BATTLEFORD — Between poisoning his wife and being charged with her murder, Michael MacKay told everyone — his family, his community, police — that 38-year-old Cindy MacKay had killed herself.
For almost four years, their three daughters — five, eight and 10 at the time — were led to believe this was how their mother died after ingesting a lethal amount of strychnine.
“Cindy did not kill herself. Mr. MacKay killed her,” Crown prosecutor Oryn Holm told a packed Battleford King’s Bench courtroom on Monday.
Court heard MacKay, 41, put the highly-toxic pesticide, often used to kill rodents on farms, into Cindy’s powdered Gatorade drink while they were in their farmhouse near Meota, Sask. with their youngest daughter on the morning of Feb. 7, 2020.
The amount of strychnine was unmeasured, but MacKay knew it would be lethal, according to an agreed statement of facts that outlined what happened that day.
Cindy said the drink tasted bitter and didn’t finish it, Holm told court. Soon after, she started having painful muscle contractions, stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. She was flown to Saskatoon, hospitalized, but never regained consciousness.
Hospital staff became suspicious and contacted RCMP on Feb. 10, 2020. An investigation began the next day.
Cindy was removed from life support on Feb. 12, 2020. A year later, MacKay was charged with first-degree murder. He was released from custody the next month.
On Monday, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Justice Mona Dovell accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defence — the mandatory life sentence for murder, with no chance of parole for 10 years.
MacKay was scheduled to have a jury trial on May 13, 2024. Holm said the Crown’s case was highly circumstantial, and running a trial would have been a risky “all-or-nothing affair.” The guilty plea provides certainty about how Cindy died, he said.
Truth and trust were touched on in the victim impact statements read by Cindy’s family, who wore red to court — her favourite colour.
“Cindy was killed by someone who supposedly loved her, and who she trusted,” her sister-in-law, Vanessa Mack, told court.
“She was the only real parent those kids ever had,” Tyler Mack, Cindy’s brother, said in his statement.
Outside court, family members said it was devastating to know the girls continued living with MacKay after he killed their mother, and that he limited their access to her daughters while claiming they were being unsupportive.
After Cindy’s death, her family learned that MacKay had been having an affair with a woman he met online. According to the agreed facts, he told the woman a day before Cindy died that “goodbye will likely be in the next few days.”
In an unsent letter to the woman found on his computer, MacKay said he was dissatisfied with his marriage, but “was still there and was not quitting,” even though he hoped to eventually spend his life with someone else.
He also told a female friend that he needed somewhere to “lie low” come February 2020.
Cindy’s father, Larry Mack, said he believes MacKay killed his daughter to get the farm and move on with someone else. But defence lawyer Nicholas Stooshinoff told court he doesn’t know what made his client suddenly snap that morning in the farmhouse north of Battleford where Cindy grew up.
“Michael simply lost his temper over what was transpiring, and Michael’s temper from all reports burns white hot,” he said.
Stooshinoff said his client loved being on the farm, but became obsessed with a lack of fulfilment and self-acceptance. Court heard he has struggled with depression for his entire adult life and attempted suicide in September. He told Stooshinoff that he was surprised Cindy could love him; Stooshinoff speculated that the affair was a “temporary escape” rather than a motive for murder.
MacKay never hated Cindy, and “simply can’t believe the enormity of the crime that he has committed. He doesn’t know how he could have done this,” Stooshinoff said.
He noted MacKay was weeping uncontrollably in the 911 calls. That’s when he realized the enormity of his crime and what he had done to himself, his wife and their children, Stooshinoff said.
“Nothing I can do will change the pain and suffering that I caused,” MacKay said through tears.
“I acknowledge my many failings as a husband and father, and I want the court to know that I am truly sorry.”
Outside court, Tyler said MacKay is only sorry for being caught. The family said the most important thing is that the truth has finally come out.
“He has told many lies to many people about what happened to Cindy. It is a great relief to all of us that the record is finally being set straight,” Tyler said.
“I could go on all day about all the good (Cindy) had to offer. The world was a better place with her in it.”
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