'For 29 years he had a free pass in killing Donna'; Ont. man sentenced to nine years for fatally shooting wife in 1987

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A Chatham man who “lied to police, friends and family for over 25 years” was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison for the fatal shooting of his wife in 1987.

“The remorse envelope — if I can put it that way — is noticeably empty,” Justice Paul Kowalyshyn said while handing down the sentence to George Wayne Jarvis in a Chatham court.

Jarvis, 55, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his wife Donna Jean Jarvis, who was 22 at the time.

Jarvis told police he was cleaning a borrowed shotgun on Nov. 12, 1987, in the living room of the couple’s Chatham home when it discharged, striking his wife in the chest. She was seated beside him watching Cheers on TV while their infant daughter slept in another room.

The OPP determined the death of Donna Jarvis was accidental, but her family never bought George Jarvis’s story.

Her relatives lashed out at him for the pain he caused them for nearly three decades while he didn’t own up to what he did.

“For 29 years he had a free pass in killing Donna…. He’s finally held accountable,” her cousin Jennifer Hawkins said in a victim impact statement.

Darla Ouellette was 14 when her sister died.

“We never got to share an adult sister-to-sister relationship,” Ouellette said in her victim impact statement. “He called her stupid. I remember thinking that was mean.”

Donna Jarvis’s mom Carol Lane said in her statement that investigators let the family down.

“So many facts were missing, evidence was destroyed, even the funeral home said something is not right here.”

When it came time for George Jarvis to leave the courtroom, he didn’t glance over to his first wife’s relatives.

They appeared frozen in their seats and had to leave with still no explanation why he shot Donna Jarvis nearly three decades ago.

The family declined to talk after sentencing.

When Jarvis was charged last year with first-degree murder, Ouellette said at the time, “This has been a long time coming.”

Chatham-Kent police reopened the investigation in Donna Jarvis’s death after Jarvis began telling people as early as December 2012 that the shooting was not an accident.

At the time of his wife’s death, Jarvis told police the shotgun was pointed in her direction as he wiped oil on the trigger, causing the weapon to discharge.

Jarvis said he administered artificial resuscitation and called 9-1-1 at 9:52 p.m. Donna Jarvis died in hospital about 40 minutes later.

Kowalyshyn said Jarvis decided to tell the truth “only when his conscience got the best of him.”

When asked if he had anything to say, Jarvis told the court, “I am sorry for what happened, that’s all I can say.”

Defence lawyer Ken Marley asked the court for a conditional sentence to be served in the community.

Marley said his client had no prior record and has lived in the community without getting into trouble with the law.

A report filed as an exhibit by Windsor psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Bordoff found Jarvis was not a threat to the public.

“Mr. Jarvis is a person who has mental health difficulties,” Marley said.

Crown attorney Rob MacDonald sought a 10-year sentence.

“(Donna Jarvis’s) life was taken from her in a brutal and inexplicable fashion, not by accident or misadventure or carelessness, but by the one man she’s supposed to be able to trust above all others — her husband."

Jarvis raised his daughter after his wife was shot.

Marley said their relationship is now strained.

Jarvis remarried and fathered two more children.

His life began to spiral downward after selling a home and finding himself without a family and place to live, Marley said.

In an interview, Marley called the sentence “very stiff” for what was a “very serious offence, which happened many years ago.

“As the judge pointed out, if it wasn’t for Mr. Jarvis (bringing up the past to family and police) we wouldn’t be here,” Marley said.


George Wayne Jarvis, who has pleaded guilty to manslaughter into the shooting death of his wife in the late 1980s, is pictured here on Thursday September 28, 2016 entering the courthouse in Chatham, Ont. for a sentencing hearing. (Vicki Gough/Chatham Daily News)