Party on the lam slammed
Escapees handed 10 month sentences

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 08/96) - Two Yellowknife Correctional Centre inmates thought they were home free when they discovered a broken door alarm.

Robert Leonard Albert and Keith Cameron Lester took advantage of the de-activated exit shortly after the nightly head count Sept. 20, and they didn't look back.

"They just walked away," said John Dillon, the territorial justice department's co-ordinator of adult operations.

That revelation came Tuesday, just hours after territorial court judge Michel Bourassa sentenced the pair to 10 months each for escaping lawful custody.

"YCI (the facility's former name) has had difficulties with this in the past," said Bourassa. He noted that punishment in this case must be strong enough to deter other inmates from committing similar crimes.

Acting on an anonymous tip Sept. 23, RCMP tracked the men to Williams Avenue, where they were found in separate houses, arrested and charged.

Police also charged Verna Cardinal, who put up the men in the houses, Crown lawyer Sandra Aitken told court Tuesday. A territorial court judge granted Cardinal a five-month conditional discharge for her role in the escape.

Aitken told court the two men -- both from Inuvik and both serving time for break-and-enter convictions -- have lengthy criminals records.

Lester, 32, was scheduled to be released from jail Dec. 20.

His past convictions include robbery, assault, break and enter, escaping lawful custody and sexual assault.

Albert, a 33-year-old father of one, was scheduled for release in February.

His past convictions include break and enter, fraud, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest and being unlawfully at large.

"I can well appreciate the public and police being seriously concerned about these two men being at large," said Bourassa.

Aitken asked Bourassa to sentence each man to a year in jail in addition to time they are already serving.

Defence lawyer Brent Clute countered with a plea to consider each man's case separately and sentence them between six and nine months.

If they received more than seven months in jail, their combined sentences would make them eligible for penitentiary time in a southern institution, Clute explained.

But Bourassa didn't sympathize with either Lester or Albert. And an appeal for alternative sentencing under new Criminal Code provisions for aboriginal offenders fell on deaf ears.

"Taking time off to party in a house for a couple of days is not going to be accepted or tolerated," said Bourassa.

Meanwhile, staff at the North's largest correctional facility are putting new measures in place to prevent a repeat escape.

Dillon said the malfunctioning alarm system has been replaced and following an internal investigation, new guard routines established.

"I'd rather not say what they are because the inmates don't know about them," said Dillon.

But in the future it should be much harder for inmates to simply walk away, he said.