Wells Gray murderer denied parole

'It's quite hard to imagine any crimes more serious or more reprehensible'

A man convicted of murdering an entire family near Clearwater apologized Tuesday for his devastating actions, but it wasn't enough to secure his release from prison.

The National Parole Board ruled David Shearing still has violent sexual fantasies, hasn't completed sex offender treatment and is not ready for freedom.

"It's quite hard to imagine any crimes more serious or more reprehensible than the ones you committed," the board said after a hearing at Bowden prison north of Calgary. "There still is present a large number of risk concerns."

Shearing shot and killed George and Edith Bentley, their daughter Jackie and her husband, Bob Johnson, while the family camped near Wells Gray Provincial Park in 1982.

He kept the Johnson's daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, alive for almost a week and sexually assaulted them before taking them into the woods, one at a time, and killing them, too. All six bodies were stuffed in the Johnson's car, which was rolled down a hill and torched.

Shearing, who now goes by his mother's maiden name of Ennis, pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence of life without chance at parole for 25 years.

He told the parole board he is sorry for what he did.

"I continue to be shamed, thoughtful and aware of the devastation I have caused," he said. "My actions will always cause me to feel an overwhelming sense of shame and a lifetime of pain and regret. I am and always will be deeply sorry for the loss I caused them."

He said the decision to kill the two girls was selfish.

"The last weekend, after six days, I knew I was already responsible for the death of four adults and I knew it had to come to a conclusion," he said. "I was very selfish and knew if I let them go I would be held accountable for what I had done."

Tammy Arishenkoff, who was instrumental in leading a petition drive against Ennis' release, was among about 20 people who attended the hearing.

"I think everyone is very relieved and ready to decompress," Arishenkoff said en route back to Kelowna.

She spoke to the panel, "the most emotional thing I've ever done in my life."

A childhood friend of one of Janet Johnson, she expressed relief over Tuesday's decision but believes a rule allowing offenders to re-apply for parole every two years is wrong.

"There obviously needs to be change. It's ridiculous."

The onus should be on offenders to first meet release conditions before they receive a parole hearing, she said.

"There are substantial reasons and they're not convinced," she said of the decision. "(But) if you listen to him, you think it's pretty good and he's ready to go …. I still don't think he gets it. I don't think he really understands what he did."

John Harwood, mayor of Clearwater, said Ennis should have been given consecutive, not concurrent, life sentences. That way he would not be eligible for parole every other year after 25 years.

"It was heinous, especially what he did with the girls," Harwood said.

Thirty years after, visitors to Wells Gray Provincial Park still talk about the notorious crimes, a park staff member said recently. A shadow, though it has lessened over time, still hangs over Clearwater, Harwood concurred.

"It seems it will be another 20 years before it drifts off or David dies and we don't have to go through this. This goes on until when? Till people give up and he's released? That would be a travesty of justice."

Shearing's supporters, including the woman who married him 18 years ago, said he is a changed man.

"I have a hard time believing this man could kill a fly," wife Heather Ennis said. "He feels remorse. I've watched him cry. This has hurt everyone. The time has come for him to work his way back."

Scott Baron knew Shearing in B.C. before the killings.

"He changed Canada for the worst, but I believe it is now the time we reconsider bringing him back in the larger Canadian family," Baron said. "People who make mistakes need compassion. People who make mistakes need forgiveness."

Several of the 25 friends and family of the victims who attended the hearing also addressed the board and lobbied to keep Shearing in prison.

"We must not forget this was six murders," said Kelly Nielsen, granddaughter of the Bentleys. "Twenty-five years isn't enough for six innocent lives."

Rod Woods, Bob Johnson's nephew, pointed out that future generations of his family were lost by Shearing's actions.

"He showed no mercy, no recourse - no second chance for them," Woods said. "There should be no starting over for Mr. Ennis.

"He still has five life sentences to serve."

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