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EDMONTON - William Bicknell vowed he wasn't going back to prison.
The convicted killer made his escape while on an escorted pass from Drumheller Institution in southern Alberta in March 2011. On the ride back from visiting his sister in Edmonton, he feigned a heart attack, pulled out a knife and overpowered the lone guard who was driving.
At various times over the next 10 days, Bicknell held the guard and three other people hostage in their homes.
His run for freedom eventually ended in a car chase and gun battle with RCMP. He was shot twice in the head, but survived.
On Tuesday, the 45-year-old pleaded guilty to 14 charges, including unlawful confinement, escaping lawful custody, robbery and weapons offences.
He appeared in court on closed-circuit TV from a prison cell in Quebec. Court heard he is in solitary confinement.
"I truly believed I was going to be murdered," guard Darryl Steeves told the judge in a victim impact statement.
Steeves said he has witnessed riots, murders and beatings in prison but never felt such loss of control as when Bicknell overtook him that day. Now, Steeves said, he's known as the guard who let an inmate get away. And he feels responsible for the trauma the other hostages had to endure.
The Crown, calling it a "horrific series of crimes," asked that Bicknell receive a life sentence on all charges, with no chance at parole for 10 years. The defence told the judge Bicknell hadn't physically hurt his victims and suggested a 14 to 16-year term.
Justice Eric Macklin said he would decide Wednesday.
Court heard how Bicknell had already been serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2003 of second-degree murder for the beating death of a woman from British Columbia. News reports from Bicknell's trial said the two were involved in a bank-machine scam and that Bicknell killed the woman with a bat.
Nicknamed "Tiny," Bicknell was described at the time of his escape as weighing 460 pounds and standing roughly six-foot-six tall. When he was granted the day pass, he was matched up with 58-year-old Steeves — an experienced guard but one who was much smaller at five-foot-five and 170 pounds.
Bicknell had made up his mind that he wasn't going to stay behind bars. He had a plan.
He wasn't in handcuffs as he rode in the front passenger seat of the prison van on the way back from the visit. He complained of chest pains and numb arms, so the guard pulled over. Bicknell got out, pulled a knife, ordered Steeves into the back and put him in cuffs.
Bicknell drove to a bank machine and withdrew cash from the guard's accounts. He next stopped at a storage unit and grabbed eight long-barrelled guns and ammunition.
He headed to the Vegreville area where he grew up and forced his way into the house of Gerald Gutoski, 58, a farmer he knew from years before.
He left the guard with Gutoski and took off in the farmer's car after telling the pair to wait a couple of hours before calling police. The guard waited a few minutes, ran to a neighbour's and called 911.
Two days later, Andy Zylenko spotted a strange man in his front yard. Bicknell brandished a gun and ordered the 72-year-old man inside the house.
Bicknell kept the senior for 10 hours before he forced him to drive to a gas station for supplies.
He let Zylenko go but warned him not to call police for five days — or he'd come back and kill him. Zylenko was so scared he didn't even tell his family, but called police after two days.
Bicknell last knocked on the door of Mary Schoorl, 58, a widow who lived alone in her home near Sexsmith. He asked for some gas then pulled out a gun.
Schoorl later told police Bicknell was polite. She made him meals and offered to give him a massage and clip his toenails.
She eventually managed to talk to her son on the phone and told him in Dutch that he needed to call police. Moments later, when she had an opportunity, she ran out into the snow in her socks and hid.
Bicknell took off in a car but RCMP were quickly on his tail. He and several officers exchanged gunfire and the car ended up in a ditch. A wounded Bicknell — shot in the head — called his parents who relayed his wish to surrender.
Doctors later inserted a steel plate and screws in his jaw. Court heard he now has difficulty eating and talking.
Schoorl told court she is suffering as well.
"When is the end of this ordeal?" she asked the judge in her victim impact statement. "My life will never be the same."
She said she is always scared, walks out of banks if she sees someone acting suspicious, freaks out when strangers stop at her farm to ask for directions.
She has since to put the property up for sale.
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