A preliminary hearing for John Roland Douglas Savage, 52, charged with second-degree murder came to an abrupt end with Savage pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Crown Dominique Mathurin and Defence Jason Snider gave the court a joint submission of agreed-upon facts.
On April 6 at about 6:45 p.m. RCMP had a complaint of a white Ford F150 truck driving erratically on Hwy 56 north of Stettler and going north.
Police located the truck but weren’t able to intercept the driver. The officer ran the plate and it came back to James Hulkovich.
Police went to Hulkovich’s home at 5908 – 50 Ave. in Stettler to find out if his vehicle was stolen. When they arrived they noticed a broken window.
They knocked on the door but no one answered and the door was locked.
A neighbor told police that the victim’s truck wasn’t at the house and that he was likely at the hospital where he visited his wife daily.
Police went to the hospital at about 8 pm. and learned that the victim wasn’t at the hospital. Staff said he had visited earlier and it was abnormal for him not to visit his wife a second time later in the evening.
Police went back to Hulkovich’s home and entered the house using key given to them by the victim’s neighbour. Inside the residence appeared ransacked and police found the victim lying in the stairs in an awkward position. They determined he was deceased.
An autopsy determined that the cause of death determined to be a gunshot wound to the torso.
On April 7 the victim’s truck was spotted again on the QEII south of Ponoka. The truck left the QEII and went onto Hwy 13, where police placed spike belts on the highway. The truck came to a prior stop to hitting the belts. The accused was the driver and there were three passengers.
After being arrested, Savage told officers he took two grams of meth so he was taken to the Royal Alexandria Hospital where he was sedated.
On April 11 Savage gave a statement to the police. He said he entered the victim’s home through a window. He said he was going through the house looking for guns and found them under the bed.
Savage said that while he was at the home, he had one of the guns in his hands and the victim returned home and he “just pulled the trigger.”
Savage told police that he had a cigarette at the home and left a cigarette at the residence down a drain. The butt was retrieved and DNA from the cigarette matched DNA of savage.
Savage also told police that a bullet went through the bedroom wall and it ended up in the kitchen. This information was corroborated.
Seven victim impact statement were entered into the court.
Sam Church, brother-in-law of James Hukovich said James was a “good, caring person who has never hurt anyone.”
He added, “I can only imagine the horror you put Jim through.”
Sam said Jim survived two open-heart surgeries and cancer “and to be taken from us in this manner is profound.”
Sam said James used to spend two to three hours daily caring for his bed-ridden wife at a Stettler nursing home.
“Jim can no longer be there for his wife and this bothers me greatly because she looked forward to it.
“I hope you realize the damage you have done and make better choices going forward when you are released.”
James ‘sister Shirley Church told Savage, “How does one accept a senseless murder of a loved one, especially a kind man and the biggest thing was his daily visit with his soul mate and wife. Jim was her life. You took these visits away from her.”
Shirley said, “I’m afraid for the safety of my Stettler family once you are released from prison.
“My heart aches every day for the loss of my brother. I will heal but I have no forgiveness in my heart for you.”
Defence Jason Snider told the court that Savage was under the mental health act and was supposed to be in the care of the hospital.
Savage was arrested under the Mental Health Act about 2 a.m. April 6 and a weapon was taken from him after he was going to commit suicide.
“People are bitter towards the hospital and Mr. Savage,” said Snider.
Crown Dominique Mathurin told the court that the bulk of the evidence against Savage came from him.
“Without the accused’s confession, there would be no case before the court. The accused provided a statement and it was incriminating and based on his statement we were able to find corroborating evidence, the cigarette butt, the bullet hole.”
Mathurin said the fact that it happened in the victim’s home is an extremely aggravating factor and that a firearm was used.
Savage faced the Hulkovich family and apologized.
“I would just like to say sorry to the family. It was an accident. If they would have kept me at the hospital that night, I’m not making excuses but I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t say my own name. If they wouldn’t have let me go, it’s not an excuse, but we wouldn’t be here.
“I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. I hope you don’t hate me because if you hate me you won’t be happy. Try to forgive me, not for me but for yourself.”
Judge J. Glass said he wasn’t satisfied that Savage’s “early release” from the hospital was a mitigating factor.
“However, the accused’s mental state is a factor to consider and I do so.”
Judge Glass also said the shooting wasn’t an accident.
“I don’t accept that this was an accident. It was more near a murder than an accident. Mr. Savage you pulled the trigger and that is an intentional act.”
Judge Glass sentenced Savage to seven years in prison, less time he has served since being in custody April 7, 2018.