A man accused of gunning down a shopper outside a Red Deer Walmart shortly before Christmas in 2019 unexpectedly pleaded guilty on Monday afternoon just before his trial was set to begin.
Jury selection had just been completed at the Baymont Inn and Suites when Chase Freed, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Dozens of potential jurors had come to the hotel so 12 jurors and four alternates could be chosen.
Freed was expected to be on trial until June 30 for shooting C.J. (Jim) Williams, 69, in front of his wife during an attempted robbery on Dec. 20, 2019 outside the south Red Deer Walmart.
Freed was also facing a charge of criminal flight from police and two charges of attempted murder for allegedly shooting at bystanders in the parking lot as he fled the scene in an SUV driven by Crystal Lee Maurice.
The case was adjourned until Thursday when a two-day sentencing hearing is set to begin in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench.
An Alberta Justice spokesperson said on Tuesday the jury was kept until the accused’s guilty plea was accepted by the court. Until that point, an accused could change their mind and a trial go ahead as planned.
RCMP said Williams and his wife had just left Walmart, busy with Christmas shoppers, when he was confronted around 6:45 p.m. in the parking lot by a masked man armed with a sawed-off semi-automatic rifle.
Williams was shot and fatally wounded. Bystanders and RCMP performed CPR on Williams until an ambulance arrived to take him to Red Deer’s hospital, where he died soon after.
RCMP immediately launched a widespread search for Freed and Maurice. Several hours later, police tracked down the two suspects, now in separate trucks, and stopped them near Highway 11A, close to Sylvan Lake.
Maurice was arrested in the vehicle and Freed was arrested after a short chase on foot. Maurice pleaded guilty to several charges in December 2021 and was sentenced to six months in prison, satisfied by time served, and was also given a 12-month conditional sentence order that included house arrest and a curfew.