October 14, 2011
Guilty verdicts in Radocaj murder trialThree accused convicted of first-degree murder
By DEAN PRITCHARD - Winnipeg Sun
A jury has convicted three people in the murder for hire of Ivan (John) Radocaj.
Melody Sanford, 47, Donald Richard, 34, and Richard’s mother Rita Cushnie, 56, were all convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Sanford — the victim’s estranged wife — and Richard betrayed no change in emotion as the jury delivered its verdict shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday following a day and a half of deliberations.
Cushnie appeared to break down prior to the jury entering the courtroom. Once the verdict was delivered and the jury had left the room, her tears turned to rage.
“Look what you did to me you little bastard,” Cushnie said while looking at her son as sheriff’s officers moved to handcuff her. “You’re dead to me.”
Offered a chance to address the court, Sanford and Richard had nothing to say. Cushnie offered an apology to Radocaj’s parents while maintaining she had no involvement in their son’s murder.
“I have sympathy as a mother,” she said. “Please forgive me.”
In a victim impact statement read out in court, Radocaj’s parents directed their anger squarely at Sanford.
“I hate that woman,” they wrote. “She can get out of jail but John can’t get out of the ground and enjoy life.”
The stress of deliberations showed on the jurors. Two broke into loud sobs as they left the courtroom.
Radocaj, 43, a former wrestler once known as the Croatian Giant, was found beaten to death in his Interlake area home on Sept. 14, 2007.
Crown prosecutors alleged Sanford commissioned the killing while Richard, his cousin Daniel Richard and another man, Christopher Houle, carried it out. Cushnie, prosecutors said, was involved in the murder conspiracy. Houle and Daniel Richard are being prosecuted separately.
Sanford and Radocaj married just months before he was killed and were already separated at the time of his death. Sanford told police he was mentally and physically abusive and had sexually assaulted her adult daughter. Sanford’s daughter testified no such assault occurred.
Jurors heard evidence Sanford arranged to meet Radocaj at a Teulon restaurant so his killers could go to his house and ambush him when he returned.
Lawyers for Sanford and Richard argued there was no plan to kill Radocaj, only to beat him. Cushnie’s lawyer told jurors there was no direct evidence linking her to the killing.
First-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The convicted killers will return to court at a later date to argue sentencing on the conspiracy to commit murder charge.