Full parole granted to man convicted in notorious ‘McDonald’s murders’ in Cape Breton

By Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — More than 30 years after Nova Scotia was stunned by the brutal murders of three McDonald’s restaurant workers in Cape Breton, another of the three convicted killers has been granted full parole. 

During a hearing Thursday, the board decided that 55-year-old Freeman MacNeil should receive a conditional release because his risk to reoffend is rated at low to moderate, his plan to reintegrate into society appears reasonable and the factors that contributed to his criminality remain low.

MacNeil, who was granted day parole in December 2022, told the hearing that he’s “headed down the right path” and is doing what he needs to do to stay out of trouble.

At times, the hearing was tense as three victim impact statements were read aloud.

Paul Fagan, the older brother of victim Jimmy Fagan, described MacNeil as an uncaring “monster” lacking in remorse.

“These murders were so savage; four people shot execution style, multiple times, then stabbed, beaten with a shovel handle and a neck slashed,” Fagan said in a strong voice occasionally interrupted by deep sobs.

“Jimmy was executed when he showed up an hour early for his work. What my family and the other families went through should not happen to any family, and having to relive this kind of horror show year after year has been very difficult.”

For the entire hearing, shared via video link, MacNeil appeared calm as he sat motionless and looked straight ahead, his hands clasped in front of him on a table.

He told board members that he routinely meets with two groups that provide him with advice and emotional support, and he said he was looking forward to moving into a $600-a-month apartment, which he plans to pay for with money he’s saved from a seasonal job he picked up while on day parole.

Board members said MacNeil showed no signs of aggression, impulsiveness or violence.

“I don’t want to do anything that might bring me back here,” MacNeil said. “I just want a simple life.”

On May 7, 1992, MacNeil and two other men — Derek Wood and Darren Muise, both 18 — broke into the fast-food restaurant in Sydney River, N.S., after closing time. Their plan was to steal money from a safe and prevent any of the overnight staff from leaving before they made their getaway.

Wood, who worked at the restaurant, led the others into the building from the basement, where Wood shot Arlene MacNeil in the head. She survived the shooting, but was permanently disabled and died in 2018. She was not related to Freeman MacNeil.

During a 1993 trial, court heard that Neil Burroughs, 29, was shot twice, stabbed and beaten with a shovel that Freeman MacNeil was carrying that night, but the married father of one was still alive when Muise cut his throat.

Fagan, 27, a night maintenance worker, was shot dead along with 22-year-old shift-manager Donna Warren.

MacNeil, who was 23 at the time, was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, forcible confinement and robbery, and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Muise was granted full parole in November 2012 after serving nearly 20 years in prison, and in 2022, the parole board denied parole to Wood, who remains in custody.

To maintain full parole, MacNeil is prohibited from associating with criminals and he must not enter Nova Scotia, unless he has authorization from his parole officer. As well, he must not contact any of the victims’ families.

MacNeil said he had no plans to return to his home province.

“I’ve caused them enough harm,” he said, referring to the victims’ relatives. “There’s no need for me to contact them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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