The man who killed a 28-year-old woman last year, burned her body, and dumped her on a forest service road in Mission pleaded guilty to manslaughter in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Friday.
Ryan Jack Armstrong had a brief court appearance at which the 29-year-old said only two words, “guilty” to one count of manslaughter and “guilty” to improperly or indecently offering an indignity to human remains.
Armstrong killed and disposed of the body of Victoria Norma Heppner on March 29, 2016.
The heavily tattooed Armstrong, hair shorn on sides and back, dressed in pre-trial centre issued orange clothing, elicited no emotion as the clerk read the charges against him and he entered his pleas.
The manslaughter charge is a step down from the original charge of second-degree murder he faced after his original arrest on March 31, 2016. That was two days after the body of Heppner was found by a passerby on Florence Lake Forest Service Road near Stave Lake.
Heppner had been accused of stealing money from a memorial fund set up for a widow and her two children in Alberta in fall of 2015.
Media reports said Heppner was under investigation after more than $24,000 disappeared from a GoFundMe account she had set up for the family of truck driver Roger Belanger, 29, of Sudbury, who died in a car accident in July 2015.
Heppner, who was living near Fort McMurray, Alta., at the time, had been an acquaintance of Belanger’s.
Heppner’s mom, Anna Carlson of Clifton, Illinois, stated on her Facebook page that Heppner was pressured by someone else to take the money out of the account, and then left the province.
“She left because she was scared. I told her that she should turn herself in, but she was scared…. She tried to pay the money back. Even one of her friends was willing to sell his semi to help her pay it back,” Carlson wrote.
It’s unclear if the GoFundMe money has anything to do with the alleged murder at this point.
Crown counsel Carolyn Lawlor and Armstrong’s lawyer Paul McMurray told the court a two-day sentencing hearing was scheduled for Feb. 13, 2018. A pre-sentence report with a psychiatric component will be prepared before the hearing.
The lawyer set aside two days of sentencing so the justice tasked with the file can hear arguments and make a decision quickly, because both Armstrong’s and Heppner’s parents plan to attend from out of province.
– with files from Vikki Hopes, Abbotsford News