An escaped inmate who violently killed a Vancouver Island man apologized to the family Wednesday, saying he wished he could give his life in return for his victim’s.
Zachary Armitage was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 25 years for the first-degree murder of Martin Payne, 60, in what B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin called a senseless, shocking and grotesque attack.
The murder in July 2019 was “absolutely cowardly, without qualification,” Crossin told Armitage.
Before he was sentenced, Armitage stood and turned to Payne’s family members in the gallery to say he was absolutely disgusted with himself and the pain he had caused.
“I wish I could take it back, I really do,” he said. “I’d give my life for his.”
Armitage said there were programs in prison for family members of victims to reach out to the killers and, perhaps, they might want to reach out to him, “down the line,” to ask him questions.
“I wish for you guys’ peace. I’m sorry,” he said in a quiet voice.
Armitage pleaded guilty to first-degree murder midway through a jury trial. The jury later found his co-accused, James Lee Busch, guilty of the same charge.
The trial heard the men escaped on July 7, 2019, from the William Head prison, a minimum-security institution, by walking along the beach next to the prison at low tide.
The next day, just minutes after Payne left for work, the men broke into his Metchosin home, about eight kilometres from the prison.
They waited all day for him to return from work, the court heard in an agreed statement of facts.
When Payne walked into his home, they assaulted him and tried to bind him with duct tape, and when that didn’t work, they bludgeoned him with a hatchet and stabbed him to death with a Bowie knife.
Outside the court, Payne’s daughter and his sister said they were surprised and pleased to hear Armitage’s courtroom apology.
“It felt incredibly genuine, actually. I think that meant a lot to all of us and it will be something that helps us to move forward,” his daughter, Jessica Payne, said.
His sister, Colleen Payne, turned to Armitage during her victim impact statement to the court, telling him he had taken the life of her beloved brother, a good and gentle soul, who did nothing to cause this.
“My sincere hope is that you will seek help and to heal from your own inner pain,” she told him.
Watch: The daughters of Martin Payne, murdered in cold blood by two escaped prisoners from a nearby insitution, speak out after one of his killers was sentenced.
She later said outside the court that she believed his apology.
“All the words he said to us, I think, really did come from his heart. And he regrets what he did. It’s really nice to know that. It helps,” she said.
“Somewhere in there he is worthwhile, and he can get help, and I hope he does,” she said.
The apology from Armitage was in stark contrast to his co-accused, who swore at the court after the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
During his sentencing last month, Busch was brought into the court in shackles because of the previous outburst and then flipped his middle finger at the court when he was given the standard life sentence.
“I don’t think that Busch was sorry. He’s in a different world and I don’t think he has that conscience,” Colleen Payne said outside the court.
Just before Armitage was sentenced, the court heard from Payne’s daughters, his sister, his best friend and his ex-wife, who described him as the backbone and patriarch of the family, with a wonderful sense of humour and a childlike love of small wonders of the world.
Each of them wondered how such a good man could die in such a brutal and senseless way.
Jessica Payne told the court that when she thinks of her dad, she often goes to the day he died, the terror he would have felt.
“This truly haunts me,” she said. “How could this have happened to my dad? He was gentle and compassionate.”
Crossin told the family that he regrets that he can’t heal their hearts or their trauma.
“All I can do is address the legal consequences of this event,” he said. “It seems terribly inadequate.”
Crossin said he believed Armitage accepted the “cowardly” description of his crime.
As Armitage left court, he reached out to a family member sitting in the front row, who took his hand.
“I’m sorry, take care,” Armitage said.
Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.