BATTLEFORD – Michael MacKay has an explosive temper and the morning he gave his wife a lethal dose of strychnine in a drink, he was frustrated with his life, a packed Battleford Court of King’s Bench heard.
MacKay, now 41, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the February 2020 death of 38-year-old Cindy MacKay. He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 10 years.
“Mike’s temper burns white hot,” Saskatoon defence lawyer Nicholas Stooshinoff told the court. “He simply lost his temper.”
On the fateful morning of Feb. 7, 2020, his wife was sick so he got their children dressed for school, fed them breakfast, and made their lunches. The bus wasn’t running so he drove two of the girls to school. The youngest girl remained at home with her mother.
“We don’t know the trigger, he snapped,” said Stooshinoff. “He simply exploded.”
Michael MacKay wasn’t living the life that he wanted for himself and he felt suppressed, court heard. In early 2019, he spoke with an old female friend from university and she told investigators that “he sounded the most depressed she had ever heard him.”
Michael MacKay was born in Regina but his family later moved to Saskatoon and he attended high school at Walter Murray Collegiate. He wasn’t rebellious, didn’t do drugs, and only drank after he finished high school.
“There were no girlfriends or sports, and he had limited friends in school,” said Stooshinoff.
He went on to obtain his archaeology degree from the University of Saskatchewan.
“He was an isolated individual and found some refuge in church,” said Stooshinoff.
And, in May 2004, that’s where he met his future wife Cindy Mack.
She went to Africa to do missionary work so the couple rekindled their relationship in 2005 after she returned.
“He said he was so surprised Cindy would love him,” said Stooshinoff, adding that Michael MacKay struggles with acceptance and suffers from anxiety and depression since about the age of five.
The couple married in July 2005 on the Mack family farm in Meota.
Cindy MacKay had obtained an agriculture degree at the University of Saskatchewan before they married. She also got her nursing degree and worked as a nurse at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
In 2015 the couple moved to North Battleford to be closer to Cindy’s family. She worked as a registered nurse at the Battlefords Union Hospital (BUH) and he worked as a surveyor in North Battleford. They considered doing missionary work together but their plans changed after their first child was born.
Cindy MacKay’s parents wanted to retire from farming in Meota so they left the farm and the couple moved in. Michael MacKay did the farm work.
After the couple and their children moved to her family’s farm near Meota, about 43 kilometres northwest of North Battleford, Cindy continued to work at BUH until one of their daughters had an unfortunate accident. Cindy then became a full-time caregiver and took care of their children. Cindy had temporary health issues and “Michael seemed to be doing everything around the farm,” Stooshinoff told the court.
Michael MacKay had problems with the church, specifically, their “hypocritical intolerance,” so he left, court heard. Cindy MacKay remained in the church.
He continued to struggle with emotional and mental health issues and had suicidal ideation. His most recent suicide attempt was in September 2023, court heard.
At the time of his wife’s murder he was having a sexual relationship with a woman he met online but didn’t have any plans to leave his wife, said Stooshinoff.
During the RCMP investigation into Cindy MacKay’s death, they found a letter on his computer that he had written to a woman but didn’t send. In the letter he said he was dissatisfied with his life with his wife and how happy he was that he met this woman.
Warning: Details may be disturbing to some
The 911 call
On Feb. 7, 2020, Cindy MacKay drank the drink her husband had mixed for her. She commented that it tasted bitter, court heard.
Within five to 20 minutes she started having muscle contractions and couldn’t move but she was fully alert, Senior Crown Prosecutor Oryn Holm told the court. She became dizzy, vomited, had chest pains and a decreased ability to breathe.
“It’s a very painful way to die,” said Holm.
Michael MacKay called 911 and Cindy MacKay could be heard screaming in pain, court heard. She was barely able to breathe and went into cardiac arrest.
During the 911 call, Michael MacKay was hysterical, sobbing and weeping uncontrollably, court heard.
“He realized what he had done and he was sobbing for himself, for Cindy, for their children, and for their families,” said Stooshinoff.
At the Battlefords Union Hospital her blood pressure was stabilized and she was flown by STARS air ambulance to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
On Feb. 10, 2020, RUH contacted police saying Cindy MacKay’s illness was suspicious.
Two days later, Cindy MacKay was taken off life support and she died from multiple organ failure. The toxicology reports all revealed evidence of strychnine.
On Feb. 20, 2020, the RCMP got a search warrant for Michael and Cindy MacKay’s home.
Michael MacKay gave two statements to RCMP. One on Feb. 11, 2020, and another on March 18, 2021. Both times he denied that he gave his wife strychnine and suggested that she had committed suicide.
Complex web of lies
Eight victim impact statements were read to the court that revealed a complex web of lies and betrayal by Michael MacKay against his dead wife’s parents and siblings.
Court heard that he limited the Mack family’s access to his and Cindy’s three children, told people that Cindy had committed suicide, and accused the Mack family of not supporting him emotionally.
Cindy’s brother Tyler Mack, said that when he first learned of his sister’s death, he felt overwhelming sadness, and then when he found out about Michael MacKay’s extra marital affairs and how Cindy died, he said he was overcome with anger.
“You spread lies about Cindy, that she had committed suicide and that we were not supportive,” said Tyler Mack. “This damaged our reputation and hurt us."
“She was a dedicated mother,” he added. “She made costumes for figure skating. She was the only real parent those kids had. You lied to them and told them Cindy took her own life. She died in the most cruel and torturous way imaginable.”
Cindy's sister, Krista Mack said she can’t imagine Cindy’s last moments on earth.
“I only had one sister and now I don’t have her. These three children once full of innocence now carry grief on their shoulders. What will trust look like for them?”
VIDEO: Krista Mack talks about her sister Cindy MacKay
Vanessa Mack, Cindy’s sister-in-law, said the mental toll on the three girls after being told by Michael MacKay that their mother had committed suicide has been enormous, adding, “and the last four years they were living with the person who murdered their mother.”
She said the lies that Michael MacKay had spread around the community affected the entire Mack family and Cindy’s parents stopped going to events.
Cindy MacKay’s mother said since her daughter’s death she can’t go to the family farm where she raised her children and she asked why didn’t he just leave?
“The doctors told us how excruciatingly painful strychnine poisoning is and I asked myself, ‘What were her last words? Why was she murdered? What could I have done to protect my daughter from him?’
“We trusted Mike and welcomed him into our family,” she added. “When they moved to our farm it was great to have them so close. We couldn’t have imagined that in less than four years later our life would be shattered.”
Cindy’s father said that Michael MacKay getting out on bail weeks after his arrest in March 2021, as well as him pleading guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder, has left him with a sick feeling.
“Did Mike kill her to get the farm and move on with someone else?” he asked.
The Mack family expressed outrage that he was out on bail and had custody of the couple’s three children for the last three years while he waited for his trial.
“That was one of the worst things,” Tyler Mack told reporters outside the courthouse. “We really, really feared something would happen to them. To be trusted with the care of his children after that is ridiculous.”
During those three years Michael MacKay had control over the access the Mack family would have to the three girls and it was always on his terms.
“He manipulated a lot of their words,” Krista Mack said outside of the courthouse. “They would talk to me and I could tell it wasn’t their words coming out of their mouth.”
The Mack family say they will continue to fight for access to Cindy MacKay’s children.
“They are her kids and we have to still keep fighting to see them,” said Tyler Mack.
VIDEO: The Mack family express their concern Michael MacKay had the children while he waited for trial
Truth finally known
Senior Crown Prosecutor Oryn Holm told the court that Cindy MacKay’s murder was a senseless, callous act.
“Many were told that she had committed suicide and that was not correct.”
Outside of the courthouse, Tyler Mack told reporters that they were wearing red to honour Cindy because that was her favourite colour.
“Today we finally got some justice,” he said. “Terrible things he did to her are finally being told. He told many lies to people about what happened to Cindy so it’s a great relief to all of us that the record has finally been set straight.”
Krista Mack said it “was great to see him say it for himself that he is guilty and have the words come out of his mouth finally.”
VIDEO: Watch Tyler Mack give a statement to the media on behalf of his family.
The Mack family are relieved that Michael MacKay pleaded guilty and they avoided a painful trial but they don't agree with him being eligible for parole in 10 years.
“Ten years is not even close enough time to repay what he has taken from us,” said Tyler Mack. “He should be in prison the rest of his life.”
He said his sister Cindy “was a truly great person and a wonderful mother to her three children," and described her as kind and compassionate.
“She loved animals and adopted as many as she could. She was well-liked in the community. She volunteered with the skating club that her girls were involved with. I could go on all day about all the good she had to offer. The world was a better place with her in it.”
Cindy MacKay loved all children and as a registered nurse worked with newborns, said her sister Krista Mack.
“She was an amazing nurse. She loved animals. She was always trying to help people. She loved playing the piano and she would play the piano for me and I would always dance beside her. She was just a spiritual, creative person. She was amazing and a very selfless person.”
Joint sentencing submission
Michael MacKay was arrested in March 2021 in Warman and charged with first-degree murder. He was released on bail in April 2021.
A jury trial was scheduled to start Oct. 16 but didn't proceed and was rescheduled for May 2024.
The Crown and defence, however, entered a joint sentencing submission to the court Nov. 20 that saw Michael MacKay plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
Justice Mona Dovell accepted the joint sentencing submission.
“The girls lost their mother and today they lost their father,” she said. “That is a tragedy and the court can’t fix that.”
Stooshinoff told the court that Michael MacKay is consumed by guilt and remorse and prays for forgiveness.
“Nothing can undo the suffering I have caused for everyone,” Michael MacKay told the court.
Holm said that the Crown’s case was circumstantial with no witnesses, no confession, and no direct evidence. He added, however, that a series of circumstantial evidence together created a picture of what happened.
“A guilty plea proves that Cindy did not kill herself," said Holm. "He killed her. No one has to wonder. We now know Mr. MacKay was responsible.”
VIDEO: Mack family reacts to Michael MacKay admitting to killing Cindy MacKay.
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