NEWS
06/17/2014 07:00 EDT | Updated 08/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Giant Mine bomber Roger Warren goes before parole board

The Parole Board of Canada is expected to decide today whether to release Roger Warren from prison, some 22 years after the former miner was convicted of killing nine workers during a bitter dispute between the now-defunct Giant Mine and workers. 

Warren is serving a life sentence for nine counts of second-degree murder. At the time of one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history, Warren was a longtime employee of the gold mine and was on strike.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on Sept. 18, 1992, a blast underground shook Giant Mine, and a rail car carrying nine miners exploded, killing all of them. Three of the men were replacement workers, and six were Giant miners who crossed the picket line.

Warren, now 70, has been in prison for 18 years. He has been eligible for day parole for almost four years, but this is the first time he has applied for it. 

The hearing Tuesday will begin at 8 a.m. PT at Mission Minimum, a prison that used to be known as the Ferndale Institution in Mission, B.C. Typically, parole board hearings take between one and three hours. After questioning an inmate, parole board members will adjourn to deliberate and then present their decision. 

Warren could move to halfway house

Day parole would allow Warren to move from a minimum-security penitentiary to a halfway house. He would live under supervision, reporting to staff where he's going and when he will be back. It would give him the freedom to work, receive skill retraining or attend counselling. It's not known where Warren hopes to live. 

Members of the parole board will evaluate whether Warren poses a risk to reoffend. They're expected to question him Tuesday about whether he has come to terms with past demons.

"They'll want to hear from him what are the things that allowed him to do what he did, both emotionally, psychologically. etc. He has to demonstrate that he knows what led him to commit this offence," says Patrick Storey, a spokesman for the parole board. 

That means taking responsibility for murdering the men at Giant Mine, and convincing the parole board he has dealt with the issues that led him to set the bomb that killed them.

"One of the things [inmates] have to demonstrate is significant and lasting change in attitude and behaviour," says Storey. 

Storey says Warren has likely already spent time out of prison with a corrections officer on escorted visits to the community, or even unescorted temporary absences. The idea is inmates must build up their credibility to receive day parole. If day parole goes well, Warren could apply for full parole, for which he's already eligible. 

Because he received a life sentence, Warren will be under some type of supervision for the rest of his life. 

Families may speak at parole hearing

The workers who died underground in the 1992 bombing, leaving behind eight widows and 27 children, were:

- Verne Fullowka.

- Norman Hourie.

- Christopher Neill.

- Josef Pandev.

- Shane Riggs.

- Robert Rowsell.

- Arnold Russell.

- Malcolm Sawler.

- David Vodnoski.

Nearly 22 years later, most of the families of those miners have left the North. They may make presentations to the parole board — either in person or through submitted audio or video — but the board says it cannot release whether anyone has applied to present in advance. Some say they will not be there.  

Judit Pandev, the widow of Josef Pandev, now lives in Ontario. She says letters and phones calls leading up to the hearing are bringing the pain back to the surface. She says she considered going to the hearing, but doesn't plan to. 

"I don't want to be in the same room as him. What's the point?" Pandev said. "He should know what he's done."

Pandev says talking about that time is too stressful. She has had three heart attacks and doesn't want another one. 

"He ruined my life; I'm not going to help him," she said of Warren.

Pandev says she hopes Warren stays in prison, adding she feels his sentence wasn't long enough. She says she thinks of the blast and her loss every day. It only hits her how much time has passed when she sees her granddaughter, who is now 21 years old. 

Other family of the men killed in the blast declined to speak about the hearing, one saying she didn't want to utter Warren's name. 

Giant Mine, which began production in 1948, ceased operations in 2004.

Warren's wife, Helen, still lives in Yellowknife and works for the N.W.T. government. She also declined an interview. 

Controversial conviction

Warren's conviction has also been controversial because many believed he did not set the blast, or that he did not act alone. After confessing to police in 1993, Warren recanted. During his criminal trial, he maintained it was a false confession, that he had wanted to end the strike and struggled with depression.

He unsuccessfully tried to appeal the conviction in 1997 and for years in prison he maintained he was not guilty. His case even garnered the attention of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, the organization that helped proved David Milgaard was not guilty. 

However, nearly a decade after Warren's initial conviction, he confessed again in 2003. He said he underwent psychological testing because he hoped "to atone in some small way" and hoped the victims' families would understand their loved ones "were not targets of hate, but unfortunate victims of a reckless act."

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