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Life sentence for Saskatchewan man who killed wife with strychnine in drink

Michael MacKay, left, was escorted out of Battleford Courthouse by a RCMP officer after being convicted of second-degree murder of his wife Cindy MacKay in Battleford, Sask., Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Michael MacKay drove two of his daughters to school then returned home to the family farm in Saskatchewan, where he mixed a deadly drink of Gatorade and strychnine for his wife.

Court heard Cindy MacKay, 38, died in February 2020 after drinking the concoction. Strychnine is a toxic pesticide that has been used to kill gophers and coyotes on farms.

Michael MacKay, 41, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder. A judge in Battleford, Sask., agreed to a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers that he serve 10 years before he has a chance at parole.

"Cindy was a truly great person and a wonderful mother to her three children," said Tyler Mack, her brother, outside court.

"She was kind and compassionate."

Court heard Cindy and Michael MacKay met at church and got married in 2005. In the following years, they had three children and moved to her family's farm in Meota, northwest of Battleford, around 2015. 

An agreed statement of facts read into court says Michael MacKay started an affair with another woman in the months before he killed his wife.

The day before the poisoning, the document says, he texted the other woman: “Goodbye will likely be in the next few days.”

The day she was killed, Cindy MacKay woke up feeling unwell, so her husband took their two oldest children to school while she stayed home with their youngest. When he returned, he mixed his wife the drink with powdered Gatorade and strychnine.

Court heard she noticed something was off and brushed her teeth. But soon after, the poison's effects took over. 

Strychnine makes a person's muscles contract intensely and painfully. Death eventually comes when the person is unable to breathe. Doctors say it's a very painful way to die, court heard.

Michael MacKay called 911 and paramedics arrived. Cindy MacKay went into cardiac arrest during the ambulance ride and was eventually taken by air ambulance to a hospital in Saskatoon, where she died from multiple organ failure due to poisoning.

Court heard medical staff contacted RCMP because her death seemed suspicious. Michael MacKay suggested to police it was a suicide.

"Nothing can undo the pain and suffering," he said in court Monday, struggling to speak. 

"I acknowledge all of my many failings as a husband, as a father."

Krista Mack, Cindy MacKay's sister, said it was important Michael MacKay finally said he was guilty. She did not believe he was sincere when he spoke in court.

"I think he was faking his whole little performance," she said outside the courthouse.

Family members, all wearing red in honour of Cindy MacKay, said Michael MacKay continued to tell people in their small community that she took her own life. 

They said they also could not go to the farm, where he lived with the children while out on bail.

"We really, really feared something would happen to them," said Tyler Mack. "We all know what he's capable of."

Family members told court Cindy MacKay was a loving mother. They also described her as a talented nurse, a beloved community member and a person who loved animals. 

Her death has left them shattered and fearful, they said.

"If a husband can do this to his wife, what stops anybody?" Tyler Mack said in his victim impact statement. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 20, 2023.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misquoted a text from Michael MacKay heard in court.

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