With trial set to begin, Kirk Keeping pleads guilty to 2019 murder of Chantel John

Kirk Keeping has pleaded guilty to the January 2019 murder of Chantel John in Conne River, on Newfoundland's south coast.
A man in a blue sweater sitting in a small detention room.
Kirk Keeping appears in court by video on April 8. His trial had been set to start that day but was delayed by a week. On Monday morning, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, among other charges. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Kirk Keeping has pleaded guilty to the January 2019 murder of Chantel John in Conne River, on Newfoundland's south coast.

Keeping's trial, for the first-degree murder of his former girlfriend John, had been set to begin last week but was delayed until Monday for jury selection. Six weeks had been set aside for the trial, which has been on the books for years.

The St. Jacques-Coombs Cove man was originally charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder but pleaded guilty Monday morning to lesser charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault at Supreme Court in Grand Falls-Windsor.

"This is a horrendous crime," said Justice Glen Noel, accepting Keeping's guilty plea.

He also pleaded guilty to uttering threats and two breaches of probation.

It's been more than five years since John, 28, was killed in her home community of Conne River.

According to an agreed statement of facts submitted to the court Monday, Keeping arrived at the house of one of John's relatives, saying he wanted to return some of her things after they'd broken up. He attacked her with a knife outside, and she ran into the home.

Keeping followed her inside, attacked another family member with the knife and hit John in the back of the head with it. He also threatened another family member who confronted him. John managed to escape to the house of a neighbour, who tried to stop the bleeding, but by the time paramedics arrived, she had died.

Police found Keeping, who was bleeding with stab wounds after trying to take his own life, in his car near Milltown, and he was taken to hospital.

A woman wearing a fur-hooded winter jacket and glasses. She has brown hair tied back.
Chantel John was 28 when she was killed by Keeping in 2019. (Facebook)

The court case has been delayed several times.

Keeping, charged in the days following her death, was first slated to stand trial in May 2021 but fired his legal aid lawyers, Derek Ford and Derek Hogan, minutes before the start of jury selection. Keeping said at the time he didn't have confidence in his lawyers and that they hadn't spent enough with him leading up to the trial.

Keeping then applied to have the provincial attorney general fund private counsel for his defence. Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court rejected the request, as did the provincial court of appeal after Keeping sought to have the decision reversed.

Sentencing submissions are due June 13, one week before Keeping's next scheduled court date. Second-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence, and the judge will determine when Keeping will be eligible for parole.

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With files from Troy Turner