The children of a Princeton man whose spouse forged his will got an opportunity to confront the offender in court Tuesday afternoon during a sentencing hearing.
After Murray Simmons passed away in 2012, his spouse, Odelle Simmons, forged his signature on a will that passed on his estate to herself, despite the existence of a will with his actual signature that passed on his estate to his children.
On the day Murray died, his daughter Deanna said she held a birthday barbecue for her son at the elder Simmons’ house.
“Fast forward a few hours later, you called to tell me my dad has passed away with zero emotions. I offered to come back and help you with arrangements and stuff, and you replied, yelling, ‘I’m in my happy place, and there’s no need for you to come back here anymore,’” she said.
She added that after he died, she was never allowed to see her father “one last time” before he was cremated — a sentiment echoed by her brother Clayton Simmons in his own victim impact statement.
“Never seeing a death certificate to prove that my dad’s dead, no celebration of life, no obituary. No, this does not help me find closure,” Deanna said. “In fact, I don’t even know where my dad’s ashes are. Where is my dad? What made you think it was completely OK to change my dad’s final wishes in his will, because you did not agree with what he had written?”
She said his estate had been valued at around $1 million.
“You continued to liquidate everything and hand out large sums of cash to your children,” Deanna told the court. “You stated you had every intention to give me the family heirlooms and such.”
That included a Christmas ornament given to her father by her grandmother, a grandfather clock, antique firearms, trophy mounts from family hunting trips, family movies and photo albums.
“You were not with my dad long enough for any of this to mean anything to you. To this day, I have never even received a dirty sock of my dad’s from you,” Deanna said. “I feel as though you have erased the past 41 years of memories of my life.”
She told the court she had lost trust even for family members as a result of Odelle’s actions. Clayton similarly told the court he spent sleepless nights wondering “how something can happen to a hardworking guy and a guy in such great health.”
“Anger has also set in. Without closure, I can’t stop this internal feeling. I’m just looking for an answer as to why someone can do something like this,” he said. “It makes me feel sick you can do all this and act like life is normal.”
Crown lawyer Juan O’Quinn said it took nearly five years for charges to arise from the situation because it didn’t come to light until lawyers for Murray’s children and for Odelle began speaking on the matter.
Defence lawyer Tyrone Duerr added the death of a lawyer involved in the situation and of Odelle’s mother also added to the delays.
Duerr added Murray’s ashes had been distributed in one of his favourite hunting areas, as per his wishes, in response to the family patriarch’s children questioning where he was being kept.
Lawyers brought up case law on the issue, which ranged from a potential sentence of two years in jail, down to a conditional discharge, which would remove any criminal record for the offence.
Duerr noted an early guilty plea as a mitigating factor, however O’Quinn said the defence had originally elected for a trial on the matter. Still, he said a guilty plea did count as a mitigating factor, as it indicates some responsibility for the action.
However, O’Quinn did also note she had a previous offence in early 2000s, when she was caught stealing from work — though it was not the same as forgery or fraud, he said it was similar in nature. He said a conditional sentence would not work for her, as that had been her sentence in the past.
Duerr called for a three-month conditional sentence to be served in the community, with nine months of probation, adding he could make an argument for a conditional discharge.
O’Quinn, on the other hand, called for three months of jail time followed by 18 months of probation.
Judge Michelle Daleniuk, recently added to the bench in Penticton, said with considerable case law to consider and a case that wasn’t straightforward, she would be unable to make a decision on Tuesday.
Lawyers will reconvene with the case manager on Wednesday to fix a date for sentencing.