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With suspects believed dead, answers about B.C. homicides may be hard to find

The bodies of tourists Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, left, were found near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15. University lecturer Leonard Dyck, right, was found dead four days later near Dease Lake, B.C. (New South Wales Police; University of British Columbia)

The deaths of Chynna Deese, Lucas Fowler and Leonard Dyck sparked two weeks of police investigation, intense public focus and suspense in the search for suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky.

With their reported deaths Wednesday in northern Manitoba, people in the communities where the two fugitives were spotted while at large may feel relieved.

Their deaths may bring closure for some, but answers to the many questions about the case — and what led to the three killings — may be hard to find.

How will the public fill in some of the massive gaps in what’s known about the case? CBC News explains.

Will there be a trial?

Deceased suspects can’t be put on trial. In most criminal cases, a public trial is the place where details of the crime are brought to light. Documents, including photos and video, are part of most cases, and they can be accessed by members of the public and the media.

Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers present their arguments and describe their version of what took place. And witnesses — including police — recount what they observed.

Without a trial, there’s no certainty any of that information will ever reach the public.

kam mcleod bryer schmegelsky

Images of murder suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were recorded in northern Saskatchewan a few days after three people were found dead in B.C. (RCMP)

What can the coroners tell us?

A coroner’s investigation is far more than simply looking at the findings of an autopsy. According to B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson Andy Watson, it can be a thorough investigation into the circumstances of a person’s death that “leaves no stone unturned.”

“The coroners service has a mandate to investigate all sudden and unexpected or unnatural deaths in the province, and in those investigations, look to determine how, where, when and by what means people have come to their death,” said Watson.

Police, he noted, handle the investigation into possible criminality related to a death.

In the case of Deese and Fowler, the young couple gunned down in northern B.C., police revealed where, when and by what means they were killed, and Watson said the coroner’s report won’t address the “why.” That’s a question for police. 

A coroner’s report may take many months to wrap up, but once it’s complete, it’s made public — sometimes with some sections held back.

Though the suspects were charged with Dyck’s murder, police never said how he was killed. They only called the death “suspicious” right up until a second-degree murder charges were laid against McLeod and Schmegelsky July 24 in connection with his death.

Will there be an inquest?

In lieu of a criminal trial, a coroners’ service can announce an inquest, another kind of formal court proceeding where witness testimony, documents and police accounts are considered by a jury and made public.

Watson said the three deaths in northern B.C. don’t meet the requirements for a mandatory coroner’s inquest, which can make recommendations that could prevent similar deaths in the future — not find fault or lay blame.  An inquest is mandatory if the deceased was in the care or control of a peace officer when he or she died.

However, B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, can choose to hold an inquest if she determines it would be beneficial to address community concern, assist in finding information about the victims or the circumstances surrounding their death, according to Watson. 

Lapointe has not announced an inquest into the three B.C. deaths as of yet. 

Bruce Pitt-Payne, a retired RCMP investigator who now does consulting and training work, said a coroner’s inquest could actually reveal more information than a trial.

Will police share details of investigation?

According to Pitt-Payne, RCMP investigators will continue their work long after the end of their search for the suspects. Police can’t consider the case closed until a Crown attorney decides if there was sufficient evidence to lay charges — even if the suspects are dead. 

“They’ll be working night and day still, to get as much information as possible,” he said of police.

But Pitt-Payne said the police are not required to share any of their investigation with the public once it’s concluded, unless there’s an inquest. He said they may share information with the families of the victims, who could in turn decide to disclose details to the media.

“I’m curious and I wish I knew more,” said Pitt-Payne of the case. “Unfortunately, as with any things in life, if we’re lucky then there’s more we’ll learn about; if we’re not lucky, then there will be unanswered questions.”

The higher the profile of an investigation, the more questions the public will have, Watson said.

“Given the fact that there’s two people that are very essential to this story that appear to be deceased now … I think some of those answers, ultimately, would have had to come from those people,” he said.

Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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