Family looks for answers in prison cell murder

BC coroner has called for an inquest into the death of Jeremy Phillips and his family has launched a legal action.

Canada Corrections officials aren’t saying why a serial killer held in maximum security was transferred last year to a medium-security facility where he murdered the inmate he was double-bunked with.

However, the BC coroner has called for an inquest into the Nov. 22, 2010 death of Jeremy Phillips, and his family has launched a legal action against Corrections Canada.

Phillips’ uncle Wayne Fraser told The Progress he hopes the inquest sheds some light on his nephew’s death, and the decision by Canada Corrections to place him in a cell with a serial killer.

“This is what we want answered,” he said. “How did a six-time serial killer end up in the same cell as my nephew?”

Michael Wayne McGray, who pleaded guilty last week to the first-degree murder of Phillips, told police that his cellmate wanted to stage a hostage-taking to force prison officials to send Phillips to the prison infirmary and to send McGray back to Kent prison.

But McGray said Phillips had angered him, so instead of the hostage-taking he tied up his cellmate and strangled him to death with bedsheets.

But Fraser said that story makes no sense because his nephew was nearing his release date, and he wanted to get out of prison to help his recently-widowed mother.

“He wanted to turn his life around and be a street counsellor.” Fraser said.

Family lawyer Myer Rabin said a lawsuit alleging the government had failed in its obligation to provide a safe environment for prisoners was launched in March.

He said the family questions both the transfer of McGray from Kent prison to Mountain Institution, and the decision to double-bunk him with Phillips, since the medium-security facility was reportedly not overcrowded at the time.

McGray had also told officials another story — that he was paid $20,000 to kill Phillips — and Rabin said there is a “rumour but no proof” that someone back east that Phillips had “ratted on” had found out he was at Mountain Institution in British Columbia.

The family has not yet decided whether they will accept an out of court settlement, and no decision is expected until sometime next year, Rabin said.

No date or location has been set for the B.C. inquest.

Although inquests into prison deaths are no longer mandatory in B.C., Chief Coroner Barbara McLintock said in a news release that the Phillips case raises questions about the safety of prison inmates that can “best be explored through the inquest process.”

An inquest jury cannot make findings of legal responsibility, but may make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is also concerned about the safety of its members when maximum-security inmates are transferred to medium-security facilities.

“We find it troubling this guy was sent to Mountain,” Gord Robertson, UCCO Pacific Region president said, but he could not get into details at this time.

A Canada Corrections spokesman said questions about McGray’s transfer should go to the freedom of information officer.

However, an FOI request by The Progress in March asking for any documents related to the transfer of McGray was denied in its entirety.

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