A murder conviction will be upheld for a man who confessed his involvement in a 2013 killing to an undercover police officer.
The Alberta Court of Appeal on Wednesday dismissed Terry Wingert’s bid to substitute manslaughter for his second-degree murder conviction. The decision finds that the trial judge didn’t make a mistake when he allowed the surreptitiously videotaped confession to be entered as evidence, or when he used it as part of determining that Wingert intended to kill the victim.
Wingert, 51, also
that he played a role in the killing of 19-year-old Anthony Fernandez during a later interview, but he maintained he didn’t mean to kill Fernandez and initially pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Wingert was given an automatic life sentence last year, and he must serve 13 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
Along with another man who hasn’t been charged, Wingert contacted Fernandez in the early morning hours of Dec. 25, 2013, to bring them drugs. But they didn’t have any money, and when Fernandez showed up, the other man attempted to strangle him before Wingert pulled Fernandez to the back of his car parked in a Bridgeland alley and beat him to death.
The men then attempted to burn the body in the car, but the fire went out quickly.
Fernandez’s body was discovered two days later. Wingert initially described his role in the murder two years after that to an undercover Calgary police officer who befriended him as part of a so-called “Mr. Big” sting.
But Wingert didn’t reach the Mr. Big stage of the operation, where a fictional crime boss has the target come clean about his past so the organization can “fix” it. Undercover officers held out the promise of bringing Wingert into their “group” but Wingert didn’t ask for details, although he “suspected it was something nefarious,” according to the appeal decision. He was homeless at the time, but had employment.
Police started looking at Wingert as a suspect after finding his DNA in the burned vehicle. They also discovered numerous phone calls between him and Fernandez just before the killing happened.
One of the undercover officers spent time socializing with Wingert over several months before they eventually took a road trip together, and during the six-hour drive Wingert told him “in excruciating detail” how he killed the victim, according to the appeal decision.
Wingert’s appeal argued he was lying to impress his new friend, but the appeal judges said neither they nor the trial judge saw that in the video of the conversation.
“The appellant confessed of his own volition in order, to use the appellant’s words, ‘to get it off his shoulders,’” they wrote. “There were no threats made or inducements offered.”
The decision says police never had to follow through with a more elaborate plan to get Wingert to talk about the killing “because the appellant voluntarily confessed first.”
The victim’s body was found on the floor of his car with his head partly under the backseat, as if he were trying to protect himself. And Wingert told the undercover officer that during the assault, he said, “You’re not hiding man. You’re done.”
The appeal judges said in their decision that Wingert’s account of how the killing happened could be corroborated by other evidence, including the victim’s injuries and the position of his body in the car.
They said this confirmed both the material aspects of Wingert’s confession and his intent to kill Fernandez.
After he was convicted in 2019, Wingert said he was sorry for what he had done, and his addiction to crack cocaine had driven his decisions.
“I can assure you, this is not the person I am when I am not on drugs,” Wingert said. “Every day I am haunted by this memory.”
— With files from Kevin Martin
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