VANCOUVER — Two-time Surrey murderer Thomas Robert Elton has posthumously lost an appeal of a 2012 second-degree murder conviction in which he claimed he had helped his chronically ill wife commit suicide.
Elton strangled and stabbed his wife to death with a bayonet during what he claimed was a suicide pact being carried out.
Elton died on Nov. 13, 2015, at age 60, in Matsqui prison after being found unconscious in his cell. His appeal was heard March 3, 2016 and the court revealed its decision on Nov. 9.
Both Elton, 58, and his wife Brenda Turcan – also known as Brenda Blondell – were murderers on parole, in unrelated cases, when he killed her in their apartment at Greenwood Gardens in Guildford on June 22, 2009.
Elton claimed he was trying to help Turcan, 59, commit suicide.
When Justice John Truscott found him guilty of second-degree murder in 2012, at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, the judge noted Turcan had been suffering from a “constellation of progressive medical illnesses” when she died.
The couple had married in 2005. Both shared the ignominious distinction of having murdered someone before they met.
Elton had been on parole for the 1975 murder of a fellow prisoner he stabbed in Matsqui prison and Turcan was also on parole for a murder she committed in Burnaby in 1987.
Elton testified at trial that he and his wife made a suicide pact to be carried out if one’s health failed.
He said he woke up to roll a cigarette that fateful morning and found her sitting on a couch. “Well, it’s time, it’s over, I’ve already gone. I’ve had enough,” Elton said she told him. “It’s time, right?”
Elton told the court that these were the code words he and his wife agreed to use when it came time to follow through on their pact. He said he took their pet dog out to do its duty and returned about 15 minutes later to find Turcan unconscious, with a bottle of Valium in her hand.
He told the court he fed eight pills to the dog, and then took 23 himself.
Not wanting her to come to, and find him and the dog dead, he grabbed a bayonet from their floor, stabbed her and strangled her.
However, a forensic pathologist found no sign of pills in Turcan’s stomach. “From the blood samples he determined that there was no effect on her body at death from the drugs found in her blood,” Truscott noted.
Elton claimed he’d honestly believed Turcan had begun the suicide process when he found her.
But the Crown argued that there was no genuine suicide pact between the couple because Elton did not attempt to die by the same means he killed Turcan, nor was there any evidence he’d taken any great amount of drugs himself.
Truscott concluded that Turcan had not been attempting to commit suicide.
“It is also my conclusion that Mr. Elton is not entitled to any defence of honest but mistaken belief that she was committing suicide and wanted or needed his help, because even if he was correct in that belief and even if his actions amounted to only aiding her it would not have rendered him innocent but rather would have rendered him guilty of aiding and abetting a suicide,” the judge reasoned.
As for Elton’s own intention to kill himself, Truscott added, “I have great doubts about that.
“This was not an offence committed out of anger or hate towards Ms. Turcan,” Truscott found. “They loved and cared for each other. In my view this was a mercy killing by Mr. Elton to put Ms. Turcan out of her ongoing suffering. Nevertheless, his actions constituted murder of Ms. Turcan.”
Truscott noted that Turcan “could not have consented to her own murder.”
He found Elton ineligible to apply for early parole under the “Faint Hope” clause because this was his second murder conviction.
Truscott reiterated the Crown’s observation that Elton has demonstrated repeated disregard of the right to life of others and that there was nothing painless, quiet or easy about Turcan’s death. Even if Elton had believed his victim was in the process of committing suicide, Truscott said, “he had no reason to speed it up by strangling and stabbing her to death.
“The right to life is inviolate in absence of a law that takes it away.”
Before passing sentence, the judge asked Elton if he had anything to say.
“No, your honour,” Elton replied.
Elton then challenged his conviction in B.C.’s Court of Appeal in Vancouver, and lost. The court rendered its decision on Nov. 9.
“Even if Mr. Elton honestly believed Ms. Turcan was attempting suicide, by strangling and stabbing her he did not assist her suicide; he killed her by his own overt acts, intending to cause her death,” Madam Justice Gail Dickson found. “The judge concluded this amounts to murder. I see no error in his conclusion.”
She found Truscott “was correct to conclude that it did not matter if Mr. Elton believed Ms. Turcan was trying to commit suicide. In other words, Mr. Elton’s intent was to cause the death of Ms. Turcan, not to aid or abet her suicide.”
Dickson noted in her reasons for judgement that a person commits homicide when “directly or indirectly, by any means, he or she causes the death of another person” and that in Canada there are three types of culpable homicide: murder, manslaughter or infanticide.
Murder, which Dickson said “has long been recognized as the worst of peace-time offences,” occurs when the killer means to cause death or causes bodily harm knowing it will likely cause death and is reckless whether death happens or not.
Aiding suicide, on the other hand, “is a form of accessory liability imposed for assisting a principal actor to self-inflict death,” Dickson said. “It is not an included offence in a charge of murder.”
Justices P.D. Lowry and Elizabeth Bennett concurred.