A Princeton woman who forged her signature to her late husband’s will was sentenced Friday morning in Princeton court to a six-month conditional sentence.
Odelle Simmons will serve three months under house arrest, at her home in Merritt, followed by three months of house curfew.
The disposition was met with shocked expressions, and some tears, from friends and family members of Murray Simmons, who died suddenly in 2012.
“I’m certainly disappointed, that’s for sure,” said Debbie Williams, who was previously married to Simmons for 32 years.
Their daughter Deanna Deleume appeared shaken outside the courtroom following the hearing.
Surrounded by more than a dozen supporters she declined to comment on the sentence, but did confirm that civil claims against her former stepmother will now proceed.
Judge Michelle Daneliuk took approximately 35 minutes to read her decision, taking the court through both the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the crime, as well as applicable case law.
At an original sentencing hearing in Penticton, last October, the Crown sought a three-month jail sentence followed by 18 months probation, while the defense argued for a three-month conditional sentence plus nine months probation.
The court heard Friday that following the death of Murray Simmons, his wife Odelle came across a previously drafted but unsigned will making her the beneficiary of his estate.
After signing the will in what Daneliuk called “a relatively unsophisticated” manner, Simmons had her own mother and Murray’s sister, Kathy Cranston, witness the forged testament.
The deception went unsuspected for more than two years. When the dead man’s children saw the document they believed it was a fake. They contacted the RCMP and hired a handwriting expert to support their findings.
Daneliuk placed importance on the fact that Simmons pleaded guilty and did not benefit from her misdeed.
The estate was “modest,” she said, and encumbered by considerable debt. A home with a shared title, a life insurance policy and a pension were outside of the will.
If Simmons had not forged the will she would have inherited the estate by default.
“She gained nothing for her deceit … Ms. Simmons is actually worse off.”
The judge said many people from the community — particularly members of Living Water Four Square Church — supplied letters of reference to Simmons’ character. They described her as “generous, compassionate, hard working, kind … and a dedicated mother.”
In 2002 Simmons was convicted of theft under $5,000 after she stole approximately $4,200 from her employer. However Daneliuk said it was important to note that otherwise Simmons has not fallen afoul of the law.
“Ms. Simmons has the strong support of her immediate family. She also bears sole responsibility for the care of her 13-year-old daughter. “
In addressing the seriousness of the offense Daneliuk said Simmons’ actions were prolonged over a period of time and involved the recruitment of her mother and sister-in-law.
Daneliuk said Simmons’ crime undermined the “sanctity of solicitor-client relations” as the forged will was presented to her lawyer for action.
She said while parts of the submitted victim impact statements were eventually edited for “inaccuracies and irrelevancies” she acknowledged the grief experienced by Murray Simmons’ children.
“Mr. Simmons was a highly regarded member of this community and much loved by his family and friends.”
The conditional sentence includes three months house arrest, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Simmons can leave her home only with written permission of the court, requiring extreme circumstances. She may also leave in cases of medical emergency involving herself or her daughter. For the balance of the sentence Simmons will be subject to a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
She must abstain from drugs and alcohol and pay a $200 victim surcharge.