Just as the judge told Robert Hoefman he’d be serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, the murderer swayed and then toppled out of the prisoner’s box, onto the floor of a Medicine Hat, Alta., courtrooom.
On Wednesday night, a jury in the southern Alberta city convicted Hoefman of first-degree murder and extortion after three weeks of evidence and six hours of deliberations.
The dramatic conclusion paralleled the strange case involving threatening letters, odd requests and the murder of an innocent man in order to prove the seriousness of the $1-million demand.
His brief sentencing hearing before Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Dallas Miller was seconds away from concluding Thursday afternoon when Hoefman appeared to faint.
Sheriffs seemed to act quickly, attempting to catch and break Hoefman’s fall as one of the killer’s family members screamed at the sheriffs.
“F–king grab him,” he said after the fact. “There was a delay.”
The video link to the hearing cut out as Hoefman’s family in the courtroom gallery encouraged him to sit up and open his eyes.
When court reconvened and the video link was restored, Hoefman was not in the courtroom. Miller will finish the sentencing process Friday morning and has already given defence lawyers permission to keep Hoefman seated.
The judge thanked sheriffs for their prompt response before breaking for the day.
A publication ban protects the identity of the extortion victim who received the first of several letters to his business on Oct. 10, 2017.
Listen to the radio, letter demands
The letter writer said he’d been watching the businessman and his wife for weeks. It demanded $1 million or the killing would begin.
The letter instructed the man to put a red piece of paper on the door of his workplace all day on Day 1.
“On Day 2, we will show you exactly what we can do,” it promised.
“We could leave a small body part like a finger, or an ear or a tongue but we do not want to freak out your assistants, so just hearing that an individual was brutally murdered on the radio should be enough.”
Sure enough, the next day, James Satre’s body was found near his Medicine Hat, Alta., home. He’d been fatally stabbed. Hoefman’s DNA was found at the crime scene.
His DNA was also on some of the extortion letters collected by police.
Sister alone, isolated
Satre’s sister Marie wrote in a victim impact statement that her heart is broken and she cries all the time. She said she is isolated and alone now.
“I lost my brother and my best friend,” wrote Marie. “He was the only one who came to my house to visit me.”
“I used to enjoy life but now it’s just existing day to day.”
Satre’s obituary described him as a Red Seal chef who was a “gentle soul” with a passion for the outdoors, photography and reading.
Prosecutor Conor Doyle said “the murder makes the acts of extortion all the more terrifying.”
“The question of ‘why’ will never have a satisfactory answer and it’s heartbreaking.”