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Ontario man gets life in prison for 1983 killings of 2 women

Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with the killings of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983. (Toronto Police Service - image credit)
Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with the killings of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983. (Toronto Police Service - image credit)

An Ontario man, convicted in the killings of two women in Toronto that took place nearly four decades ago, was sentenced on Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 21 years.

Joseph George Sutherland, 62, of Moosonee, Ont., was sentenced in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto. He pleaded guilty in October 2023 to two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983.

Tice, 45, and Gilmour, 22, were both sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in their beds in August and December 1983. They lived just kilometres apart in the city core — Tice in the Bickford Park neighbourhood and Gilmour in a Yorkville apartment. The two women didn't know each other.

Gilmour was an aspiring fashion designer and the daughter of mining tycoon David Gilmour. Tice was a family therapist and mother of four teenagers.

Erin Gilmour, 22, left, and Susan Tice, 45, right, were both killed in their homes in 1983. DNA evidence shows that the same person was present at both crime scenes.
Erin Gilmour, 22, left, and Susan Tice, 45, right, were both killed in their homes in 1983. DNA evidence shows that the same person was present at both crime scenes.

Erin Gilmour, 22, left, and Susan Tice, 45, right, were both killed in their homes in 1983. DNA evidence shows that the same person was present at both crime scenes. (Submitted by Sean McCowan, Tice family)

Sutherland was arrested by provincial police in his home town in November 2022. His period of parole ineligibility begins at the time of his arrest. He is also required to submit a DNA sample to the authorities and cannot possess weapons.

Justice Maureen Forestell told the court that mitigating factors in the sentencing include the fact that Sutherland is a first-time offender, he pleaded guilty to the crimes, he has apologized for his actions and he has lived a "pro-social" life in the time since the murders.

But because of the "extreme gravity of these offences," the sentence and period of parole ineligibility cannot be lower, she said.

"The two murders that Mr. Sutherland committed were profoundly serious," she said.

"The deaths of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour were not quick and they were not painless. Ms. Tice suffered numerous defensive injuries as she fought for her life. Ms. Gilmour was bound and gagged. They were killed in their homes, which should have been places of sanctuary," she added.

"The victims were sexually assaulted. The impact of the violence has continued to be felt by the other victims in this case, the families and friends of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour, over the past 40 years."

Judge considered Sutherland's history in sentence

When determining the sentence, Forestell said she took into account a Gladue report about Sutherland, who is Cree and a member of the Fort Albany First Nation.

Gladue reports present circumstances of a self-identified Indigenous accused's life for a judge to consider while deciding on a sentence. These can include personal and community histories, and traumas such as colonialism and its ongoing impacts.

According to that report, Sutherland went to St. Anne's Indian Residential School, where he was physically abused by a teacher.

"Courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement and residential schools and how that history continues to impact Indigenous communities. The impacts include lower educational achievement, higher rates of substance abuse, and suicide and higher levels of incarceration," she said.

"Mr. Sutherland was both directly and indirectly negatively impacted by colonialism and by the residential school system."

She said the residential school system weakened his family bonds, caused a loss of connection to his language and culture, and led to a loss of access to educational opportunities. She said he was also impacted by sexual abuse and alcoholism.

Toronto police released this image of homicide suspect Joseph George Sutherland which they say was taken in the 1980s. Investigators are now reviewing other cold cases to see if there may be any connection between the victims and Sutherland.
Toronto police released this image of homicide suspect Joseph George Sutherland which they say was taken in the 1980s. Investigators are now reviewing other cold cases to see if there may be any connection between the victims and Sutherland.

Joseph George Sutherland is pictured above in the 1980s. (Toronto Police Service)

Sutherland told the author of the Gladue report, however, that he didn't remember the first killing and only vaguely remembered the second killing. Forestell said she does not accept that assertion in part because he has said he went on a spirit quest to ask for forgiveness from his victims.

'Dogging all of us for 40 years,' relatives say

Relatives of both victims said outside the courtroom on Friday that they thought the sentence was fair.

Sean McCowan, brother of Erin Gilmour, told reporters that he is relieved that the legal proceedings are over.

"You want to see a number of 100 but, at the same time, 21 years, in light of the fact that the maximum it could be is 25, is a pretty decent outcome, I think, in our family's view," he said.

"I think my mom would be thrilled that someone's finally facing a life in prison for the rest of their life as a result of what they did," he added. "I'm happy to have the legal aspect of it done. This has been dogging all of us for 40 years."

Christian Tice, daughter of Susan Tice, said she is pleased with the outcome, which she said was "well balanced," adding it's been "a really long road" for the families.

"There's no closure. There's no justice. It's something that stays with you and we're just happy we got the guy. He's finally going to be put in jail. And for me, I feel safe now."

Tice said she felt Sutherland had some remorse.

"I think I was more terrified of finding some cold psycho that just had no feeling. Whether or not it was genuine, I can't really talk about that," she said. "But I appreciated more that he took the time to make a statement, that he turned himself in, that he did show remorse. I thought it was genuine."

DNA technology led to breakthrough in case

The women's murders went unsolved until a breakthrough was announced in 2021. Police credited advances in DNA technology in recent years with helping to find him.

Detectives were able to link the two killings using DNA technology in 2000, according to the Toronto Police Service, with investigators determining the same man killed both women.

In 2019, police began using a technique called "investigative genetic genealogy" to identify the suspect's family group. The process involves cross-referencing DNA found at crime scenes with samples voluntarily submitted to services like 23andMe or Ancestry.ca and then uploaded to open-source databases.

Sutherland will be eligible for parole in 2043.