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Bartley sentenced to life for first degree murder, attempted murder

Clutching a photo of her and her husband and their family, Cheryl Steeves said she was elated Thursday with a verdict against an Alberta man who killed her common-law husband.

Clutching a photo of her and her husband and their family, Cheryl Steeves said she was elated Thursday with a verdict against an Alberta man who killed her common-law husband.

Michael James Bartley, 36, was sentenced to life in prison for the first degree murders of Steeves's common-law husband, Owen Thompson,48, and Darren Hala, 45, as well as the attempted murder of Steeves, 48. Bartley must serve at least 25 years before he can apply for parole.

Like she did in court, Steeves described Thompson and Hala, who was a helping hand on the ranch, as quiet gentle souls.

During the trial, Steeves and Bartley described each other as friends prior to the incident and following the verdict and sentencing, Steeves said she still has mixed emotions.

"It's hard for me to have hatred in my heart even though he's done such destructive things," Steeves said. "I still can't honestly say that I hate the man...I hate what he did but part of my heart goes out to him even still because he's got a family and a son and it was so unnecessary. I still don't know why he would do such a thing."

The drug-related double killing and the near-lethal attack against Steeves happened at an isolated ranch south of Prince George shortly before midnight on March 16, 2010.

In reaching the verdict, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce dismissed Bartley's assertion when he took the stand during the 12-day trial that he acted in self defence.

Bartley claimed Thompson was facing financial trouble and attacked him with a pocketknife because he had refused make a second trip from his home in Paradise Valley, Alta. a week later to pick up another shipment of marijuana Thompson had been growing on the ranch.

Bruce found the story was not consistent with the other evidence, particularly the extent of the wounds Thompson, Hala and Steeves received.

Instead, Bruce found the statement he gave to police when he was arrested shortly after the incident more believable in that it more closely coincided with the testimony Steeves gave during the trial.

Bartley told police he owed $200,000 for a lost shipment of cocaine, was in fear for the safety of his family and committed the acts on the order of a gangster who had followed him to the ranch and was unsatisfied with the amount of marijuana he had picked up in exchange for the $17,500 in cash he had brought.

Bruce did not entirely accept Bartley's story to police, particularly about the henchman, and concluded some aspects were a self serving attempt to make himself look like a victim in his own right.

But Bruce noted Steeves's testimony that Bartley told her he owed $20,000 for cocaine when she asked him why he was attacking her and found the underlying theme of a cocaine debt consistent with the evidence.

Bartley also claimed he attacked Steeves only after she came out of the home with a handgun raised to his head following his altercations with Thompson and Hala.

But Bruce found Steeves' version more believable - that she had tried to retrieve the gun from her bedroom after he stabbed her and chased her into the house - noting a bloodstain was found on the bedroom dresser next to the gun's holster.

Bruce also noted Bartley claimed self defence only when he took the stand and made no reference to being attacked when he gave his statement to police. He also gave a highly emotional apology to Steeves at the time.

"Why would he apologize if he was the victim of an attack?" Bruce said.

On the stand, Bartley said he suffered a cut to his pinky during the altercation but Bruce noted he told police it occurred when he was cutting an orange at home in Paradise Valley. And Bruce noted the comparative size of Bartley, at 6'1" and 260 pounds, to Steeves, at 5'1", as well as his previous conviction and jail time for a robbery and his experience running drugs.