A man who murdered a truck driver in Surrey nearly 18 years ago has lost an appeal of his conviction – for a second time.
Gary Donald Johnston was found guilty in 2011 of the second-degree murder of Vic Fraser during a home robbery gone wrong in 1998.
The court heard that Johnston had broken into Vic’s sister Jeanie Fraser’s home in the Bridgeview area. Vic Fraser interrupted the robbery, but because the two men had met before, greeted each other kindly at first. Then Johnston panicked, grabbing two knives from the kitchen and stabbing Fraser numerous times in the neck – so hard the knife handles broke – before fleeing on a bike.
Johnston wasn’t arrested until 2009, after admitting the stabbing to an undercover RCMP officer posing as an organized crime boss – known as a “Mr. Big” operation.
In 2014, Johnston appealed his conviction, mainly objecting to the admissibility of a statement from his brother that Gary had confessed to the crime. He lost the appeal and his conviction was upheld.
Just months later, however, The Supreme Court of Canada released a judgment laying out new rules governing admissibility of statements made during Mr. Big stings. Johnston’s case was sent back to the B.C. Court of Appeal for a second hearing.
During the second appeal, which was heard late last October in Vancouver, Johnston’s lawyers argued the Mr. Big operation was an abuse of process because the scenarios were violent and made it appear two people were kidnapped, beaten and killed. They also alleged the sting preyed on the poverty and social isolation Johnston experienced after being released from prison for a Saskatchewan manslaughter he pleaded guilty to in 2000.
B.C. Court of Appeal Justice David Frankel said scenarios involving violence are common in Mr. Big operations to give the impression the fake criminal organization tolerates and is prepared to use violence.
“This is done to create an atmosphere in which the person under investigation will not be reluctant to discuss his or her past involvement in similar violent acts…” wrote Frankel in a Jan. 5 decision.
He also rejected the notion police preyed on Johnston.
“While Mr. Johnston was unemployed, he was not socially isolated, destitute, or vulnerable,” said Frankel. “He had a criminal past that he freely disclosed … a past that includes taking another person’s life. He was not a person unaccustomed to violence.”
Frankel, with Justices Edward Chiasson and Daphne Smith in agreement, said Johnston’s statements to undercover officers were highly reliable as he spoke of details – like the broken knife handles and use of a bicycle – that only the killer would know.
The sentence for second-degree murder is an automatic life sentence. Johnston isn’t eligible to apply for parole before 2028.