BURNABY, B.C. - Federal corrections officers who assessed a violent serial killer before transferring him to a medium-security prison believed the convict was repentant, a B.C. coroner's inquest heard Tuesday.
Just two months after the transfer, Michael McGray confessed to murdering his prison cell mate.
An assistant warden at Mountain Institute in Agassiz, B.C., described to the coroner's jury the rationale for moving McGray from the province's only maximum-security prison.
"He indicated he was committed to his correctional plan ... He was performing very well,'' Brenda Lamm told the inquest.
"I believe he was making a sincere effort. I don't believe that he manipulated the staff.''
McGray confessed to police he tied up 33-year-old Jeremy Phillips with bedsheets and stuffed a sock in the willing man's mouth as part of an elaborate hostage-taking ruse they concocted together.
McGray later admitted he turned on Phillips to gratify his own murderous urges.
In a raw and unnerving interview with police he calls himself a sociopathic killer with mental health issues and promises to stack up more bodies before he dies. He said authorities should never have moved him to a lower-security prison.
McGray repeated the same story when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder a year later, and was handed another life sentence in additions to sentences for six other murders.
Lamm told the inquest in Burnaby, B.C., just east of Vancouver, several Corrections officers were involved in the decision to transfer the 45-year-old from Kent Institution, B.C.'s only high-security prison.
She said he had been compliant with rules and regulations and hadn't been charged for any violent behaviour during the nine months prior, during which he was living with other inmates, but had his own cell.
McGray had been kept mostly segregated during his incarceration since about 2000.
She said the transfer happened as part of a long, drawn out process that began with McGray's voluntary application.
"There were no surprises that when he got to Mountain (Institute) that he was going to be double-bunked,'' she said, noting he was aware and accommodations had been discussed with his case manager.
He had asked for a single-cell, but was placed on a waitlist, although he and his soon-to-be cell mate were interviewed about sharing a cell and both suggested they were fine with it, she added.
Only a week after McGray began sleeping in the same confined quarters with his cell mate, he murdered the man.
The testimony came after another former prison inmate told the inquest he warned corrections' staff they should not place the pair together.
Brian Murray, who was an inmate representative at the time, told staff McGray told him he shouldn't have a cell mate at all.
Murray said McGray lied to him, saying that he had murdered cell mates in the past.
The inquest also heard that the murder victim himself expressed concerns about the shared bunking, and Murray had given the junior convict some paperwork to initiate a cell re-assignment.
A lawyer representing the coroner asked Murray, who testified by teleconference, if he was surprised by the murder.
"If you put a pot on the stove and turn the heat on, are you going to be surprised when the water boils?'' replied Murray, who is no longer in the prison.
Murray said he brought the complaints to a staff member a week before the murder, but doesn't know why there was no follow-up.
The inquest is looking into the safety of inmates in the prison system, and a jury is expected to make recommendations on preventing similar deaths in the future.
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