cognitive difficulties, poor judgment and an impaired memory.

Though Doe’s confession included an accurate description of how Schnellhardt was killed, he misstated how many times Schnellhardt had been shot in the head. Although investigators had tried to hold back the exact cause of death from the public, witnesses testified there had been rumours in Williams Lake that Schnellhardt’s throat had been slit and that he’d been shot.

The judge said it was possible Doe based his confession on those rumours.

Petra Bunn says she's spent a small fortune trying to get answers in her brother's death. (Ingrid Schnellhardt)

Petra Bunn says she’s spent a small fortune trying to get answers in her brother’s death. (Ingrid Schnellhardt)

Petra Bunn says she's spent a small fortune trying to get answers in her brother's death. (Ingrid Schnellhardt)
Petra Bunn says she’s spent a small fortune trying to get answers in her brother’s death. (Ingrid Schnellhardt)

Bunn and her husband had travelled from their home in Alberta to attend the trial. The outcome was hard to accept.

“Clearly, I was frustrated,” Bunn said. “After the trial, I asked the Crown to appeal, and he refused to do it.”

In his 2011 letter to Bunn, then-assistant deputy attorney general Gillen said the judge’s reasons for acquittal did not amount to “an error of law,” and therefore there were no grounds for an appeal.

“I don’t believe that is something he would have said to me if he hadn’t done it.”

Roe, who testified at trial, was also in disbelief at the judgment. She said when she agreed to work with police, she was told a conviction was virtually assured. The acquittal destroyed her faith in the system.

“[It was] kind of like a punch in the gut. I know people say that: ‘Like a punch in the gut.’ But it actually is like that. You get that sinking, pain feeling,” she said.

Looking back, Roe has trouble believing Doe would lie to her about something as serious as murder.

“He did like to impress people. However, I don’t believe that is something he would have said to me if he hadn’t done it,” she said.