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'You ripped a hole in all our lives': Families of victims speak at sentencing for Joseph George Sutherland

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Family and friends of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour addressed their loved ones’ killer in a Toronto courtroom Monday, deploring his decision to keep the crimes to himself for nearly 40 years.

“You had almost forty years to come forward and take responsibility for what you did,” Sean McCowan, brother of Gilmour, told Joseph George Sutherland, sitting in the prisoner’s box of Toronto’s Superior Court of Justice. "Your crimes took a mother and daughter and sister from two families and yet you did nothing and go on continuing to live your life.”

Gilmour, the daughter of mining magnate David Gilmour, was 22 years old when she was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted in her Yorkville apartment on the night of Dec. 20, 1983.

Earlier that year, Susan Tice had also been found stabbed to death after being sexually assaulted in her Bickford Park home, just a few kilometres away from Gilmour’s apartment.

Sutherland was not arrested for nearly 40 years. The court heard he considered turning himself in at several points during that time, but opted against it.

It wasn’t until advances in DNA technology led officers to link evidence from both crime scenes that Sutherland was arrested in November 2022. He was placed into custody in his home in Moosonee, Ont. by Ontario Provincial Police.

Initially charged with first-degree murder, Sutherland, now in his 60s, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in October.

“You ripped a hole in all of our lives that could never be fixed or filled in,” McCowan told Sutherland.

Kaelin McCowan, also a brother of Erin’s, said in his statement that the trauma of losing his sister has left “huge gaps” in his childhood memories.

“He got to live his life. He got to pursue things that were important to him ... raise children,” he said. “I had a sister, and she didn’t get to do any of those things.”

Ben Tice, Susan’s eldest son, also delivered his statement directly to Sutherland, who hung his head and did not make eye contact.

“Truly the most haunting is the question of why,” Tice said. “Why would (you) take the life of my mother and Ms. Gilmour? What right did you have?”

Sutherland’s upcoming sentencing hearing will decide his length of parole, as a conviction of second-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence.

Crown prosecutors are seeking no chance of parole for 20 to 22 years for Sutherland.

Pointing to a sentencing report considered by the court, Crown Attorney Michael Cantlon argued that while Sutherland has expressed remorse for his actions, he has been unable to explain his motivation for committing them. He also does not remember committing the murders, the court heard.

In a statement to the media, Cantlon said the murders of Tice and Gilmour “have left permanent, inter-generational emotional scars” on those impacted.

“These horrific killings shocked the community. His victims were alone at the time, in their own homes, living their own independent lives,” the statement reads.

“At the end of this sentencing process, we anticipate that he will be held accountable for the longstanding damage he has caused to these families and to everyone else impacted in our community.”

Sutherland did speak at the sentencing hearing on Monday, apologizing directly to the families of his victims.

“I am sorry for taking your loved ones away,” he said. “I am remorseful for what I’ve done. I am still trying to understand where I went wrong.”

Lawyers for Sutherland are asking for no less than 18 years before he is eligible for parole, pointing to his age as a mitigating factor. They also argued that Sutherland’s record prior to and after the murder would render him unlikely to reoffend.

Sentencing has been adjourned until March 22 when a decision is expected.

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