Murder victim's family speaks of terrible loss at David Folker's hearing

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Rosie Gillingham
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The months of anguish for a missing daughter and the stress of a trial for the man who murdered her erupted in a burst of emotion Wednesday.

David Folker, convicted of murdering Ann Marie Shirran in 2010, awaits the start of his sentencing hearing at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Wednesday. Seated behind Folker are Shirran's mother, Diane Baggs, and Shirran's brother, Dana Harrell, who read their victim impact statements in court. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

More than three years after Ann Marie Shirran disappeared and her body was found in the woods, her family has been fractured by the devastation. Losing a child is this mother's worst nightmare, Shirran's mother, Diane Baggs, said while reading her victim impact statement in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's.

Her demise has left a void in my life that can never be filled. The wound in my heart lies open, gaping and seeping.

Baggs was the first to have her say at the sentencing hearing of Shirran's common-law husband, 43-year-old David Folker.

On Nov. 8, following a lengthy trial, a jury found Folker guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his son's mother and of committing an indignity to her body

The mandatory sentence is life in prison. The only issue to be determined is how long Folker has to be in jail before he can apply for parole.

The Crown recommended Folker be ordered to wait 18 years before applying. The defence suggested 12-14 years.

But for Shirran's family, no amount of time can do justice to what Folker did.

Baggs described the torture she felt during the search for her daughter, the shock and agony of finding out she was dead and the condition she was in when she was found.

"The images in my head, I have to live with forever," Baggs said.

Shirran's skeletal remains were found by campers on Sept. 3, 2010 in a wooded area in Cappahayden. Some of her body parts had been dragged off by animals.

Experts testified at the trial that Shirran suffered two fractures to her head caused by forceful blows.

On the second day of Folker's trial, he admitted Shirran died as a result of a physical altercation between the two at their apartment in Kilbride on July 18, 2010.

He also admitted to disposing of her personal items in the woods off Blackhead Road and to dumping her body. He admitted he lied to police about her being missing, despite the extensive search that was underway.

However, Folker had insisted Shirran's death was an accident and that he disposed of her body because he panicked and didn't want his son growing up without a parent.

Baggs said Wednesday it's the child who has been affected the most by Folker's actions.

Baggs is caring for the boy, now four, and said he suffers separation anxiety and often asks for his mother.

"Her son will never feel her comforting arms again," she said.

"Even though he is a wonderful, loving, happy, friendly child, he realizes there is an integral piece missing in his life."

She said the day will come when the boy will have to know the truth about what happened, and she prays he will have a good life.

"When does the pain and heartache cease?"

Shirran's brother, Dana Harrell, gave a heart-wrenching statement and said since Shirran's death, "There are overwhelming life changes that this crime has unfortunately impacted every aspect of my life."

He said he has tremendous anger towards Folker and feelings of vengeance. He said he has sleepless nights and cries often.

"Thoughts fall into hopeless abandon because the want to (wreak) vengeance feels like it runs through my body," he said, wiping tears.

"To the very marrow of my bones, the pain is real. ... Frustration and the total loss of control of everything - everything - in my life has left my life in shattered pieces."

Since Shirran's death, he said he's been through four jobs, had his 30-year marriage end and lost his home. He said he's even had to sleep in his car. He's sought psychiatric help to deal with the pain.

Shirran's father, Jon Baggs, was out of town and wasn't able to make it to court. His victim impact statement was read in court by Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland.

Baggs - who lost a son to a drunk driver in 2007 - said he's still having a hard time dealing with his daughter's tragic death.

"The images of Ann Marie's remains are etched in my brain and will go with me to the grave," he wrote.

When Folker was given the opportunity to speak, his voice wavered and he wiped away tears.

"For the last three years I've had my liberty and I am very much aware that I didn't deserve it," he said. "It was a comfortable hell."

He went on to say, "When I see a boy and his father, I feel faint and sick. When I see a boy with his mother, I feel paralyzed."

Folker said he cries every day. He apologized profusely to Shirran's family.

"I don't know how to apologize without sounding like it's an insult. There's not enough words in any language to express the depths of (my remorse)."

He then directed his comments to his son.

"I've failed you. I have failed you in every way," he said, adding he's glad his son has such loving care.

"I don't see any way you can forgive me. I can't forgive myself. I'm sorry."

Folker thanked his family and friends for standing by him and apologized to the police, who put so many resources into trying to find Shirran after he lied and said she was missing.

"To the people of St. John's, Newfoundland, I love this province and I contaminated it."

He vowed he would never return.

In suggesting 18 years for parole eligibility, Strickland said there were four aggravating factors that support that argument.

1. Folker's decision to hide Shirran's body and "engage in a facade and web of lies to cover it up." He said such deception demonstrates Folker's character.

2. Folker's actions left a young child without his mother "at an age when he needs her the most."

3. The victim was Folker's common-law wife.

"Murders against partners should be seen as the most serious crimes a person can commit," Strickland said.

Strickland said what Folker did to Shirran's body after he killed her, "robbed Ann Marie even of that small piece of dignity."

4. The jury's recommendation on parole eligibility.

Of the 12 jury members, half of them recommended Folker not be eligible for parole for 20 years. Three recommended 25 years, one said 17 years and two suggested 18 years.

Defence lawyer Scott Hurley began his comments by telling the judge about Folker's background.

He said Folker had a difficult childhood growing up in Windsor, N.S., and was fearful of his alcoholic father and felt neglected. He said he dropped out of school in Grade 8, but years later, completed his education and worked as a welder.

He suggested what Folker did was a spontaneous act done out of fear and panic after discussions about child custody.

"There was no planning or deliberation," Hurley said.

"Once he began lying, you can see how it snowballed. It was impossible to stop."

He pointed out that Folker also expressed remorse and took responsibility for Shirran's death from early on in the trial. Hurley said 12-14 years for parole eligibility is appropriate, citing several other cases, many from this province, in which the offenders received a lesser range for parole eligibility.

Justice Wayne Dymond will make his decision on sentencing Dec. 17.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com Twitter: @TelyCourt

Figure:

Geographic location: St. John's, Cappahayden, Kilbride Blackhead Road Newfoundland Windsor

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