This is perhaps the most heartbreaking case I’ve ever followed. When I heard voices exploding over the police radios about a woman found unconscious and sexually assaulted on a Banff riverbank, I knew it was bad. But I never imagined how many lives would be ravaged. Prior to reporting at the Herald, I was the editor of The Banff Crag & Canyon. Besides the murder of cabbie Lucie Turmel, this is one of the worst crimes to have rocked the mountain resort town.
I received my first subpoena over this story. My files were seized by the Crown and I was punted off the story as a potential witness on the stand. It forced me to miss the dramatic dangerous offender hearing that turned into a national story. I had tracked down Albert Muckle’s old girlfriend who told me about watching him fly into a rage and beat a man unconscious for no particular reason. Muckle was never charged for the vicious assault, and I guess the Crown had to make sure they had some evidence that he was DO material.
Julianne Courneya, Muckle’s victim, remains in a persistant vegetative state and cannot speak. Her father says she communicates with him through her eyes.
‘A fork in the road’: Drifter who admits to brutal rape tells how he came to Banff
Monday, September 26, 2005
Calgary Herald ©
The cold steel doors locking Albert George Muckle inside are also welcoming him back home — he was born behind prison bars 25 years ago.But while destiny has seemingly steered him back to the place from which he came, it was a chance encounter and a free ride that delivered the heavily-tattooed drifter from the outskirts of Calgary to Banff on July 9.
Less than 48 hours later, Muckle raped a six-weeks pregnant hotel worker and nearly choked the life out of her with the strap from her purse. He left the 20-year-old lying half-clothed on a muddy riverbank and bought himself a 3 a.m. snack of chips and salsa using money from her wallet.
The mountain resort was the last place the B.C.-bound hitchhiker should have drifted, but like trouble waiting to happen, he blew in cold and mean.
“I was at a fork in the road,” Muckle told the Herald in several interviews from the Calgary Remand Centre, where he is awaiting sentencing for attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault. His victim, who cannot be named, is entering a persistent vegetative state in an Ottawa care centre.
Muckle was torn between two destinations, neither of which included the tourist town brimming with young summer workers.
Fresh off a crystal methamphetamine binge in Williams Lake, B.C., Muckle says he was agitated as he hitchhiked to Kamloops July 8, on his way to his angry girlfriend in Penticton.
“She wanted to talk. That freaked me out. I was about to lose my girl.”
An invitation to visit a sister he’s never met in Ontario was a tempting diversion from his romantic troubles, he says.
Muckle changed his route and thumbed a ride east, only to change his mind again in Calgary after meeting a Banff rooming house manager. Rent is free in exchange for chores, and Muckle, using one of his many aliases, accepted the offer and the ride. He decided to find work in Banff before hitching to see his girlfriend of six months.
It was a decision that ravaged lives. It snuffed out a young Ontario couple’s plans of marriage, chasing careers and raising a child already on the way. It robbed an Ottawa family of a sunny and chatty 20-year-old now imprisoned behind a wall of sleep that is interrupted only by body-contorting seizures.
“She was actually really cool and very down to earth,” says Muckle, describing the young woman he met in the early hours of July 11. He had been roaming Banff’s streets smoking pot and drinking, making passes at women all night. Then, just before last call in front of Aurora nightclub on Banff Avenue, he crossed paths with a friendly young hotel worker.
“Her friends brought her up to me,” he says. “She was asking me about my tattoos and I asked for a smoke.”
It was a chance meeting that would horribly alter the young woman’s life and ultimately fulfil her attacker’s destiny.
Crown prosecutor Patricia Yelle is now working to have Muckle classified as a dangerous offender — a label that can lock him up for life — but he insists he’s no menace.
“I am nowhere near violent or dangerous enough,” says Muckle, who began a four-year prison sentence in 1999 for getting drunk and stabbing a Kenora, Ont., area cab driver twice. He battled in Stony Mountain jail’s gang war and was transferred in 2002 because of it. He was caught hiding an X-Acto knife and a shank in his cell. He admits starting a prison riot and arming himself with a baseball bat during a standoff with police and guards as a young offender. Still, he shrugs off the notion he is a dangerous and violent man.
“I know I got that beat. They don’t have enough on my record. I laughed, they got f–k all.”
For his part, the drifter who grew up on the rough Wabaseemong (White Dog) First Nation Reserve and in Kenora, Ont., blames a relapse with hard-core street drugs for the attack that has left his comatose victim hooked up to a feeding tube in an Ottawa care centre.
“When I ended up in Banff, I was irritated, aggravated. It’s not good to be coming down from crystal meth with so much on your mind,” he says.
Muckle‘s violent future was foretold by a national parole board in 2002.
“You are considered to be a high risk for violent and non-violent offending, and have a significant alcohol-abuse problem,” the board wrote while recommending his parole to a native healing lodge in Montreal. In the end, Muckle walked away from Wasekun lodge carrying a lead pipe and hitchhiked to Kingston, Ont., to turn himself in.
A week after he was released from a B.C. prison last year, he hitched a ride to Calgary and stole a bottle of Southern Comfort from a liquor store on March 18, 2004. Police had no problem later spotting the six-foot-one native with a tattoo across his forehead. Muckle was arrested at the Drop-In Centre where he calmly gave police a fake name. Rather than appear in Calgary court, he hitchhiked to Vancouver’s seedy downtown eastside and introduced himself around as Lance Anderson, one of his aliases.
He lived on the streets and flopped with other drug addicts for months. To support his habit, Muckle says he worked for drug dealers as a “bill collector.” Others remember him as a wild-eyed thug who stole for fun, giving gifts of clothing and even a Sony Playstation to street friends.
A former girlfriend remembers a volatile Muckle beating a man unconscious before her eyes.
The man “said something to offend Albert, which drove him to the point of uncontrollable rage. He beat him senseless with a glass bottle. I heard nothing but a hollow sound every time the bottle came down to connect with the guy’s head,” says the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“By the time the fight was over, Albert took my hand and told me to run. He was running from the police because you could hear the sirens coming. I never witnessed anything so horrible in my life. The guy was in a coma for about a week or two.”
Muckle recalls the beating, but says he didn’t stop kicking until the walls were red because his girlfriend had been threatened. He was simply defending her honour, he says.
“There is a method to my madness.”
Muckle‘s mother, Nancy, gave birth to at least eight babies, losing them all to children’s services.
She was a violent alcoholic who died in 2003 and left many of her children suffering from the affects of fetal alcohol syndrome, he says.
“Sober, she was harmless and quiet as any shadow on the wall.”
Muckle says the only freedom he has ever known was as a newborn being nursed by his mother before being taken by children’s services.
“First six months was my freedom,” he says. “That’s pathetic — that was all I was given.”
From there, Muckle became a problematic ward of the Crown, a constant runaway who fled from the families who took him in. When he ran, he bolted to his older brother Edward.
“They put me in a group home for stabilization, but there were guys in there who had already been in institutions,” he recalls. “From then on, my criminal career started. They put me in that environment. I was treated like a government mule. I didn’t have a childhood.”
Muckle was 11 when he committed his first crime: stealing a woman’s purse with a 12-year-old group-home friend in the Kenora area.
The two forged a life-long friendship. Getting drunk by age 12 and hanging around with a crew of gang members on the reserve at 14 only toughened Muckle up.
One of his earliest charges was for assault and possession of a weapon. When he was 17, he robbed a fellow Woods Homes group home resident at the Brentwood LRT station in Calgary, threw him to the ground and threatened him with his fist.
After he got out of a young offenders centre, a heavily inebriated 18-year-old Muckle stabbed a Kenora-area taxi driver. He later said he had no memory of the event.
“The offence was brutal and caused serious physical and psychological harm to the victim,” the parole board wrote in documents obtained by the Herald.
With the violence in his past, Muckle was a significant risk to harm someone due to his unreasonable fear of being hurt and his habit of carrying weapons.
The board also concluded he may be suffering from an anxiety disorder and was institutionalized.
“I hate to admit it, but it’s true,” he says.
Muckle‘s rocky beginning in a Kingston jail for women and an unstable childhood in foster families and group homes have led him full circle to a world that friends say he understands better than the one beyond the corners of a concrete cell.
“I think he’s just scared of the outside world,” says Stuart Burnard, an Ontario friend of Muckle‘s since they met as troublesome 12-year-olds in a group home east of Kenora.
“That’s because he’s been in and out practically his whole life. He’s just looking for that security. That’s all.”
Since he was arrested July 12 trying to hitchhike out of Banff, Muckle has refused advice from two legal aid lawyers and pleaded guilty from the beginning, not because he is remorseful — in fact, he tells people he didn’t assault his Banff victim — but because he thought he was speeding up the court process. He wants to serve his time in Kingston, where he says the rules are easier to follow.
“It doesn’t matter who you are inside. It’s all a part of prison politics. I play a positive role or I play a negative role. It’s part of survival.”
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Muckle has exhibited an artistic bent at times in his tumultuous life. As he puts it, “I’m a really creative person.”
That artistic side was showcased in an art exhibition featuring downtown eastside Vancouver residents last year. His pencil drawings drew high praise from one reviewer, who said on http://www.straight.com: “Albert Muckle‘s densely worked pencil drawings, some of them set down on the backs of creased envelopes, display a master engraver’s attention to detail and a tattoo artist’s obsession with the fantastic.”
His poetry, some of which he recited during a public reading, mixed violence with humour.
Muckle now spends his days sketching elaborate scenes — a gnarled, old tree with a skull embedded in it among them — on the backs of envelopes, visitor request forms and any other scrap of paper that comes his way. He also scratches out free verse and paces back and forth in his cell.
Toughened by a rough life on the reserve and in jails, Muckle wears his tattoos like armour. He gave many of them to himself, mainly out of boredom.
His knuckles spell out THUG and LIFE. The so-called tribal forehead tattoo that sweeps down to cover his right cheek is there to hide scars, he says. They cover two pentagrams and the letters that spell Lucifer he scratched into his own forehead in jail.
As he awaits his Oct. 27 sentencing hearing, Muckle says he knows he’s never coming back out. He blames everyone but himself for that.
“I’ve spent two-thirds of my life in institutions, and now I’m going to spend the rest of my life here,” he says. “Can anyone even conceive of that fact?
“I was born in jail and I will die in here. That’s not right. I will die even if it’s by my own hand.”
Family in ‘living hell’ after attack: Father says setting up a trust fund and alternative therapies offer hope after assault on daughter in Banff
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Since then, her father, mother and sister have watched helplessly as Julie nearly died three times and was given last rites at Foothills Hospital. Her condition stabilized in January.
Her father visits her bedside daily in a private care facility in Ottawa, talking to her and reading Harry Potter aloud.
He tucks her into bed every night.
This is his family’s new life. This is Julie’s recovery.
“We haven’t come forward because it’s been pretty traumatic. Everybody goes through situations where it’s a personal tragedy, but when you have a criminal case, it just compounds it even more,” her father told the Herald from Ottawa.
“We’re going through a living hell.”
To help offset the crippling costs of her therapy, the family is setting up a public trust fund, to be called Julie’s Recovery. They hope it will be established this week.
The young woman’s identity is protected under a court order, so the Herald is using only her first name.
The senseless attack has left the once vibrant and athletic young hotel worker hooked up to a tracheostomy tube.
Julie can’t speak or otherwise communicate, and her fragile body is wracked with daily seizures, coughing fits and teeth-grinding headaches.
“She is trapped and this is absolutely heartbreaking to witness,” her father said.
Doctors say the former soccer and hockey player is sliding toward a persistent vegetative state and she may never recover.
“And I thought, why don’t we stop her then? This is actually what I’m thinking.”
After seeing a spark in her eyes occasionally, her father says he’s holding out hope that alternative therapy may be the answer.
His daughter’s seemingly hopeless prognosis has inspired him to spend hours on the Internet researching modes of therapy for brain injury around the globe, including hyperbaric oxygen treatment in the United States.
“We came to realize that the traditional sick-care system was not structured to provide the specialized care that our daughter required,” he said.
She has been accepted as a patient by a prominent American doctor, her father says.
But those therapies are not covered by health care or insurance, he says.
And commercial airlines won’t fly patients with trachs; he’s facing a $20,000 cost for an air ambulance flight alone.
“We have made a commitment to our daughter to do everything in our power to help her,” he said.
That vow to care for Julie focuses on tiny but important details.
In her private room, her radio plays and the window blinds are drawn up during the day.
On nice days, he takes his daughter outside in a wheelchair to feel the sun on her face.
Together, they watch Friends, one of her favourite television shows. Aromatherapy massages with lavender and chamomile relax her, he says.
Once a week, she gets a bath.
“All the nurses note how much she enjoys her bath and how she says thank you with her eyes,” he said.
“Since the bath is obviously therapeutic, I was absolutely astounded when my request for one additional bath per week was turned down due to a lack of resources.”
Those struggles aside, the family has also fought to retain privacy as the high-profile case made headlines across the country.
In Banff, Judge Sandra Hamilton granted the vulnerable family’s request to keep the eloquent words of their victim impact statement off the public record.
News that their daughter had unknowingly been a few weeks pregnant when she was attacked was also hurtful, they said.
On July 25, Hamilton sent drifter Albert Muckle to prison as a dangerous offender for aggravated sexual assault and attempted murder.
Her family chose not to read the 26-year-old convict’s written apology.
They are still struggling to fully grasp the surreal story of a bizarre-looking tattooed stranger who was sentenced in a courthouse that sits in a Banff shopping mall.
They prefer to focus their energy on their daughter and to be thankful for all the public and professional support they have received.
“I want her back,” said her father. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”