08.25.09

The Model-Killer's Accomplice?

Canadian police have declared the mysterious blonde seen with California swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore’s presumed murderer a “person of interest.” Wendy Murphy on whether the young woman can be prosecuted.

The manhunt in the brutal murder of a California swimsuit model has become a woman hunt. Police in Canada are calling the mysterious twenty-something blonde—who checked Jasmine Fiore’s husband and presumed killer, Ryan Jenkins, into the motel room where he killed himself—a “person of interest,” though they are not naming her or calling her a suspect.

But could the blonde—and maybe even Jenkins’ own parents—be prosecuted for helping an alleged murderer evade American justice?

Jenkins, a 32-year-old reality-TV contestant, was already on the lam on August 15 when his 28-year-old wife, Jasmine Fiore, turned up dead in a California dumpster. Her naked body was missing teeth and fingerprints when it was found stuffed inside a suitcase and tossed away like trash. Police identified Fiore’s mutilated body by the serial number on her breast implants.

The couple met earlier this year after Jenkins finished taping his part in the VH1 program Megan Wants to Marry a Millionaire. They married only two weeks later, in a Las Vegas ceremony, but the honeymoon was short-lived because Fiore soon called police and reported that Jenkins had abused her. They reconciled, but Fiore had reinitiated contact with an old boyfriend. Fiore’s mother told the press this may have played a role in Jenkins’ alleged decision to kill Fiore, as stories about the couple’s strained marriage include references to Jenkins’ jealousy and desperate efforts to win back Fiore’s affection. In the days before the murder, Fiore was reportedly texting her old boyfriend, but she also apparently agreed to stay involved with Jenkins because they checked into a hotel together on August 13, the last day she was seen alive.

When Fiore’s body was discovered, law-enforcement officials in Canada and the United States searched in vain for Jenkins, a Canadian citizen who police say made his way to Canada by car, boat, and ultimately on foot.

Jenkins was nowhere to be found until August 24, when his body was discovered hanging from a coathook in a secluded, low-rent Canadian motel.

A mysterious blonde was seen helping Jenkins check in to the room where he died. The two had arrived at the motel days earlier, in a car with Canadian license plates. She paid cash for a three-night stay, while Jenkins waited in the car. Canadian law-enforcement officials say they know who and where the woman is—and they say she is not a danger to the public.

But could the blonde—and maybe even Jenkins’ own parents—be prosecuted for helping an alleged murderer evade American justice?

If Jenkins’ parents and the blonde helped him obtain a car, a boat, and/or money to cross the border into Canada, they could all be charged under California law with the crime of aiding and abetting a felon with the intent that he “avoid or escape [ ] arrest...” They needn’t have known know exactly what felony he committed. It’s enough that they understood at the time they helped him that he was a fleeing felon.

And although all three would have been in Canada when they helped Jenkins escape, they could still be prosecuted in the United States if their conduct had the effect of enabling Jenkins to avoid arrest while he was in the U.S.

But even if the evidence supported such charges, there could be no prosecution unless the United States formally sought extradition, and even then Canadian authorities would have to agree to deliver its citizens here for punishment.

Extradition is probably impossible in this case, because Canada only grants extradition if the crime that occurred in the “requesting” jurisdiction carries at least five years in prison. The law on “aiding and abetting” in California provides no more than one year behind bars.

Which leaves the option of Canadian officials prosecuting their own citizens under Canada’s equivalent of California’s “aiding and abetting” law.

The relevant Canadian code states that a person is guilty of being an “accessory after-the-fact” if they “know that another has committed an offense” and “they receive, comfort or assist the offender to enable them to escape justice”.

It’s a tougher statute than its U.S. equivalent, and the punishment in Canada for such a crime is “half of the penalty of the target offense,” or a “maximum of 14 years” when the underlying crime carries a life sentence. (Although California imposes the death penalty for certain homicides, Canada does not extradite its citizens if they face death, which means if Jenkins had not taken his own life, he could have been extradited to face murder charges in California—but only if authorities here took the death penalty off the table.)

It’s hard to say whether the actions of Jenkins’ parents amount to “comfort or assistance” such that they should face charges in Canada for whatever help they offered their son. The specifics about what they did, if anything, have not been released. But they have hired an attorney and stopped talking “on advice of counsel.”

Still, it’s hard to believe Canadian officials have the political will to prosecute the mother and father of a guy who just killed himself. The idea that they’ve suffered enough will permeate the room where such discretionary decisions are made—and it will not go unnoticed that the Jenkins are wealthy “somebodies” in Canada.

As for the mystery blonde, Canadian officials have a responsibility to press charges because she clearly helped Jenkins hide from authorities in a secluded motel. While the felony Jenkins allegedly committed occurred in the U.S., the mystery woman’s actions are prosecutable in Canada because officials there authorized a warrant for Jenkins’ arrest pursuant to an extradition request by American prosecutors. Which means her actions enabled Jenkins to “escape” the justice that was under way in both countries.

It’s easy to shrug about going after a young woman who probably didn’t want to help Jenkins so much as get him off her back. She didn’t stay long with him at the hotel. And in addition to assisting in his escape, she ultimately facilitated his suicide—which makes her a bit more sympathetic.

But instead of getting sucked down into the abyss of misplaced sympathy for the friends and family of the dead bad guy, let’s remember that the family of the innocent victim is suffering more, and they are entitled to some form of justice.

While Jenkins’ decision to take his own life may well be an efficient kind of “justice” in the minds of some, it isn’t the same as a public revelation of the truth, followed by a civilized imposition of a fair punishment. Fiore’s family will never see real justice—but they deserve whatever value they can glean from the prosecution of a person whose actions enhanced their pain.

That day will probably never come unless someone in a position of power in the U.S. reminds Canadian officials that treaties between countries depend on mutual aid and reciprocity.

Reasonable people will disagree about what the “right thing” looks like in a case like this, where the presumed killer is dead and the people who helped him had nothing to do with the murder. But most Americans will agree that it’s wrong for Canada to do absolutely nothing to punish people who obviously cared more about protecting one of their own than the fact that their handsome bad boy not only had the capacity to kill, but allegedly had the ghoulish inhumanity to tear out the teeth and rip off the fingerprints of a woman he had, only weeks earlier, promised to love, honor and respect, “till death.”

Wendy is a former child-abuse and sex-crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law/Boston. Her expose of the American legal system, And Justice for Some , came out in 2007. A former NFL cheerleader and visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, Wendy lives outside Boston with her husband and five children.