Langley Times

Double murderer continues to victimize families from jail

William James McCotter kicked and beat two people to death on this stretch of Langley City sidewalk in 2001. - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
William James McCotter kicked and beat two people to death on this stretch of Langley City sidewalk in 2001.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

For Holly Chamberlain, the nightmare of losing her brother and sister-in-law in a gruesome double murder in Langley in 2001 was bad enough. The grief and the way her brother, John Cleaveland Heasman, 37, and Linda Lee Anderson, 39, were killed left her traumatized beyond belief.

Twelve years later, the man who killed them continues to victimize her family.

Since William James McCotter entered the justice system he has manipulated it, grabbing headlines across the country for his ability to delay his trial for five years by firing every lawyer legal aid has given him and launching every appeal possible.

An appeal he made to overturn his sentences was dismissed last February. Now he is appealing when he should be eligible for parole. It was set at 20 years when he was sentenced in 2007.

“When is enough, enough?” asked Chamberlain from her home on Vancouver Island.

“It is beyond belief that he can drag our families through all of this over and over again. He has all the rights and we have none,” she said.

Chamberlain said every time McCotter files an appeal, she is notified and she has to tell her brother’s children and her family and the hurt comes to the surface again. The same goes for Anderson’s family.

Since being arrested near the beaten and bloodied bodies of his victims, McCotter has played the system, she said.

First, it took far too long for the case to go to trial, hampered by the accused continually firing lawyers to delay the case.

Finally, a judge stepped in and told McCotter they had had enough of his games and he must stick with the lawyer he was given or go it alone.

THE TRIAL

The trial was graphic, lengthy and traumatic, said Chamberlain, who sat through each gruelling day, including the bizarre and disturbing testimony of McCotter who seemed to enjoy his re-telling of the events.

Because she lives on the Island, Chamberlain had to stay with a friend so she could attend. Due to health conditions, her parents were advised by Crown counsel not to attend.

“Every sheriff in that courthouse hugged me when the jury came back, because I had gotten to know them all because we were there so long.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the jury with this trial. It was so awful,” she said.

But a decade later, the system refuses to let the family move on, she said.

McCotter was picked up almost immediately after he brutally kicked and bludgeoned his ex-girlfriend, Anderson, and her common law partner, Heasman, to death outside their Langley City apartment on Dec. 2, 2001. The restraining order against McCotter had recently run out.

Anderson had a brief relationship with McCotter a few years prior, before going out with Heasman. During the trial, it was revealed that McCotter couldn’t let go, once kicking down Anderson’s door, causing her to begin the restraining order process.

His trial heard that on the day of the murders he stalked the pair and purchased a jock strap and steel toed boots. He parked outside their apartment, got out and used the boots to kick both his victims in the head repeatedly.

He also viciously beat the pair with a 2x4 that he pulled out of a truck parked at the scene.

The coroner couldn’t determine whether the fatal blows were caused by the boots or the 2x4. It’s because of this that McCotter couldn’t be charged with first-degree murder. People in the building awoke to screaming. Several men tried to stop McCotter, to no avail.

In the trial, it was learned that Anderson, a care worker at Langley Lodge, had predicted her own murder. She told a co-worker she thought McCotter would kill her and said it was all written in her diary. The diary was never found.

McCotter even told another friend of Anderson’s that he was going to kill her, to punish her for placing a restraining order against him.

Through a series of firings of his lawyers, McCotter, 49, managed to delay the trial until April 2006. He was found guilty in June of that year of two counts of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence.

Parole eligibility took almost another year to figure out and in the meantime, McCotter fired another lawyer.

In the trial, the skinny, then 42-year-old, wearing his brown hair back in a pony tail, behaved strangely, at one time acting out cartoon characters to describe how he felt during his killing spree and another time quoting Jimmy Buffett’s song Margaritaville as to how much blame, or lack of blame, he should take.

CELL MATES CLASH

Shortly after McCotter was convicted, Corrections Canada put Anderson’s brother in the same jail cell as McCotter.

Anderson had apparently pleaded with officials not to put him in a cell with the same man who murdered his sister. He was doing time for stealing a car.

But Corrections clearly didn’t listen and the result put McCotter in the hospital with serious injuries.

McCotter was beaten, taken to hospital with broken bones inflicted on him by Anderson’s brother. He has long since returned to prison.

ENDLESS APPEALS

In November 2010, McCotter’s appeal into his conviction was heard by three judges. McCotter appealed his convictions, saying the trial judge erred in allowing hearsay evidence and erred in delivering the jury a charge which was confusing about the burden of proof, relating to McCotter not being criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.

On Feb. 3, 2012, those judges dismissed his appeal saying the jury had a “clear view of where the burdens lay and the standard of proof.”

In the trial, McCotter’s mother testified that he had been hospitalized for mental health issues once in the past and he had attacked her.

Neil MacKenzie, communications counsel for the Criminal Justice Branch said it is the right of convicted criminals to appeal all aspects of their case.

“Both Crown and the courts appreciate the emotional toll that can be faced by those involved with the criminal justice system,” said MacKenzie.

“Concerns for the impact on victims of crime, family members and other witnesses are certainly recognized, but consideration also must be given to ensuring a fair and proper process which protects the rights of all individuals, including those accused or convicted of criminal offences.”

“McCotter is a master manipulator, and he runs the system. This kind of craziness has to stop,” said Chamberlain. “It’s just not fair to the families.”

She wants to see changes in the system.

“We’ve seen changes happen. Look at Grant’s Law, that has made a real impact. Grant [De Patie] was killed the same year as my brother,” she said.

Grant’s Law, requires everyone pay at the pump before they get gas to eliminate the dangers of gas theft. It also requires more than one employee work the night shift.

JUSTICE ‘UNBALANCED’

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in B.C. to announce justice reforms that will tighten rules around releasing the dangerously insane.

The legislation is based on the case of Allan Schoenborn who killed his three children in Merritt.

He was found not guilty based on insanity but is up for yearly reviews to be let out on day passes. That means the victim — the mother whose children were murdered — has to relive the trauma every year.

Her family is pushing for the reviews to happen once every three years instead.

Harper said the justice system has “become unbalanced” in that once a person is convicted of a violent crime, the focus becomes solely on the criminal and their rights.

The families left behind are not taken into consideration.

Chamberlain said “people forget about the families” and how their lives have forever changed.

“It’s the whole scope of it. It affects relationships and the ability to work, every holiday and birthdays.” She said she lost her job after the trial, because she was too traumatized.

She credits the great support of Crown and Victim Services. She also credits the support of her friend Steve for helping her get through those times. She said Steve was her "rock" through the whole process.

She now has a good job, but said it’s still a struggle.

Her brother would have been 50 this year. She said her brother was a really good person and so was Linda.

“His kids are forever without their father,” she said.

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