For what Justice Erin Cullen described as the “brutal” murder of his own brother, Kerry Burke was sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole for 15 years on Wednesday.
Although when he becomes eligible for parole was up for consideration, Burke’s life sentence was a forgone conclusion due to a mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder, to which he pleaded guilty in May.
Parole eligibility for second-degree murder can be anywhere from 10 to 25 years, and the Crown and defence submitted a joint submission for Burke to get 15 years.
This, Cullen said, is “reasonable and appropriate” in this case, with 15 years ranking in the high range according to case law.
Stretching 15 years from the date of his arrest, this means Burke, 60, is first eligible to apply for parole on Nov. 24, 2035.
Cullen said there was “clear planning and deliberation” leading up to Burke murdering his younger brother, Brant, 56, on Oct. 19, 2020.
“Brutal and callous circumstances” led to the murder, Cullen told Burke during his sentencing, ”including your reliance on a loving, trusting relationship that your brother had with you as a means of luring him to his death.”
The two were hunting moose on a trail in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, near Killarney, at the time of the incident. Brant was shot in the back twice. His body was located several days later, prompting a police investigation.
“You, and you alone, knew exactly where he was and what had happened,” Cullen told Burke, whom she said let his frantic family wonder what happened to Brant as they searched for him.
Burke didn’t admit to his crime immediately, and reportedly spent the month before his arrest quietly grieving alongside the rest of his and his dead brother’s extended family.
In a victim impact statement read on Wednesday, one of the two brothers’ seven other siblings, Jamie, said Burke conducted a “theatrical performance of feigned grief at the funeral.”
During Burke’s guilty plea in May, the court heard that police officers visited Burke’s home on Nov. 24, 2020, after family members reported him missing. Officers went to check on his mental well-being when they found him in the garage, where he told officers he missed his brother.
Family members alerted officers to letters Burke was hiding, including one in which he admitted to planning with Brant’s estranged wife, Melissa Sheridan, to murder him for financial gain.
Both Burke and Sheridan were charged with first-degree murder, though charges against Sheridan were dropped in July after the Crown determined there was no reasonable possibility of conviction. Sheridan’s lawyer, Michael Lacy, said Burke fabricated the story as a means of shifting blame onto her.
In a victim impact statement Lacy read on Sheridan’s behalf on Wednesday, Sheridan said Burke took her two children’s father away from them. By accusing her of conspiring with him in the murder, she said he attempted to take her away from them, too.
“He is pure evil,” she said in the statement, describing Burke as “murderous coward.”
A total of 10 victim impact statements were read on Wednesday, including those from various family members. Statements from all four of Brant’s children were read, in which they outlined the devastation their uncle caused.
Lee-Ann Burke described her father as a “big-hearted funny man,” and lamented the happy future memories that will never come as a result of her father’s life being cut short.
“Someone like him will never exist again,” she said.
Lacy read statements from Brant’s two younger children, whose statements highlighted the fun they had with their father, quadding, fishing, biking and staying up late next to the bonfire.
Family members described the bear hugs Brant would give and how much he would be missed, crediting him as being an anchor for the family who brought everyone together until he suddenly tore them apart.
While sentencing Burke, Cullen described the contents of several court documents, including a Gladue Report, in which Burke was described as “a cornerstone of the family” prior to the incident – his mother’s “golden boy.”
“Mr. Burke, the crime that you committed here is [incomprehensible],” she said. “You had a good life and a family that loved you and one another. … They do not understand what happened here, and quite frankly, neither do I.
“You murdered your brother, your best friend, in cold blood. You were on your ancestral lands engaged in an activity your brother loved; hunting. You shot him in the back and left him in the woods to die.”
Cullen factored mitigating circumstances into her sentencing decision, such as Burke’s personal and the fact he was using alcohol to cope with that trauma, and an early guilty plea sparing the family the need to testify at a trial.
The aggravating circumstances behind the murder, she said, bumped his parole eligibility up to the 15 years she joined the Crown and defence attorneys in advocating for.
Brant, she said, was “a man who loved and was loved.”
“Your actions have taken him away from his children and his grandchildren, from his siblings – your siblings, your mother, extended family members and friends too numerous to mention.”
Burke read a statement during Wednesday’s court appearance. Although barely audible from the public gallery at times, he appeared emotional while reading it and could be heard saying, “I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.