PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Two men who faced charges in the death of an inmate during a riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary nearly four years ago have been acquitted.
Landon McKay and Brandon Burns were found not guilty in the death of 43-year-old Jason Bird, as well as additional charges of attempted murder in the beating and stabbing of another inmate.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice B.J. Scherman said at the conclusion of a nearly two-week long trial in Prince Albert that the reliability of witness testimony raised too many concerns, and he could not find either man guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Dec. 14, 2016, Bird was located unresponsive in the medium security section of the penitentiary after the prison's emergency response team entered the unit to quell the riot.
The coroner's report said Bird suffered blunt force trauma to the head, multiple stab wounds to his chest and back, and also had punctured lungs and internal bleeding.
Three other men have been sentenced in relation to Bird's death.
Among the witnesses to testify during the trial of McKay and Burns was an inmate who said he was severely beaten.
Crown Prosecutor John Morrall defended the testimony as reliable and "uncontradicted," but Burns's lawyer Blaine Beaven pointed out that when the inmate awoke in hospital 11 days later on Christmas, he initially thought he was in a car accident and had no idea he was in prison.
"He said he didn't know he had a wife and six kids," Beaven said.
The same man released his statement to police three months later, and Beaven said there was a lot of time for his story to be influenced by fellow inmates.
"That signifies a significant level of impairment," Justice Scherman said.
While Burns was being released from custody on Monday, McKay was returned to the Prince Albert Correctional Centre where he is being held on remand for an unrelated matter.
In addition to Bird's death, the riot saw eight inmates injured. Two were injured during the riot, which involved more than 180 inmates, and six more were hurt by shotgun fire when prison staff stormed the rioters’ improvised barricades.
Three other men were sentenced in relation to Bird's death. Sundance Okeymasim entered a guilty plea to a charge of aggravated assault and received a two-year sentence. Klaine Campeau received a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for his role in the attack, and Kelfert Watech received a 10-year sentence to convictions of attempted murder and second-degree murder.