Engaging. Insightful. Funny. Passionate. This is how a therapist and probation officer describe Runaway Devil today.
Experts are painting a very different picture of J.R. at age 22 than the notorious angry 12-year-old Medicine Hat girl who enlisted her older boyfriend to help kill her family.
J.R. is officially a free woman today. A decade after masterminding the murder of her parents and little brother, the years of intensive psychotherapy and reintegration into society are said to have paid off. During her final sentence review hearing Friday, J.R. briefly thanked the judge and her team. But she never said she was sorry for her crimes.
Although her therapists report J.R. is showing genuine remorse, details supporting her accountability are being kept private.
That’s something Chief Crown prosecutor Ramona Robins questions.
“One thing I’ve always looked for in all of the reports is a sense of remorse and accountability – how she dealt with the crime itself when she talked about it, if she understood herself, as I think the issue the public has is why did this happen how could this have happened – I don’t think those questions were answered for me, but she certainly with her therapist worked through all of those issues,” Robins told reporters after Friday’s hearing.
So did the specialized youth sentence work?
“I’m not an expert in rehabilitation,” said Robins. “I’m satisfied she followed the rules the judge gave her. I think anyone who chooses to rehabilitate can. This has been a long road of rehabilitation with a lot of support and resources in place so what she’ll do on her own, only time will tell.”
Some of J.R.’s extended family members believe in second chances, she said. Others may not be so satisfied that justice was served.
“Is anyone ever satisfied? There’s no sentence that’s going to bring them back. No sentence is satisfactory in a murder case, in my opinion.”
Based on what we learned at J.R.’s final sentence review hearing in Medicine Hat yesterday, here’s what we know about her therapy progress:
- JR has successfully and without exception met each of the treatment goals and targets of each of the four phases of her sentence. The most important of those goals was accepting responsibility for her role as the master planner of the murders.
- She never breached any of her conditions (curfew, etc)
- She is deemed a low risk for violent reoffending
- She showed no behavioral concerns throughout her time in the program
- Previously, her lawyers referred to her as the poster child for the IRCS program. As previously reported, the program is estimated to cost up to $100,000 a year. There was a considerable investment of time and resources and support having paid off in terms of rehabilitating an offender.
- Her probation officer said JR has remained positive through supervision, and reported as required. There were no concerns about J.R.’s peer group or how she spends her free time. She’s maintained positive relationships and engages in pro social activities.
- J.R.s’ commitment to the program was clear, she was mature overall she is engaging, insightful, funny, passionate young woman open to receiving feedback to new ideas.
- “She has shown a level of maturity and level of insight beyond her age” and has developed into someone with a resilient, thriving personality.”
Justice Scott Brooker told her:
“Clearly you cannot undo the past. You can only live each day with the knowledge that you can control how you behave and what you do each day. You’ve indicated through your conduct over that last 8.5 years you have a desire to atone for what you did.”
Brooker echoed his final message to the young woman with the profoundly compassionate advice he gave when he first sentenced her. When she was 13, he told her: “J.R. you can never undo what you did to your mother, father and little brother, but what you can do is dedicate your life to being the woman your mother, father and brother would be proud of.”
The day before she was free, he reflected on her progress and concluded: “I think your parents would be rather proud of you.”
For the rest of us, only time will tell.
J.R. has spent nearly half her life in custody and rehabilitation.
So how did the IRCS system work to “fix” a young killer who entered into the system a “seriously disturbed” with dependency issues and personality disorders including conduct and oppositional defiant disorders?
“We don’t talk about curing mental health problems rather it’s about giving people the tools they need to deal with those challenges that might be a trigger,” said Dr. Patrick Baillie, a psychologist with Alberta Health Services and a lawyer.
He says it’s not about the person’s mental processes as much as it is their behaviour.
“There is no cure. The disorders don’t go away. It’s about changing somebody’s brain in the way they use it. It’s about behavioural strategies to help with management.”
JR took the road to remorse in baby steps.
It wasn’t until five years after the murders that the girl admitted her role in the triple killings.
From the time of her arrest in the back of a parked pickup truck loaded with Steinke and three teenage girls in Leader, SK and throughout her widely publicized triple murder trial, J.R. pointed the blame squarely on Steinke. Prior to the killings she told everyone who would listen that she hated her parents and wished they were dead. She emailed Steinke: “So I have this plan… it begins with me killing them and ends with me living with you.” Steinke wrote back: “Well I love your plan but we need to get a little more creative with the details and stuff.”
On April 23, 2006 JR put her hateful plans into action. She called Steinke, an unemployed high school dropout who told people he was a 300-year-old werewolf who liked the taste of blood, and opened a basement window for him. He arrived in the predawn dressed in black. The girl’s mother was stabbed 12 times and died on the spot. The father put up a bearish fight, but as he bled to death he asked Steinke: why? The black neoprene-masked assailant replied “it’s what your daughter wanted.”
The pair celebrated their freedom by later having sex. They were seen kissing and giggling at a house party later on, JR sipping cherry whiskey pretending it was her birthday.
Throughout her intensive psychotherapy at Edmonton’s Alberta Hospital forensic unit, J.R. was reported to be responding to treatment, but had a failure to internalize her role until 2012, when she was moved to a supervised group home. No doubt there were a host of privileges to be earned.
She’s since lived on her own, working and attending university classes. She was gradually weaned off a curfew.
J.R.’s defence lawyer, Katherin Beyak, says J.R. has made huge gains from where she’s been to where she is today.
And now, she is free and answerable to no one.
There is no precedent for the case of Runaway Devil. The IRCS system has never had such a young killer, nor one who comes from a middle class home free from abuse, drugs and alcohol.
The program has helped JR forge a new identity and reinvent herself. But will it stick?