A high-profile area murder case came to a sudden end yesterday after the Crown attorney dropped the case saying there was no reasonable possibility of conviction.
Melissa Sheridan was charged with first-degree murder for the Oct. 19, 2020 death of her husband, Brant.
Brant’s brother, Kerry, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May, saying he conspired with Sheridan — with whom it is alleged he was having a sexual relationship — to murder his brother.
Sheridan’s attorney, Michael Lacy said the defence was cross-examining the Crown’s sole witness, Kerry Burke, on Tuesday, when the court broke for lunch.
When they returned, Assistant Crown Attorney Stephanie Baker suddenly announced the case was being dropped because there was no possibility of conviction.
Burke not credible
Lacy said Kerry Burke fabricated the entire story of conspiring with Sheridan to murder her husband, his brother.
“Kerry Burke falsely implicated Melissa in the murder to try to shift blame and responsibility for his own horrendous and cowardly act of killing his brother by shooting him twice in the back while they were hunting,” Lacy said, in an email to Sudbury.com. “His claims of being asked or hired to do this by my client were patently incredible. He provided false statements to the police about his own involvement in the murder and lied to his family and friends.
“When it was clear that the police were going to discover the truth about what he had done, he had to try to come up with some story to explain the unexplainable.”
Lacy added that he believes police should have seen through Burke’s story from the start as he “is not a credible person.”
“The fact that the police were initially conned by him to the point of arresting my client, charging her with the murder and throwing her in jail until we secured her release is inexplicable,” said Lacy who, incidentally, is the same attorney who defended Gerry Lougheed in the 2016 byelection scandal case.
“Any objective assessment of his claims should have caused the police to come to the realization that the Crown did yesterday. Kerry Burke is not a credible person. You cannot trust anything that he says. His narrative is nonsense and he alone was responsible for the murder of his brother.”
He said the Crown’s decision to drop the case is a clear vindication of his client.
“My client has waited a long 18 months to be vindicated. She was maligned in the media and presumed guilty in the public eye,” Lacy said. “Hopefully, the truth, as reflected in the withdrawal of the charges, will now be told.”
During court proceedings in May, the court heard Brant Burke was found dead, face down on top of a .308-calibre rifle with two gunshot wounds in his body, one to the upper left back and the other to the posterior left shoulder. The Burke brothers had been hunting moose on a trail in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory land, near Killarney.
Kerry Burke claimed he had sex twice with Sheridan before she asked him to “get rid of the problem” — the “problem” being her husband — and promised him ownership of the home she owned with her husband and $10,000 in return.
In the statement of fact, Kerry said he was “blown away” by the request.
About a month later, Kerry and Sheridan had sex again, and that’s when he agreed to kill his brother, court heard.
When he was arrested, Kerry told police he used a .30-06-calibre rifle that Sheridan gave him.
Kerry said after he shot and killed his brother, Sheridan picked up that rifle, and that he no longer has it.
For months, Kerry contemplated killing his brother, court heard, and the decision to do so came on Oct. 19, 2020, when they were moose hunting. At about 9 a.m., while they were walking along a trail, with Brant ahead of Kerry, Kerry shot his brother from behind. The first shot was from the hip, and then he fired a second shot to “finish him off,” court heard.
Following Kerry’s arrest, police seized several firearms from his home, but they were excluded as the gun that fired the bullet casing found at the scene.
A provincial police dive team searched waterways below bridges along Highway 637 close to the murder scene on May 24, 2021. Divers found a .308-calbre bolt-action rifle with an attached scope that matched the description provided by Kerry. It was sent to the Centre for Forensic Science for analysis. It could not be eliminated as a rifle used to fire the bullet jacket seized by police at the scene, but it couldn’t be confirmed to be the murder weapon categorically.
Following her arrest, Sheridan was held in custody for more than a month before being released with bail conditions Lacy called the “most restrictive bail order that can be imagined.”
As part of her release, Sheridan was required to live with one of her four sureties, not change her address without a further court order, and to deposit her passport with the Ontario Provincial Police within 24 hours of her release.
She was also required to remain in her residence at all times unless in the immediate presence of one or more of her sureties or for medical emergencies that require transportation to a hospital. She was forbidden from communicating directly or indirectly with a list of 13 people, and from possessing any weapons or ammunition
Furthermore, Sheridan had to have an operative landline in her residence, and when alone in her residence, to answer the phone immediately if it rings. Within 24 hours of her release and at her own expense, she was to be equipped with a GPS monitoring device and to wear it at all times. She was not to attend within 50 metres of two members of the Burke family.
Melanie Burke, Brant Brant’s oldest daughter, told Sudbury.com in May that it was “beyond frustrating” to see her uncle, Kerry Burke, plead guilty with the lesser charge of second-degree murder after being initially charged with first-degree murder.
Sheridan is fairly well-known in the region. Since 2001, she has been the president of CRCS Recreation in Sudbury, a firm that provides professional playground consulting and park design services. The firm has constructed hundreds of playgrounds, splash pads, sporting venues and park furnishing sites throughout Northern Ontario.
In 2017, Sheridan was presented with a 40 Under Forty Award from Northern Ontario Business. In addition to CRCS Recreation, she was a Northern Ontario representative agency for Miracle Recreation and Little Tikes Commercial. As well, Sheridan was the park leader at Kivi Park, serving as the liaison with non-profit organizations to plan and execute events, work with donors and sponsors to continuously expand the park’s sporting facilities and beautification efforts and act as the Kivi Park spokesperson.
For his part, Kerry Burke was to be sentenced on July 25, but that has now been delayed to Oct. 26, pending the completion of a Gladue report.
“My understanding is that the Gladue report had some delays in it due to lockdowns and other issues with it,” Justice Erin Cullen said in court this past Tuesday.
The court is working to ensure “all the necessary parties have been consulted by the report writers and they have had opportunity to provide information.”
Gladue reports provide information about an Indigenous person’s background for the court’s consideration prior to sentencing, and can include suggestions about appropriate sentencing. They are typically 25 pages or longer and take between six to eight weeks to prepare.
Burke’s Gladue report was ordered on May 10, which was almost 11 weeks ago.
Defense lawyer Glenn Sandberg affirmed the Gladue report is important due to the seriousness of the charges, which Cullen agreed with.