Facing killer a life changing event
By Olivia Schneider
By Olivia Schneider
by Olivia Schneider
“It ended up being 25 years for me,” says Valerie Aucoin; 25 years before she came face-to-face with her father’s killer. Valerie was seven when told her police officer dad, Cst. Emmanuel (Manny) Aucoin, “had been hurt really badly and wouldn’t be coming home.”
Manny was shot and killed on March 8, 1987 in New Brunswick. Serving as a highway patrol officer in the Harvey, NB detachment, the PEI native was only 31 when he was shot by Anthony Romeo, an American citizen on the run in Canada who was already a suspect in a New York murder. Investigators believed Aucoin pulled Romeo over for a routine traffic violation. While he was writing up the ticket, Romeo shot him twice in the head, leaving the young constable to die in his cruiser by the side of the road. Romeo fled to the US, where he was caught in Boston while attempting to board a plane to Florida.
Valerie commends the swift action of police forces across North America and especially the instincts of the officer who apprehended her father’s killer. “Police everywhere knew what was happening,” she says. “That officer just reacted on a gut feeling that it was him.” Romeo was sent back to Canada and found guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Valerie has vague memories of March 8, 1987. She was having lunch with her mother and brother when a group of her father’s co-workers approach the house. Aucoin says her mother immediately began to cry when she saw them. “It must have been like every police wife’s nightmare,” she says. “You shouldn’t have to have those things in your memory as a young kid.”
Manny’s life was over but his family’s life without him was just beginning.
Valerie had to learn to live with those memories and with the day-to-day reality of how Romeo had changed her family’s life forever. It wasn’t until May 2012, at Romeo’s 25-year parole hearing, that she could tell him what he took from her.
“This murderer callously and maliciously killed my dad and also killed my childhood,” she wrote in her victim impact statement.
The statements are written to offer insight into how a crime has affected the lives of people most affected – surviving crime victims and family/close friends of those who have not. “The purpose is to give the victim of crime a voice,” says John Joyce-Robinson, the director of victim services in Nova Scotia.
Victim impact statements were introduced into Canada’s Criminal Code in 1988 and the legislation was amended in 1999. One of the key changes allowed victims to read their statements in court, where they are considered during sentencing. The process is entirely voluntary, but for Aucoin, it was an important experience.
“Saying my words felt empowering,” she says. “I recommend you go through it if you’re in that position.”
Research shows Aucoin is not alone in her opinion. A 2008 report by Oxford University Criminology professor Julian V. Roberts found victims who elected to read their statements felt the experience benefitted them. He reported they are also often more satisfied with the sentencing. In addition, judges say the statements are helpful when determining sentencing, especially for violent crimes.
Despite Aucoin’s endorsement and the research to support the process, Joyce-Robinson says only about 10 per cent of people actually submit a victim impact statement – and even fewer personally read them. The often slow-moving justice system is one key factor. In some cases, the authors of statements wait months or years from the time they prepare them until the date of sentencing.
Years – sometimes decades – pass before an offender has a parole hearing. People’s circumstances change – relocation, new jobs – making it difficult to attend in person. Joyce-Robinson says a travel fund has been set up in the past few years to ease the financial burden for those who wish to read their statements in person.
Some victims manage to write an impact statement but are simply not ready to face the offender in person. Valerie says it was very difficult to face her father’s killer but she later found the experience therapeutic. It took a lot of courage and support from her family and friends to stand in the same room as Romeo and read her statement, “but I know now that I’ve done my part,” she says.
Despite the strides she’s made to move on from her past, she doesn’t like the popular idea that victim impact statements bring closure.
“Closed sounds like a harsh term,” she says, although she acknowledges that facing Romeo and telling him how his long-ago actions changed her life forever changed her life in another way.
“It’s no longer something I’m holding onto. I’m not defining myself as the daughter of the slain police officer.”