11/15/2013 01:07 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Winnipeg police admit they paid money to man who eventually confessed to murders

WINNIPEG - Winnipeg police admit they took the "extraordinary measure" of paying for information from a man who ended up confessing to killing two aboriginal women — a confession the Crown says wouldn't have held up in court.

Supt. Danny Smyth said police were investigating a sex assault in 2012 and brought Shawn Lamb in for questioning. While he was being processed, Smyth said Lamb told police he knew where a body was.

After that, Smyth said Lamb clammed up.

Lamb, who has a lengthy criminal record, said he would talk to police if they deposited some money into his prison canteen account, Smyth said. Police made three payments — $1,500 in total — so Lamb would co-operate with investigators.

"This wouldn't be something we would do routinely," Smyth said Friday. "It's the first time in my knowledge that we've entered into this kind of tactic but we were prepared to take an extraordinary measure in this case."

In three subsequent police interviews, Lamb confessed to killing 25-year-old Carolyn Sinclair and 18-year-old Lorna Blacksmith and was charged with second-degree murder. On Thursday, the 54-year-old pleaded guilty to two lesser charges of manslaughter, after the Crown admitted his police confession likely wouldn't have been admissible in court.

A judge approved a jointly recommended sentence of 20 years in jail. Lamb can apply for parole in nine years.

Court heard Thursday that both women were killed in Lamb's apartment in 2012 after they had smoked crack cocaine. Their bodies were found wrapped in plastic and dumped in back alleys.

Lamb told police he hit Sinclair over the head with a piece of wood, strangled her and left her body in his bathroom for several days before he dumped it near a garbage bin.

He told police he strangled Blacksmith with a TV cord, tried to revive her and then left to buy more drugs. He eventually dumped her body behind an abandoned house where it was found six months later.

Defence lawyer Martin Glazer and the Crown told court Lamb's confession likely wouldn't have been admissible in court and — without his confession — police had little forensic evidence for a conviction.

Police consulted prosecutors before making the payments to Lamb and did talk about how the payment might be seen as an "inducement," Smyth said.

"We agreed to pay so we could have access to Mr. Lamb. That was the only way he would agree to be interviewed," Smyth said. "The Winnipeg Police Service is sensitive to the fact that there are many missing and murdered women in Manitoba and Canada. These investigations are a priority for us.

"In this case, the investigators explored all available options in the interests of justice and public safety."

Lamb has been in custody since his arrest in June 2012 in the deaths of Sinclair, Blacksmith and Tanya Nepinak. Nepinak's body has never been found and Lamb is still facing charges in her death.

Although Smyth said police were looking to give closure to the victims' families, some expressed outrage at Lamb's plea deal.

"It's disappointing," said Amanda Sinclair, Carolyn's sister. "(Twenty years) is not much for taking two lives. I find it very unfair."

Lita Blacksmith, Lorna's mother, wrote in a victim impact statement that she hasn't slept since her daughter's death. When the 18-year-old went missing in January 2012, Blacksmith said she went out every night looking for her, hoping to find her alive.

Those hopes were dashed in June 2012 when she found out her daughter had been killed.

"To see my other daughter suffer with the loss of her sister brings a big heartache on me," she wrote in an exhibit filed with the court. "I know that my girl will never sleep peacefully ... cause her better half left her. My beautiful daughter has left me sleepless, still thinking she's alive."

Manitoba's Conservative justice critic Reg Helwer said the police tactic sets a disturbing precedent.

"We want to make sure police have all the tools at their disposal," he said. "But this particular one, I'm sure, was very disturbing to the families of the victims and to most Manitobans to see that a criminal may have profited from his crimes."