On June 28, 2022, Matthew William Perry (26), of Slave Lake, pleaded guilty to second degree murder for the death of Darren Dawson (30) in Peace River Court of Queen’s Bench. Perry was sentenced to life in prison (details at the end of the article).
Perry has been in custody since September 18, 2020, which was the day he was charged with Dawson’s murder.
The weekend after May 30, 2019, Dawson’s family was expecting a visit from him. Instead, they learned that he had been murdered.
At the summary disposition (guilty plea) and sentencing, six of Dawson’s family members read victim impact statements in court. Two other statements written by family members, not present, were read by the Crown.
“My heart is forever broken and bleeding,” said Dawson’s mother.
Dawson’s family members described him as a kind-hearted man, with a contagious laugh, and always ready with a joke. He was a newlywed, with a house, car, and dreams of children.
“I’ll never be the same person I once was,” said the letter from his wife, which was read in by the Crown.
“Mr. Dawson was loved,” said Justice L.K. Harris, summarizing the victim impact statements. She added that to call the letters heartbreaking, would be an understatement.
On May 30, 2019, Dawson and two other men drove from Grande Prairie to Slave Lake in a stolen white pickup with other stolen property, the Crown prosecutor told the court. They went to an apartment in northwest Slave Lake. Perry and several other people were there. Perry had a 20-gauge, pump-action sawed-off shotgun, with the serial number filed off. This was a prohibited weapon. He’d gotten the shotgun from the residence of a woman in Slave Lake.
Perry had a stolen white Dodge Durango, the court heard. Plans were made to transfer stolen property from the pickup to the Durango and switch vehicles. Perry drove the Durango to a gravel pit near Widewater, so the owner of the vehicle wouldn’t see it. Later, the four of them drove from the apartment to the gravel pit. They were caught on video surveillance.
At the gravel pit, Dawson went behind the Durango to urinate, the Crown Prosecutor explained. He and Perry, who was holding the shotgun, got into an argument. Perry shot Dawson three times – in the lower pelvis, chest, and jaw.
The autopsy showed that the lower pelvis wound was back to front, the court heard. It was survivable. The other two were front to back and were not survivable. The lower injury hit the liver. The upper one severed both the jugular vein and carotid artery.
Who did the next part of the crime is disputed, but all three men were present when it happened, added the Crown. Someone dragged Dawson’s body to the tree-line. They poured gas from a chainsaw onto his body and lit it on fire. The other two men drove away in the stolen white pickup toward High Prairie. Perry drove the Durango. He lost sight of them and returned to Slave Lake. He then took the shotgun back to the woman who he’d received it from. He expected her to get rid of it, but on June 4, 2019 she turned it and the ammunition over to the police and made a statement. The gun matched the marks on the spent bullets and the unused ammunition was of the same type as the ones used to kill Dawson.
On May 31, 2019 at 1:39 a.m., someone reported a bushfire near the Widewater gravel pit. With the wildfire hazard being very high, the firefighting response was swift, and Dawson’s body was soon discovered. The autopsy found no evidence of smoke in Dawson’s lungs, leading the examiner to conclude he was dead when the fire was lit. The burns were more severe on his legs.
At the time of the murder, Perry had no criminal convictions, but three outstanding charges from just prior. He was under a lifetime prohibition from having any prohibited weapon and under a release condition to have no weapons.
Perry is from Nova Scotia. His lawyer told the court he has a Grade 12 education and moved to Alberta when he was 18 to work in the oilfield. He did that for six years, living in both Slave Lake and Grande Prairie. He bought a house.
The oilfield is a hard life and drugs are often part of the lifestyle, said the lawyer. In 2019, when oil prices were low, Perry was out of work and became addicted to methamphetamine. To support his habit, he started selling drugs. He was often awake for four to seven days at a time.
Perry has been in custody for nearly two years, said the defence and has been sober.
“I’d like to apologize for my actions,” Perry said. He also mentioned that two year ago, when the police asked him if he killed Dawson he admitted it.
Perry was sentenced to life in prison. He is not eligible to apply for parole for 10 years. He is prohibited from possessing any firearm (and restricted or prohibited weapon) for life. He is ordered to submit DNA. Also, he is prohibited from having contact with any of the eight people who wrote victim impact statements.
Life in prison and being unable to apply for parole for 10 years is the most common sentence for second degree murder, said the Crown. After the 10 years are up, this doesn’t mean that Perry will be let out on parole, it just means he can apply.
For the rest of Perry’s life, he will be under some form of supervision, either in prison or on parole.
The Crown withdrew two other charges. These were causing indignity to a human body and arson.