“It’s been fifteen years…” Michael Manning

By P.A. Sévigny on May 28, 2009

As of two weeks ago, it’s been fifteen years since Michael Manning heard his daughter Tara’s alarm clock go off while he was making an egg sandwich for breakfast. When nobody turned it off, he went to her room to wake her up for school.

“I still remember how the cover was drawn up to her chin,” he said as the tears flowed down his face. “I still recall how I thought she was sleeping until I touched her….and when I pulled the cover off, that’s when I knew my baby was dead.”

During an exclusive interview, Manning told The Métropolitain how he often thinks Tara’s killer, Gregory Bromby, took two lives after he raped and killed his daughter. 

“It’s been fifteen years since that bastard killed my daughter and it’s been fifteen years since I’ve had more than two to three hours of sleep per night.” 

While he still mourns Tara’s death as much as he did on the day she was buried, the National Parole Board  recently informed him that Bromby was to be granted supervised day parole and would soon be living in a half-way house located in the Blainville suburb north of the city .

“It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I’m here, he’s there and Tara’s still in her grave.”

Many believe Manning is wrong. It matters just as much as it did in the few short weeks after his daughter was killed as it does now and in every future Canadian murder investigation. Michael Manning is a Canadian hero. Michael Manning is the man who convinced Canada’s parliament to pass a law giving police the right to test every suspect’s DNA upon arrest for a capital crime. 

“DNA tests changed homicide investigations forever,” said retired SPVM homicide detective Steve Roberts. “It’s the biggest development since fingerprints.”

Police all over the country agree.  Compulsory DNA tests helped police solve dozens of cold cases, get convictions in dozens of recent cases and best of all, DNA tests often provide the innocent with their ‘Get out of jail free’ card.

After Tara was murdered, it’s difficult to imagine what life was like for the entire Manning family. Not only did sloppy police work lead the authorities to treat Manning, his son and a family friend as their main suspects in the case but Manning also had to carry the additional guilt of knowing he was passed out on the sofa only a few feet from Tara’s bedroom door after having put away a few beers while watching the evening’s hockey game. After voluntary DNA tests finally absolved the family from any suspicion, there were no breaks in the case until five weeks later when another girl was raped and told she would be killed if she went to the police. Because she already knew him, she let the boy into her Mountain Street apartment after he told her he had no place to go for the night. Later, after going to bed, he woke her up, showed her his knife before pushing her back on her bed.

“I’m crazy, I’m nuts,” he said as he kept stabbing her mattress and pillow while raping her. After he finished, he told it was too bad but he was going to kill her but he really didn’t want her to go to the police. “I’ve already killed another girl,” he said, “…so as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a problem.”

The girl bargained for her life and promised him she wouldn’t tell the cops because she was too scared of what he would do to her if she did go tell on him. Once he was gone, she called the police to tell them about the rape and the boy who threatened to kill her. His name was Gregory Bromby.

scales-of-justice.jpgOnce police arrested Bromby, someone recalled how the Manning family provided the police with a list of everybody who recently spent time in their house. Bromby’s name was on the list. Police already had a sample of the killer’s DNA because he didn’t wear a condom when he raped Tara Manning. Due to the fact he used a condom when he raped the girl in the Mountain street apartment; police were forced to ask Bromby to provide some DNA but the boy refused so police authorities were forced to go to court for a warrant to get their sample. After saliva and a few swabs were taken from the inside of his mouth, the Bromby’s DNA provided a perfect match with the killer’s sample. Now police knew Gregory Bromby was the man who raped and smothered Tara Manning with her pillow after which he stabbed her 51 times in the chest and upper body.

Only weeks after Bromby was indicted, the crown informed Manning their case against him was in trouble. Under section 7 and 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, police required the suspect’s consent before they could take a DNA sample. Without the DNA, there was little proof he killed Tara and Bromby could use the loophole to walk away from the court a free man. 

This was too much for Manning. After local Liberal MP Clifford Lincoln organized a meeting with Federal Justice Minister Allen Rock, the minister told Manning he too had a 10 year-old daughter so he didn’t need to be convinced about the justice of Manning’s case.

“Mister Manning, show me the Canadian people want this law,” he said.

Manning did just that. Friends and neighbors began to circulate a petition after which he met Micheline Bouchard, one of Montreal’s better known business women  Once Manning told Bouchard how Tara’s killer could be set free to kill again, it took her only a few days to put together an impressive support group to organize Michael Manning’s project. Four of the best PR (Public Relations) firms in the city got to work on the project and within weeks, Michael Manning’s DNA project was front-page news across the country. Manning still recalls how one PR professional told him “…it’s one vote per two pounds of paper in a petition but it’s 500 votes for every personal letter you send to your federal MP.” Manning’s petition was soon transformed into a letter campaign after which every office in Parliament Hill was flooded with letters demanding compulsory DNA tests for any suspect accused of committing a capital crime. Preston Manning’s Reform Party supported the initiative after which Lucien Bouchard personally asked to see Manning in his Ottawa office.

“He was wonderful,” said Manning. “..very courteous and very polite. When I told him about Tara’s murder and the possibility her killer could walk, he said he understood and would do everything he could to help push the law through in time for the trial. He was still recovering from his illness and I had to help him out of his chair. That’s when I knew this man knows what it is to suffer.”

On the final day before the session was lifted for summer recess, reform MPs used the question period to ask Justice Minister Allen Rock if the Liberals would consider joining the BQ (Bloc Québecois) and the Reform to approve Bill C-104 which called for compulsory DNA tests for capital crime suspects. While Canada’s Hansard demonstrates how Rock tried to evade the question, a second question asked the Justice Minister if he would personally assume the responsibility for any more crimes committed by Bromby and others who would be free to walk the streets if the government refused to pass the bill. Manning still has tears in his eyes when he describes how Rock slowly stood up at his desk looked over at the opposition and clearly said the Liberals would support C-104 if both the BQ and Reform agreed to support the bill.

“That was the day Allen Rock stood up,” said Manning. “That was the day the man stood up and was counted.”

Only a few months after his 15 year-old daughter was brutally raped and killed in her own bed, Canada’s Parliament unanimously accepted Bill C-104 after which compulsory DNA tests for accused suspects in a capital crime became the law of the land. In the name of his family and of his murdered daughter, Michael Manning thanked Parliament from the visitors’ gallery. When the speaker rose to accept Manning’s thanks, the speaker inferred Manning was recognized and as of that time, he is still the only visitor to Parliament to have ever been officially recognized by its Speaker. Following the Speaker’s cue, the rest of parliament rose to applaud the man and his efforts. 

Fifteen years later, Michael Manning is living in a basement apartment in Montreal’s west-end. He is overweight, he smokes too much and he was visibly hung-over. While looking at Tara’s picture, he lit another cigarette and told The Métropolitain he still regrets not kissing his daughter good night that night before she went to bed.

“I miss her,” he said. “Dear God, I miss her so much.”

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