Two inmates who escaped a Vancouver Island prison in July of last year have been charged with first-degree murder in the death of a man who lived nearby the prison.
Police announced the charges against James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage on Saturday (June 13).
Busch, who was 42 at the time, and Armitage, who was 30, broke out of the prison in the early evening of July 7, 2019, according to Correctional Services Canada. The pair’s disappearance sparked a manhunt by West Shore RCMP.
The escapees were found two days later after commenting on an off-duty Mountie’s dog in Esquimalt. At the time of escape, Busch was serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault and had previously served time for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody. Armitage was serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
On July 12, four days after the inmates were found, West Shore RCMP attended a home in the 1000-block of Brookview Drive in Metchosin to check on the well-being of Martin Payne, 60, after he failed to show up for work. Three days earlier, on July 9, Oak Bay police had found Payne’s red Ford pickup truck on Woodburn Avenue.
Officers found Payne’s body inside his home and deemed the death as suspicious. An investigation by major crime unit detectives quickly began.
A statement from Payne’s family, also released Saturday, said he was “deeply loved,” and described him as “exceptionally gentle” and “caring” with unfailing love, support and encouragement.
“We have continued to mourn his senseless loss every day for the past 11 months,” the statement reads. “We are completely devastated and have been relying heavily on one another throughout this horrifying ordeal.”
The family thanked everyone who has supported them as well as the law enforcement agencies that have worked on the case. They have also asked that their privacy be respected as they continue to deal with the loss of Payne.
Insp. Todd Preston, officer in charge of West Shore RCMP gave his condolences to the family.
“We know that this has been a very difficult time for the community and citizens of the West Shore and in particular, Metchosin,” Preston said. “We want to thank the citizens for their patience in the investigative process.”
About one month after Payne’s death, residents in Metchosin spoke about their discomfort in knowing two inmates escaped William Head prison and that the public was not notified about their escape until nearly 12 hours later over Facebook.
Kym Hill and her husband Charles Knighton are Payne’s neighbours and held a vigil for him shortly after police found Payne. At the time, Hill said knowing why the escapees were in prison in the first place was “chilling” and that she would have appreciated a warning at any time of the day or night to be prepared.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said the District has been in communication with William Head Institution since July and that a number of changes have been made over the past 11 months. He said notification measures have been upgraded so the Metchosin fire chief, who has an alert system set up for residents, is notified of a suspected escape from the prison. Before, the chief wouldn’t be notified until an escape was confirmed.
“I have full confidence in the warden and I know the local people here are devastated by this,” Ranns said. “I feel confident that everything that can be done will be done at William Head by the local administration.”
At the end of September 2019, it was revealed in court that a Correctional Services Canada analysis deemed Armitage fit for a medium-security institution but that an override was recommended and he was moved to the low-security William Head in April 2018.
Ranns said he wants to see rules in place so that receiving wardens, like the one at William Head, can say no to an override.
“Let’s face it, it’s a federal institution and we don’t have any real sanction to get our way but that’s going to be our position,” Ranns said. “We won’t be satisfied until that happens. We want to let our local guys make the decision and we don’t want this happening again.”
Despite the many concerns and questions from residents over the past 11 months, Ranns said he thinks police have done a good job in ensuring they have the right evidence so “the full force of the law is thrown at” the two escapees.