Disgruntled ex-employee who fatally bludgeoned and strangled Vancouver businessman sentenced to life

A disgruntled former employee who killed Vancouver businessman John McIver by striking him in the head with a metal tool and a motor before strangling him with an electrical cord has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.

Brian Roger Holt pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on June 23 and was sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday. His sentence also includes a mandatory firearms ban.

Holt was charged with the murder a little less than a month after McIver’s daughter found him lying dead inside his appliance repair shop, McIver’s Appliance Sales and Service, in South Vancouver, on June 26, 2019.

The charge was the result of Holt confessing to the killing in his third interview with Vancouver Police Department sergeants.

“I did somethin’ bad. Gotta go f—–n’ own up to it. Gotta take responsibility,” Holt told an officer, according to court documents.

He pleaded guilty to the murder the same day that Justice Kathleen Ker ruled his confession was made voluntarily.

Killer left job on bad terms 4 years earlier

Ker’s decision on the confession was posted online Friday, and lays out in detail the circumstances of the murder, along with the VPD’s tactics for catching a killer.

According to the ruling, Holt had stopped working for McIver nearly four years before the murder, in April 2015. He left the job on bad terms, believing he was owed a significant amount of overtime pay.

“By June 2019, Mr. Holt was experiencing significant financial difficulties and facing eviction from his apartment,” Ker wrote.

A few weeks before the murder, Holt reached out to McIver out of nowhere and said he was interested in discussing a deal for appliances in an apartment building he was managing.

Early on the morning of June 26, Holt appeared at the repair shop and met with McIver. At some point during the 30-minute encounter, the pair got into an argument that turned physical.

“Mr. Holt became angry, reached for a metal hand tool, and struck Mr. McIver in the head. He then struck Mr. McIver in the head with a motor that was located on a nearby workbench and strangled Mr. McIver with an electrical cord,” Ker wrote.

According to her ruling, Holt became a suspect in the murder almost immediately. Surveillance video showed him going to and from McIver’s shop that morning.

Officers used good cop/bad cop tactic

Police first arrested him on July 3 and took him to the Vancouver jail, where he was interviewed for four hours and 45 minutes by Sgt. Raj Mander, an officer who would become key in obtaining the confession.

Mander interviewed Holt again the next day for another three hours and 10 minutes, but throughout both discussions the suspect refused to speak about the killing, exercising his right to silence. Holt was released without charge on July 4.

Police arrested Holt again on July 23 after new evidence, including DNA samples, tied him to the murder scene. That night, Mander interviewed him once more for three hours and 19 minutes, which was followed by an interview with a second officer, Sgt. Revard Dufresne, who finally convinced the killer to talk.

DNA evidence tied Brian Roger Holt to the scene where John McIver was murdered in June 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The ruling suggests Mander and Dufresne used something akin to the classic good cop/bad strategy to win a confession from Holt.

Mander, according to the judge “remained jovial, respectful, calm, and polite throughout and did not engage in any threatening behaviour or raise his voice… . Instead, at times, Sgt. Mander became very soft spoken and quiet, adopting a protective, nurturing, and supportive tone.”

Dufresne, on the other hand, “was far more direct and assertive,” Ker said.

She wrote that the second officer made “a more direct moral appeal to Mr. Holt’s conscience.”

Both officers lightly disparaged McIver as a difficult boss, the ruling says, in an attempt to give Holt an opening to explain why he’d committed murder.

“In not so many words, Sgt. Dufresne essentially asked Mr. Holt whether he was a cold-hearted killer or a man with a heart and soul who had lost his way in the heat of an argument,” Ker wrote.

Understanding that he was not going to be released from jail, Holt finally admitted he’d killed McIver.

Holt’s defence team had argued that the officers used subtle inducements to coerce Holt into giving an involuntary confession, and asked for his statement to be deemed inadmissible.

Ker rejected those arguments and found that Holt had exercised his free will, and was fully advised of his right to legal counsel.

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