It was an emotional afternoon in a Saskatoon courtroom during a sentencing hearing for a man who committed crimes to the remains of Megan Gallagher.
In February, Ernest Whitehead pleaded guilty to the charge of indignity to human remains in relation to the death and disappearance of Gallagher. On Wednesday, he received a 2 year and 7 day jail sentence for his actions.
Gallagher, a Metis woman from Saskatoon, went missing in 2020. Her body was found in the South Saskatchewan River near the community of St. Louis this past September. A total of 9 people have been charged in relation to her death with four facing a charge of first degree murder. Others have been charged with assault, forcible confinement, and indignity to human remains, including Whitehead.
At Whitehead’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday afternoon, family and friends of Megan Gallagher shared with the court their victim impact statements. The hearing was filled in two courtrooms full of family and friends of the Gallagher family. A smudge and prayer took place prior to the hearing.
Agreed statement of facts read in court
(CONTENT WARNING: the following details may be distressing)
The hearing began with a reiteration of Ernest Whitehead’s guilty plea followed by the reading of an agreed statement of facts.
According to the statement, Megan Gallagher was brought to a garage of a home on Weldon Avenue in Saskatoon in September 2020. She was then tied to a chair, covered in plastic wrap and killed. The statement then went on to say that Gallagher’s body remained in the garage for two days before Ernest Whitehead and John Sanderson wrapped her body in a tarp and put it in the back of a truck. The two would drive Gallagher’s remains to the bridge near St. Louis where they would dump her in the river.
11 people share victim impact statements
A total of 11 family members and friends of Megan Gallagher read their victim impact statements to the court while Ernest Whitehead sat and listened.
The statements were emotional with many fighting through tears to read their statements. They all described Megan Gallagher as a loving and caring person who will be greatly missed by her family and friends.
“There is an emptiness and heartache in me that will never go away,” said Megan Gallagher’s aunt Mary MacColl.
Many of the victim impact statements spoke on the pain of not knowing what happened to Megan for two years.
“A huge part of my heart was missing and nothing we did could help us find answers. For two years you refused to give us answers,” said Megan Gallagher’s sister Lindsey Bishop. “I want you to consider if your child was missing and someone chose to be silent for years.”
Many of the statements also called for Whitehead to change who he was and to become a better person in the future.
“You are the only one who can make better choices,” said Megan’s step mother Debbie Gallagher.
A particularly powerful statement came from Megan’s aunt Wendy Sekulich who had a personal connection to Whitehead. Whitehead was a former student of Sekulich.
“I believed in you… two years of silence has robbed us of so much,” Sekulich told Whitehead. “She is a human being and you had no right to throw her away.”
Megan’s father provides emotional final impact statement.
The final impact statement of the afternoon was read by Megan’s father Brian Gallagher.
Gallagher began his impact statement by reading to the court the texts he sent to Megan’s phone when she first went missing and the texts he continued to send while she remained missing. Many of the texts would begin with the line “Baby girl where are you?” Gallagher than addressed Whitehead and the pain he has caused.
“You had information that could have eased our pain. The secret you kept inflicted even more pain,” said Gallagher.
Echoing many of the other impact statements Brian Gallagher encouraged Whitehead to make better choices in the future and encouraged him as a father to be there for his children and break the cycles that “will destroy them.”
“There is no sentence that can fix this, only your actions can fix this,” said Gallagher.
Whitehead sentenced to 2 years and 7 day jail sentence
Crown and defense lawyers then brought a joint submission to the court for a 2 year and 7 day sentence for Whitehead. This is the exact time the family of Megan Gallagher went without answers as to what happened to her.
The Crown prosecutor herself became briefly emotional when reading the joint submission.
John Sanderson, who also pleaded guilty to indignity to human remains in relation to Megan Gallagher’s death, received a jail sentence of over three years. The Crown says Sanderson received a harsher sentence because he has a lengthier criminal record and because Whitehead provided pivotal information to investigators that led to Gallagher’s body being found.
Ernest Whitehead than addressed the court and was emotional during his entire time speaking.
“I’m sorry – I wanted to tell what I did so she could be found,” he said. “I messed up and I am deeply sorry.”
Whitehead indicated his willingness to accept responsibility for his actions.
The judge than accepted the joint submission pointing to the pain Whitehead caused Megan Gallagher’s family while addressing the court.
Going forward Ernest Whitehead will spend 713 days in jail as he was given credit for time already served. Whitehead will also have to pay a surcharge of $200 and is required to have no contact with any of the others accused in Megan’s death.
(PHOTO – Brian Gallagher is embraced by a supporter at a court appearance for one of the accused in relations to the death of Megan Gallagher. Photo by Joel Willick)