ATHABASCA — There is still a sentencing to get through but the four people accused of murdering Calling Lake woman Nature Duperron in April 2019 are all guilty with a sentence of 25 years with no chance of parole for 15 years handed down one of the men who previously pleaded guilty, while the three others will learn their sentences in the weeks to come.
In his judgment in Court of King’s Bench in Edmonton Oct. 21, Justice Robert Graesser delivered his decision in a 70-page document on the fates of Buddy Underwood and Tyra Muskego who faced the 19-day trial.
Underwood was found guilty of robbery, forcible confinement and second-degree murder, while Muskego was found guilty of robbery, forcible confinement and manslaughter. Their sentences will be heard early next year following the completion of a Gladue Report for Muskego.
Justice Graesser noted there was some proven contradictory evidence given by the principal witness Bret Desjarlais about a set of handcuffs allegedly used to restrain Duperron but added it was nothing which would change the outcome.
The other two suspects, Grayson Eashappie and Kala Bajusz, pleaded guilty Sept. 12 in Court of King's Bench to Justice John Little who accepted a plea agreement which saw each plead guilty to second degree murder, reduced from first degree murder, and the charges of kidnapping and theft were withdrawn.
Eashappie was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years and Bajusz will be sentenced Dec. 14 following the completion of a Gladue Report.
“It is a detail although essentially (it) has no bearing on any of the issues in this case such as planning, intent and deliberation or acts causing or contributing to Ms. Duperron’s death,” said Justice Graesser.
A second witness, Jessica Desjarlais, a cousin to Underwood, said when the group arrived in Hinton, after leaving Duperron in the woods to die, a woman introduced herself as Duperron but in the balance of probability the justice did not find her testimony credible and noted if someone did introduce themselves as Duperron, they were lying.
“Despite his role in Ms. Duperron’s death I have no hesitation in accepting Mr. Desjarlais’s evidence,” he said. “I certainly prefer Mr. Desjarlais’ testimony about what happened to Ms. Duperron over Ms. Desjarlais saying she saw her alive and well when the group visited Hinton after Mr. Desjarlais testified they had left Ms. Duperron alone to die outside.”
During the trial it was established Underwood also drove Desjarlais’ truck while they took Duperron to where she would die in the forest near Hinton. He also directed Desjarlais where to turn off the highway into the secluded area of forest where she was later found.
Justice Graesser did not find Underwood and Muskego guilty of first-degree murder, citing there was no evidence to suggest the crime was planned.
“It appears to be a situation of a group of drug-intoxicated people driving around with no destination in mind,” he said.
It was only after Underwood directed Desjarlais to drive out of Edmonton that “aimlessness turned to purpose.”
When he got to the decision about Muskego, Justice Graesser wondered if she was a willing participant or felt threatened by Underwood as Desjarlais had and did not know how to extricate herself from the deadly situation.
He concluded with everything that was said and done from the time it was first suggested to rob Duperron at some point Muskego must have realized what was going to happen and therefore found her guilty of manslaughter.
Underwood remains in custody and Muskego is under 24-hour house arrest and will remain as such until her sentence is passed, which the Crown and Justice Graesser expect to occur in February after a Gladue report on Muskego is completed.
Underwood’s defence lawyer asked if it was necessary for both to be sentenced at the same time but Justice Graesser said he was not prepared to force family and friends to make victim impact statements twice.
Lawyers on both sides will meet with Justice Graesser Dec. 2 to determine how long the Gladue Report will take and when to set a sentencing date in the new year.
He then thanked both sides for their professional manner and said, “the arguments were thoughtful, fulsome, thorough, and well-presented.”