Shrubsall: no guarantees

Serial sexual predator William Shrubsall was sentenced to more prison time in New York last week. How much more? That depends. Not on our parole board, which failed abysmally. But on the willingness of women like T. C., K. C. and Tracy Jesso who continue to make sure his past — and his potential for harm — will not be forgotten.

William Shrubsall

T.C. was there, or as close as Skype could bring her last Wednesday to a courtroom in Buffalo, NY. So, too, were K. C. and Tracy Jesso. They had gathered to watch — and to bear silent victim witness — as NY Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch, Sr., sentenced William Chandler Shrubsall to two-to-six years in jail for having skipped bail during his sexual assault trial 24 years earlier.

Shrubsall, who’d already then been convicted of manslaughter for beating his mother to death with a baseball bat in 1988 when he was just 17, was on trial for the sexual assault in May 1996 when he left a note claiming he planned to kill himself by jumping into Niagara Falls, jumped bail and disappeared.

Though he was ultimately convicted in absentia and sentenced to 26-months-to-seven years for the attack, Shrubsall didn’t begin serving his sentence until November 2018 when Canadian authorities unexpectedly and controversially granted him parole in Canada and deported him to the United States.

The reasons those three women felt the need to be there, even virtually, last week to see William Shrubsall sentenced encompasses everything that happened between his faked suicide and today, including perhaps especially his parole.

Shrubsall didn’t kill himself. Instead, he ended up in Halifax where he became Ian Thor Greene, or Ian O’Leary, or Joe Thunder, and continued to commit unspeakable acts of violence against women:

In Halifax (Contributed).

In February 1998, Shrubsall beat a 24-year-old woman with a baseball bat while she was working her shift at a store on Upper Water Street and stole money from the till. The vicious attack left the woman in a coma and her fractured skull had to be reconstructed.

In May of that year, Shrubsall followed [Jesso] from the New Palace Cabaret and then ambushed her and sexually assaulted her in a driveway on Tower Road. The beating was so bad that the woman’s contact lenses had to be surgically removed.

Shrubsall was finally captured in June 1998 after an incident at his residence at the Sigma Chi fraternity on South Street. When [K. C.] tried to use a phone to call a cab to leave, Shrubsall beat, choked and sexually assaulted her.

Shrubsall was later charged for the three incidents, as well as criminal harassment of [T. C.,] an ex-girlfriend, and was found guilty.

Retired Halifax police detective Tim Martin describes those crimes as the “tip of the iceberg. We looked at him for several other sexual assaults in the Halifax area. And there were murders too,” though there wasn’t enough evidence for prosecutors to bring him to trial.

Because of all of that, Martin — along with Crown prosecutors Paul Carver and Rob Fetterly — devoted an “all-consuming” three years to ensure Shrubsall would be declared a dangerous offender and given an “indeterminate,” likely life sentence as the only way to protect society from his uncontrolled and uncontrollable violence. Martin filled 25 bankers’ boxes worth of notes, statements, videos and other assorted evidence” to buttress the case against him, traveling to Niagara Falls twice and also to Philadelphia, where Shrubsall went to university, interviewing and re-interviewing neighbours, ex-girlfriends and even the pawn shop owner to whom Shrubsall had sold his high school valedictory medal.

On Dec. 21, 2001, Judge Felix Cacchione declared him a dangerous offender, concluding:

there was no “realistic prospect of controlling [his] threat of dangerousness and managing the risk” in the community. Shrubsall’s behaviour, said the judge, “would likely result in death, severe physical injury or psychological damage to a future victim.”

That should have been the end of it.

For a while, it was. While the law allowed Shrubsall to apply for parole after seven years — he applied, and was turned down four times between 2012 and 2017 — his psychological risk assessments showed his “risk to re-offend sexually remains high” and Correctional Services Canada concluded the risk “continues to be unmanageable on any form of release.” Parole denied.

Nothing had changed in 2018, except the outcome. He was granted full parole “for deportation,” meaning he would be sent back to the US where he could begin to serve his sentence for the 1996 sexual assault conviction.

The parole board’s decision not only flew in the face of every report and assessment it had in its possession, but the hearing itself was also flawed beyond redemption. As CBC reporter Richard Woodbury made clear in an excellent report last year detailing what happened during the hearing itself, “Canadian parole board members did not challenge factual misrepresentations made to them by one of Nova Scotia’s most notorious sex predators.” That included Shrubsall’s false depiction of his attack on K.C., which he claimed had begun with “consensual kissing and undressing,” and his suggestion he had known Jesso before the attack.

Board members didn’t dispute any of those easily disputable assertions.

The process and the outcome seem inexplicable.

Except that they aren’t.

By granting him parole, William Shrusall was no longer Canada’s financial burden. The board had washed its Pontius-Pilate hands of the matter with the excuse that “you face many more years of incarceration in your country.”

But the board never asked Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtasze, who prosecuted Shrubsall’s bail-jumping charge, her thoughts on that. “The most likely scenario,” she told Woodbury in June of last year, “is Shrubsall is out in fewer than five years, assuming he serves time for both charges.” At the time of his parole, “the only guarantee is that he serves two-and-one-third years” for the US sexual assault.

Which means, in theory at least, that William Shrubsall could be out on the street by 2023.

That may not — hopefully won’t — happen. Many US states, including New York, have what are known as a “civil confinement” laws that allow dangerous-to-re-offend sexual predators with a “mental abnormality” or personality disorder to be kept in secure confinement beyond the end of their sentences. As in Canada, there’s a legal process to get the person evaluated as a sexually violent predator, and then more legal proceedings to get him committed, and then…

While it seems likely US prosecutors will seek civil confinement when Shrubsall’s sentences expire, there are no guarantees.

Which means T. C., K. C. and Tracy Jesso will continue to do what Canada’s parole board so abysmally failed to do in 2018.

(Contributed)

In March 2019, pre-COVID, T.C. even traveled to Buffalo at her own expense, just to be present for a perfunctory pre-trial hearing. In 1987, after her own brief relationship with Shrubsall ended with him stalking her but before he’d been arrested, T.C. tried several times to convince police to look more closely at the man she’d discovered seemed to have no identification, no past. At one point, a police officer even laughed at her. She can’t help but wonder now what crimes might have been prevented if she’d been taken seriously then.

“Most people didn’t understand why I went down,” she tells me of her trip to Buffalo, “but it made sense to me.” She is currently writing a book about the case.

K.C. too thinks about what should have happened but didn’t. “I feel worse about what the parole board did than what happened to me in the beginning,” she told the CBC last week. “We had the opportunity to do the right thing [and keep him behind bars] and I believe that it was the wrong decision made for financial reasons and I just don’t see how that’s OK when it comes to women’s safety.”

It’s comforting to know T.C., K.C. and Tracy Jesso continue to keep watch.

It’s unfortunate our authorities don’t.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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