Accused murderer Kenneth Jensen, who initially pleaded not guilty in connection with the death of George Ammon Kong, suddenly changed his plea to guilty four days into his trial in BC Supreme Court in New Westminster.
Jensen’s plea change followed a four-day voir dire to determine whether statements he made to police following his 2007 arrest were admissible as evidence.
Jensen wanted his confessions to police about how he met and killed Kong excluded from evidence on the grounds that police violated his right to a lawyer.
Jensen’s lawyer Philip Riddell sought to demonstrate that Jensen lacked the sophistication and education to protect his rights while in police custody. Jensen had testified earlier that he failed Grade 9 a few times and was only in Grade 10 for a month or two. Asked if he read a lot, Jensen said he read his first book in jail.
But when Crown counsel Rusty Antonuk asked Jensen if he was told he had the right to retain a lawyer “in private and without delay,” Jensen said he was.
Antonuk pointed out that Jensen was informed enough of his rights to be able to advise a cellmate – who turned out to be an undercover cop – to get immediate access to counsel.
Antonuk also referred the court to the videotaped interview between Jensen and Sgt Dave Attew in which Attew informs the accused that he is not obligated to say anything. At one point in the interrogation, Jensen tells Attew that his lawyer told him not to talk.
Legal aid lawyer Greg Lanning, who took the stand at the voir dire, told the court he has “no live memory” of a phone call Jensen made to him after his arrest, except for some notes that include the accused’s name, age, and the type of charge. He explained repeatedly, however, that his main advice to anyone who is charged, from shoplifting to murder, is to “clam up.”
In the case of serious crimes like murder, he told the court that he repeats that advice slowly three or four times during a phone call.
Antonuk suggested that Lanning’s instructions to “clam up” were not complicated to follow.
Antonuk also maintained that Jensen was not “broken down” by Attew in the post-arrest interview, and that Attew even brought him a Subway sandwich to eat while they talked. He said Jensen understood he didn’t have to speak to police, nor write a letter of apology to Kong’s family, which he ended up doing as well.
In the end, Justice Mary Humphries dismissed Jensen’s application to exclude the letter and his statements to police, saying she found the police officers’ conduct and the advice Jensen received from Lanning completely fulfilled his rights under that section of the Charter.
She also found that Jensen was “fully informed” of his right to remain silent and exercised his free will when he decided to speak to police.
Immediately after Humphries gave her ruling Jun 9, Jensen stood up in the defendant’s box and asked to speak to Riddell who conferred with his client during a break in the proceedings.
Riddell returned from the break to inform the court he would be ready to make submissions the following day.
But when the trial resumed Jun 10, Riddell informed the court that he was not ready to proceed as he had received instructions from his client that caused him great concern, and wanted the rest of the day to consider his next steps. Riddell apologized to the court for the delay but did not elaborate further.
The next day, Riddell rose to his feet again, this time to say that his client wanted to change his plea.
“Guilty,” Jensen said when the court clerk asked him how he wished to plead after re-reading the second-degree murder charge against him.
Riddell then read a prepared statement from Jensen apologizing for what happened to Kong.
In the statement, Jensen also announced he was not truthful to police when he told them that he had gone to Kong’s residence for consensual sex. Rather, Jensen said he made the online connection with Kong in order to rob and extort him – something Jensen said he had done to other gay men before, using the same means.
When he met up with Kong and told him why he was at his condo, Jensen said Kong threatened to call the police. A fight ensued and he got Kong in a chokehold. He and Kong fell onto the couch, Jensen stated, and he held Kong in the chokehold for about a minute, only letting go when he saw blood coming out of Kong’s mouth.
Jensen said he then dragged Kong into the bathroom on blankets he took from the bedroom. He wrapped a hair dryer cord around Kong’s neck and put him in the bathtub, which he plugged with tissue paper, and ran the water.
Jensen said he used some duffle bags he found to carry the blankets away, and made several trips back and forth to Kong’s apartment to take away a number of items including music devices.
Antonuk said Jensen’s new plea and statement came as a surprise.
In his initial confessions to police, Jensen presented a very different picture of what happened the night of Kong’s death.
Jensen told police then that he met Kong Jan 20 on plentyoffish.com, an online dating site, and arranged to meet at Kong’s home that evening.
They eventually had anal sex in Kong’s bedroom, Jensen said, after Kong allegedly told him he “only gives, not receives” – something Jensen told police he was fine with.
After taking a break to reflect on the morning’s revelations, Antonuk told Justice Humphries that a psychiatric assessment on Jensen “should be ordered” to be used during sentencing.
He said the discrepancies between the statement Jensen gave to police at the time of his arrest and the one Riddell read out in court on behalf of his client – as well as the lack of emotion Jensen displayed throughout the trial – warrant such an assessment.
Antonuk also said he would like Jensen’s most recent statement, which describes a motive for his actions in January 2007, to be considered during sentencing.
After consulting briefly with his client, Riddell said Jensen does not consent to a psychiatric evaluation and further argued that the court does not have the authority to ask for such an evaluation. He also noted that Justice Humphries had the opportunity to observe Jensen in court over an eight-day period and suggested that his client has not shown signs of having a disorder.
As for the statement he read on Jensen’s behalf, Riddell said it was not made under oath, is not contested and is not relevant.
He added that the evidence Humphries already has in hand, including the letter of apology and the statement Jensen gave to Sgt Dave Attew after his arrest, were sufficient.
Justice Humphries said Jensen’s new plea came as no surprise to her, indicating that Jensen had displayed a sense of responsibility and remorse throughout the trial.
But noting the inconsistencies between his original statement to police and the one his lawyer read out, as well as what she called Jensen’s apparently unprovoked, dangerous and violent actions which remain “to some extent” unexplained, Humphries ordered a psychiatric report as part of the pre-sentencing phase.
Addressing Jensen directly, Humphries told him that he is not required to cooperate with such an assessment and further advised him that he could say, “the judge said I don’t have to.”
On the second to last day of the trial, Crown co-counsel Cathie Grant also read out a victim impact statement made by Kong’s sister, Joan Peters.
In that statement, Peters said she and her brother used to communicate on a daily basis and since his death, she has felt “a deep sense of loss.” She added that she has flashbacks about her brother lying for days in his apartment “unattended.”
Peters also revealed that she has been short-tempered with family, does not receive visitors as she used to, and has not been able to return to work or carry on with her other life duties as before.
After hearing Jensen’s guilty plea and latest statement, she added that she is thankful he has admitted the truth “at last.”
The Crown has indicated that Jensen should serve at least 10 years in prison before being eligible for parole. People convicted of murder are automatically sentenced to life in prison. The only question is how soon Jensen will be eligible for parole.
Jensen is scheduled to be sentenced Jul 30.