by Keith Fraser
Vancouver Sun

Cheers went up in a Vancouver courtroom Thursday as a jury convicted a man of murdering a 12-year-old girl more than 40 years ago.

The B.C. Supreme Court jury found Garry Taylor Handlen guilty of the May 1978 first-degree murder of Monica Jack, who disappeared while riding her bicycle near Merritt.

The verdict came after 2½ days of deliberations and a trial that began before a 14-member jury in October. Two of the jurors were dropped before the start of deliberations.

There were also tears in the courtroom as members of the Jack family arrived in the public gallery to hear the verdict.

Outside court after the verdict, Madeline Lanaro, the victim’s mom, told reporters that she would not be commenting until she had a chance to get her thoughts together.

Handlen had little reaction to the verdict as he sat in the prisoner’s dock.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, the trial judge, thanked the jury for their work and set a date for sentencing on Jan. 28. First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years. At the sentencing hearing, the judge is expected to hear a number of victim impact statements.

The Crown’s case was largely based on a confession to the murder that Handlen, who was initially a suspect but never charged, made following an elaborate police sting known as a Mr. Big undercover operation.

Handlen, by then living in Ontario, was introduced to what he believed was a criminal organization and taken through a series of scenarios run by the fictitious gang.

At the end of the scenarios in 2014, Handlen told the “crime boss” or Mr. Big that he had abducted Monica while she was riding her bicycle near Nicola Lake.

He said he put her in his truck and camper and took her up a mountain before strangling her. The Crown alleged she was sexually assaulted before being murdered.

At trial, Handlen’s lawyers argued that the police had manipulated him and that he’d made a false confession. One of Handlen’s lawyers declined to comment outside court Thursday.

What the jury didn’t hear was that Handlen had also been charged with the murder of a second girl, 11-year-old Kathryn-Mary Herbert. The girl went missing walking near her home in Matsqui in September 1975. Her body was found several months later in a remote area underneath a piece of plywood.

In a statement in October, Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Crown, said that the first-degree murder charge involving the Herbert slaying was the subject of an earlier application. McLaughlin said in an email that the nature and results of the application were the subject of a publication ban and added that the charge had not been stayed nor dropped.

Outside court Thursday, a Crown spokeswoman said the issue of the murder count involving the Herbert girl would be addressed before Handlen’s sentencing on Jan. 28.

The jury also did not hear that Handlen had a record of sexual violence stretching back to 1963. His record, excluded at trial because it would have been seen as evidence that he would be more likely to commit murder, included an assault on a 17-year-old girl when he was 21 years old in 1969, using a knife to coerce her.

In 1971, he used a knife to abduct an 18-year-old, take her to a secluded area and rape her. He got 5½ years for that offence and was on parole for that rape when it was alleged he committed the Herbert homicide.

He was charged with the attempted rape of a 19-year-old woman in June 1977 and was convicted of that crime in October 1978. While that proceeding was going on, he murdered Monica Jack.

In September 1978, he was convicted of the rape of a 21-year-old female hitchhiker he had picked up near Manning Park. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for that offence but had it reduced on appeal to 12 years and he was released on mandatory supervision in 1987.

The hitchhiker rape victim was in court Thursday and spoke outside about the impact of the crime on her.

“I spent 20 years using drugs and alcohol to find a way to cope with that.”

She said that although the justice system worked to convict Handlen of the Jack murder, she believes the slaying should never have happened.

“He was on bail when he killed Monica Jack. He has a history of sexual assault. Why was he let on bail with a history like his?”

Since his release after serving time for the 1978 rape, and before his trial on the Jack murder, he has been convicted of three charges of possession of a narcotic as well as dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and flight from a police officer.

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