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Manslaughter verdict issued for stabbing death of Taylor woman

Crown prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jonhn Wendell Keyler had the "requisite and specific intent for a murder conviction to be entered," for death of Sarah Foord says judge

A B.C. Peace man who initially faced a count of second-degree murder for stabbing his girlfriend to death and dumping her remains at a remote gas well site north of Fort St. John was found guilty Tuesday of manslaughter and indignity to a human body. 

In finding John Wendell Keyler guilty of the lesser count for the July 7, 2020 death of Sarah Foord, B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams found he could not "discount the reasonable possibility" raised by a forensic psychiatrist during a seven-day trial that Keyler was "experiencing the effects akin to psychosis arising from the state of cocaine and alcohol intoxication." 

As such, Williams concluded Crown prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Keyler had the "requisite and specific intent for a murder conviction to be entered." Second-degree murder is any murder committed on impulse rather than being planned and deliberate. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of someone unintentionally.

During the trial, held during late October and early November at the Prince George courthouse, the court had heard that a then 38-year-old Foord and 35-year-old Keyler had been living together in her mobile home in Taylor after becoming a couple in spring 2019. Keyler was working in the oil and gas industry in the B.C. Peace but by March 2020 had been laid off and was collecting Employment Insurance while Foord, a cook by vocation, was working at least part-time at a pub in the community about midway between Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.

The two had both been consuming drugs and alcohol to a significant extent during their relationship. Keyler, who took the unusual step of testifying on his own behalf, told the court that in the days leading up to the incident, they had been binging and sleeping erratically and had run into money issues. As well, a conflict emerged over Foord's circle of friends and Keyler's concerns about an alleged interloper who he believed was trying to split the couple up.

Keyler told the court that on the day before, he and Foord had bought two dozen beer, a 24-pack of coolers and a 26-ounce bottle of vodka and then, in the afternoon, travelled to Charlie Lake where they bought five grams of cocaine, worth $300-$400, along with 2.5 grams of methadone from their dealer on credit. By midnight, they had run out of drugs and returned to Charlie Lake to purchase a further 4-5 grams of cocaine and one more gram of methadone, this time with cash withdrawn from an ATM.

By 1 a.m., they were back in Taylor where the drinking and drug taking continued. During that time, they received text messages from the alleged interloper which set off an argument between the two before they eventually found themselves in the bathroom "chilling" by which Williams took to mean they were using drugs.

Keyler testified he began to feel uncomfortable and nauseous and "felt cornered." When the music they had been listening to had stopped, Keyler began to hear things, became convinced there were people underneath the house and that Foord had "set him up" and had wanted to get somebody to kill him.

Keyler said he unfolded the knife from his multi-tool, pulled Foord toward him and into the tub with him, then pulled down the shower curtain to cover the them and hide from the supposed attackers. Keyler testified he remembered poking her in the back he struggled to keep her near as a form of protection. 

Keyler said he then blacked out and, when he woke up, found himself in a tub half full of water with the taps running and trying to get the shower curtain off himself. Foord, in turn, was lying on the floor on her back with her foot resting on the tub. Unable to wake her, Keyler went into the bedroom to have a smoke, snort some cocaine and change his clothes.

When he came to realize she was dead, Keyler put Foord's body in a garbage can and then drove it in his truck to an oil and gas site near Buick Creek. After driving back to Taylor to get more gas, cocaine, clothes and personal items and a shovel, he drove back to Buick Creek, buried Foord in a shallow grave, disposed of the garbage can and shovel in the bush and threw the multi-tool into a small lake nearby.

Keyler said he noticed blood on the bathroom wall along with a broken toilet seat and a towel rack pulled off the wall but was "quite adamant" that he saw no stab wounds on Foord's body. However, an autopsy revealed 50 of them, two of which were fatal.

Keyler drove to Surrey by way of Alberta then, two weeks after Foord's death, returned to Fort St. John where he confessed to RCMP and led police to where Foord had been buried.

In support of Keyler's position that he was in the throes of a "substance induced psychosis," the court also heard about a time in September 2019 when he and Foord had gone hunting while also drinking and using drugs. Keyler noticed some people following him and became convinced Foord had set him up. Two witnesses testified as to Keyler's behaviour at that time.

Although Keyler also pleaded not guilty to indignity to a human body, the matter was not vigorously argued during the trial.

After Williams issued his verdict, Crown prosecutor Joseph Temple gave notice that he will be seeking dangerous offender status for Keyler. If granted, Keyler will have to serve at least seven years behind bars before he can apply for parole. If he is released from prison, he will be under supervision for the rest of his life.

Keyler's record includes attacking an inmate with a home-made knife while in custody and confining, threatening and choking a woman. His "use of knives goes right back to the beginning of his criminal record," Temple said.

Sentencing will be handed over to a different judge because Williams will soon be retiring.


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