Article by: By THANE BURNETT
– Murder still leaves mom gasping
Kathy Bradley woke on her couch the other day, startled from sleep.
For a moment, she had no breath. She suddenly — as if it had just happened — remembered her son, Robbie, had been murdered.
“I tried to find air,” she recalls. “I live with (the memory) every day, but there are times when the thought of it comes in, in a rush. That Robbie’s dead.”
Today, she will have good reason to hold her breath again, as one of his killers steps back into society.
The April 2002 killing of Robbie McLennan is one of the most memorable and horrific murders to ever happen around rural-planted Orangeville.
The short years since have done little to heal rifts or dull memories in a community which was home to a crime that made even big-city Toronto turn around in shock.
I first met Kathy and her family outside a Brampton courtroom in December 2004. Shielded by federal young offender legislation, a teenager — whom I couldn’t and still can’t name — had just pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Robbie’s death.
Now Kathy has learned the same killer who not too long ago sat in that courtroom — who stood over her dying son a short time before that — is scheduled to get out of jail today.
It hasn’t even been a full two years since he admitted his guilt and it’s barely 4 years since Robbie was slowly killed.
And now, one of the three people who murdered him is out from behind bars and expected to sign into a Brampton halfway house. By the time you read this, he may have begun his reintegration.
Faced with the strict provisions of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, youth justice services officials could not confirm the release yesterday — unwilling to even have the killer’s name uttered to them.
But Kathy and her family have become keen sleuths in keeping track of the three predators who killed Robbie.
They are among the few who know all the names involved.
But because of the laws which protect him, you won’t know who the released killer is if he comes looking for a future job or to someday rent an apartment in your basement.
SPIT ON DYING BOY
He will seem like almost any other 20 year old.
You won’t know, when he was 16 years old, he pinned down the arms of a young boy, while the victim was kicked with such force, an attacker’s shoe print could clearly be seen on his forehead when his body was found.
Standing in front of you now, there will be no way of knowing, during the ordeal, he raped Robbie with a stick. This, after the terrified victim was made to perform fellatio on the young man who’s apparently now served enough time.
That he spit on Robbie, as the boy lay dying — the burns of lit cigarettes and wounds from dropped boulders clouding his dimming eyes and mind.
At one point, Robbie was soaked in Jack Daniel’s by 20-year-old drifter Bronson William Penasse, who threatened to set him on fire.
As a then 16-year-old girl, Terry Baker, yelled enthusiastically, “Finish him off,” the young man who begins life anew today apparently watched with curious delight. Never — not during the torture or many opportunities after — did the young killer run to get help.
Now, so soon after, the young man certainly vividly remembers those hours of Robbie’s torture — how they knew he was dead when he no longer flinched when a cigarette was put to his body. But a high school diploma earned during his jail time is all society will know of the past years.
Part of the provisions of his release, Kathy has learned, is that he’s not allowed to travel to Orangeville. But the rest of the world, once he abides by the rules of the halfway house and finishes five years of probation, seems wide open.
“It’s unbelievable that people can’t even know his name,” Kathy notes — now an expert on the process, but still stunned by it. “Why should murderers be protected?”
Terry Baker pleaded guilty in adult court earlier this year and won’t be eligible for parole until 2012. Penasse pleaded guilty to the same charge a year ago and was sentenced to life.
CLEAR OF INFAMY
They are still paying a cost, away from society.
But the third hand in the killing is now apparently free and, to almost everyone, clear of infamy or suspicion.
The few years between the killing and the first killer to walk have been filled with small mercies for Robbie’s family, who have set up a scholarship and popular fishing derby in his name (www.4urobbie.com).
But today, Kathy says she plans to attend a brief court hearing scheduled for the murderer — apparently a matter of final record-keeping before he heads to the halfway house. She is one of the few to look at his face — to know what he did.
“I go for Robbie,” she explains, with tough resolution.
Though, as a monster re-enters a society he violated just a short time ago, Kathy suspects she’ll watch the secretive process unfold while lost for breath.