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'Remove the hate': Alta Walmart shooter to serve 10 years before eligible for parole

Signage at a Laval, Que., Walmart store on May 3, 2016. A sentencing hearing is to begin today for a man who shot and killed a shopper outside a Walmart store in Red Deer, Alta.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

RED DEER, Alta. — A judge says a man who committed a "senseless and horrific act of violence" when he shot a shopper outside a central Alberta Walmart must serve 10 years before he can apply for parole. 

Chase Freed, 20, pleaded guilty Monday to the second-degree murder of Jim Williams in Red Deer in December 2019. 

Court heard that Freed was wearing a mask and armed with a modified semi-automatic rifle when he shot Williams, who was 69, four times in front of his wife in the store's parking lot during an attempted robbery. 

Williams, who tried to flee, died in hospital. 

Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence lawyers Thursday that on top of an automatic life sentence, Freed should not be eligible for parole for at least a decade. 

"There's no other way to describe the offence committed by Mr. Freed, and the one to which he had pled guilty, but as a senseless and horrific act of violence against a defenceless, well-loved husband, son, father, grandfather who was about to celebrate Christmas with his mother and family," Macklin said.

"Mr. Freed is still a young man. With significant help, he will hopefully be rehabilitated to the point where he can become a productive member of society."

Prosecutor Dominique Mathurin took Freed's age into account — along with his upbringing in a dysfunctional, violent and drug-filled home in Prince Albert, Sask., — when she agreed to the 10-year parole ineligibility period. 

But she said Freed's actions were severe.

"The gun was a rifle that was modified in such a way that it became a semi-automatic rifle. The accused covered his face with a bandana, concealing his identity," she said.

"He pursued a defenceless victim trying to get away from him. He shot the victim four times, one being the fatal shot."

Freed's lawyer said his client has shown remorse, but lacked the support of the victim, who had a gallery full of loved ones in the courtroom.

"Mr. Williams clearly was loved, respected, cared for and cherished by family and friends. There is not one person in this courtroom today who stands behind me or beside me in support of Mr. Freed," said Rory Ziv.

"I think it's fair to say if Mr. Freed (had) been loved the way Mr. Williams had been loved and cared for and had he had that support growing up as a young man, we may not very well be here today."

Court heard six victim impact statements, including from Williams' wife and children. 

"I have had to have counselling. I still fear he may find me and get rid of me. I lock every lock I have when I'm in my trailer," said his wife, Roxine.

"I'm afraid to stay by myself and sleep with the TV on to cover up any noise."

Granddaughter Melissa Brunette told the court that she lost the one strong male role model in her life.

"I just want to know why. I hope this young man has also learned a lesson from all this and has a chance to remove the hate from his heart. I hope for his own healing in the process," she said.

Williams' son Billyjack, speaking on behalf of other family members, said his father was kind and generous and recovered from a severe propane explosion and accident many years ago.

"Never did we think that Jim would be taken from us by a gunshot wound by a thief. Chase Freed, you have ended the life of a generous man who already had so much taken from him. Your greed, your disregard for human life and your actions will have to sit with you for the rest of your life, which you are lucky to have."

Freed apologized to the family before sentencing.

"I never meant for things to turn out like that. He's a good man — I know that. I just can't explain why I did this. Everybody's hurting, right? Honestly all I can do is take responsibility for my actions," he said.

"Hopefully it will change my life around but all I can do is try, right? I'm sorry for what happened."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2022.

-- By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press