KINGSTON, Ont. – Spending his nights at strip clubs and bouncing between stimulants and sleeping pills, a paranoid Mike Danton -convinced he was marked for death – feared his father, not former agent David Frost, when he hired a hit man to end the life of someone he thought was out to get him, the ex-NHL player claimed Friday.
Danton, his head shaved and his collared shirt crisp, spoke publicly for the first time about the bizarre $10,000 murder-for-hire plot at the heart of his tortured relationship with his parents and former junior coach – a twisted scheme that landed him a 7 1/2-year prison sentence.
His testimony, which the National Parole Board described as “reasonable” in granting him full parole, did precious little to shed light on a murky tale of betrayal no less confusing and strange now as it was in 2004, when the former NHL forward pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to murder.
The one-time St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils forward said he was convinced someone was out to kill him – precisely who he thought it was remains something of an open question – when a girl he’d been dating put him in touch with a man he understood to be a contract killer.
Police and prosecutors have long alleged it was Frost, his agent at the time, that Danton believed would be coming for him. In a convoluted exchange with panel member Michael Crowley, however, Danton suggested he wasn’t sure who his killer would be, but expected it to be his father.
“The agreement was there would be $10,000 paid out to have the person I believed was coming to kill me taken care of,” Danton told the panel.
Crowley was incredulous that Danton would believe he was a marked man.
“Why on Earth would you believe that?” he asked.
Crowley asked Danton who he thought he was conspiring to kill.
“The victim turned out to be Mr. Frost, but the intended victim was not him,” came the reply.
Eventually, Crowley described Danton’s attitude as “like talking about the bogeyman.” Then, later: “It’s clear that you thought it was your father who would do you harm,” he said.
“Right,” Danton replied.
Danton said his relationship with his parents, Steve and Sue Jefferson, had grown so strained – and his perspective so skewed – that he became convinced it was true. Prosecutors originally suggested that it was Frost that Danton feared, but in fact, Frost was also considered a target, he said.
“Over the years there were conversations that pointed to someone who would have interest in ending my life and ending (Frost’s) life,” Danton said, adding he received “verbal confirmation” from a family member.
He told the hit man to kill someone who would be in his apartment over two days, and Crowley noted Frost was there at the time. But Danton said Frost wasn’t the person he believed was coming to kill him.
The true target of the plot was not identified in the agreed-to facts that were part of the court record when Danton pleaded guilty. There was no immediate explanation for why prosecutors originally identified Frost as the intended target.
The police file said Frost confronted Danton days before his arrest, threatening to go to management of the St. Louis Blues about his increasingly wild behaviour, Crowley noted.
Danton’s parents could not be contacted Friday. Jefferson’s mother, Shirley, contacted at her home in Fergus, Ont., said the last number she had for her son was out of service.
Danton described his childhood as dysfunctional, and his relationship with the Jeffersons so strained that he changed his last name. He said he hasn’t spoken to his father since he was about 15 and admitted to tearing up and sending back the letters they wrote to him in prison.
“I refer to biological family as Steve and Sue,” Danton said. “I don’t think of them as family.”
Among Danton’s allegations, none of which have been proven in court, were that Steve Jefferson was physically abusive and Sue Jefferson did drugs.
Attempts to reach Frost were unsuccessful.
Danton alleged his father subjected him to repeated beatings and would force him to stay home from school if marks or bruises were too apparent, or was told to blame them on hockey injuries. He claimed his father beat up his mother too, but that she had problems of her own.
Speaking about his mother, Danton said he would come home from school in the afternoons to a house that reeked of marijuana. He said his mom would stay up at night, vacuuming the whole house. He said he didn’t even know how to brush his teeth until Frost and his wife took him in.
He described a childhood devoid of the usual trappings of a loving home: parental affection, bedtime stories, kisses at bedtime. When he slept over at the homes of friends, he saw none of what he was used to – drug paraphernalia lying around or kitchen plates smashing against the walls.
Turning to Frost as a father was a “no-brainer,” Danton said.
“Do you stick with someone who abuses you every chance (they) get?”
When Frost became his coach at age 11, Danton clung to him as a role model, someone to trust. He said the way Frost has been portrayed in court testimony and in the media – as a violent and controlling, all-encompassing presence in his players’ lives – is a big misconception.
Frost was acquitted last year of four counts of sexual exploitation relating to his tenure as coach of the Junior A Quinte Hawks team in eastern Ontario in 1996 and 1997, a team of which Danton was a member.
Among the conditions of his release are that Danton is to have no direct or indirect contact with his father, or any face-to-face contact with Frost, without the approval of his parole officer.
Danton said he hopes to return to playing hockey.
“Given the opportunity I know I’ll be able to play somewhere, at some level,” said Danton, who also said he wants to get a post-secondary degree – he’s interested in psychology, he said, and loves teaching kids.
Since he can’t leave Canada while on parole, a return to the NHL would be impossible, he acknowledged.
In oral reasons for the decision, the board said while Danton’s crime a very serious offence, he’s clearly benefited from therapy and would be a low risk.
“There’s evidence that you’ve benefited from the therapy you’ve undergone,” the board said. “You are aware of the triggers that could cause some inappropriate behaviour in the future.” Psychological assessments have identified Danton as being at a low risk to re-offend.
Danton said he learned a lot about himself while in jail, which he suggested has been ultimately a positive experience.
“I don’t want to seem glad that this happened, but I’m definitely fortunate it happened,” he said. “I’m a far better person than I was.”
Danton won’t be freed for another several days and will be under parole supervision until Jan. 21, 2011.