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MANDEL: Eight murders for the price of one

It is such a bitter pill.

Serial killer Bruce McArthur’s punishment for murdering eight men is exactly the same as if he’d killed just one: life without eligibility for parole for 25 years.

His reign of terror, begun in 2010 and only brought to an end 13 months ago, stole the lives of eight souls loved and missed and yet it’s as if he were allowed to kill seven of them for free.

For murders so brutal and so horrific, prosecutors wanted McArthur to serve 50 years before he can apply for parole. That would bring him to the age of 116, ensuring, of course, he’d never see that day and his victims’ families and friends will never go through the agony of having to prepare for a hearing.

Instead, Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur, 67, to a mandatory life sentence but with concurrent, not consecutive, periods of parole ineligibility of 25 years. He’ll be able to apply when he’s 91 but the judge noted — perhaps sensing the expected outcry — that “the chances of the accused being paroled are very remote at best.”

But what of the message it sends?

Serial killer Bruce McArthur, 67, murdered eight men. (Facebook)

Triple killer Dellen Millard must wait 75 years to seek parole — he’ll be 102. Justin Bourque, who killed three Mounties, must wait the same and will be 99. Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six worshippers, was sentenced Friday to life with 40 years before he can apply for release.

Yet a monster who stalked Toronto’s gay village and preyed on eight of its most vulnerable gets a lighter sentence?

Many in the LGBTQ community say it’s a slap in the face, a failure to send a clear signal that their lives matter.

But in his reasons for sentence, McMahon carefully explained that judges aren’t in the business of symbolism — they’re constrained by the law. And there is no such sentence in Canada as life without parole.

“Sentencing the accused to parole ineligibility until he is 116 years of age is symbolic,” he said. “There is a fine line between retribution, which is an appropriate sentencing principle, and vengeance.”

Serial killer Bruce McArthur’s bedroom. (Court Exhibit, Toronto Sun)

There are few Superior Court judges more respected than McMahon and he took more than an hour — interrupted by a break — to read through his 16-page decision. He spared no harsh words in condemning McArthur as the heinous killer that he is.

“The accused is a sexual predator and killer who lured his victims on the pretext of consensual sex and he ended up killing them for his own warped and sick gratification,” McMahon said. “These men died a slow and painful death by ligature strangulation for the sexual gratification of Mr. McArthur.”

Not only did he stage and photograph his victims so he could relive his horrific handiwork, but the “morally bankrupt” killer subjected them to the most heinous indignity after death.

“The ability to decapitate and dismember his victims and do it repeatedly is pure evil,” McMahon said.

As he went on to express deep sympathy for the families and communities victimized by McArthur’s crimes who will “live with this nightmare forever,” it sounded as if the judge was going to heed the Crown’s request and ensure the serial killer would never live long enough to apply for parole.

But then he said “two factors unique to this case” prevented him from doing so.

The first was that McArthur — unlike Millard, for example — had entered an early guilty plea which “is an extremely mitigating factor.”

McArthur never expressed any remorse and only stopped his killing spree because he was arrested. Yet the judge said he still had to give him credit for pleading guilty just 13 months after his arrest.

Serial killer Bruce McArthur (left) pleads guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. (Pam Davies sketch)

“The trial with a jury would have had to hear months of very graphic and disturbing evidence. The trial would have traumatized many,” the judge said. “I have no doubt some, if not all of the jury and court staff, would be in need of counselling at the end of the day to deal with it.”

The second factor was McArthur’s advanced age.

“If the accused either had a trial or would have been younger, I would have had no hesitation in imposing consecutive parole ineligibility terms,” he said.

No doubt McArthur will live out the rest of his days in prison anyway. But it would have been nice to take away even the merest glimmer of hope.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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