Cleared of mur­der, Phillion asks court for chance to clear his name

Cape Breton Post - - OUR COMMUNITY -

OTTAWA (CP) — Af­ter spending al­most 32 years be­hind bars for a mur­der he says he did not com­mit, Romeo Phillion re­turned to court Mon­day a free man.

And he brought an un­usual re­quest — to be for­mally charged for the mur­der once again so he could plead not guilty and fi­nally clear his name.

“I might not be an an­gel; I’m no killer,” Phillion, 70, said out­side the Ottawa court­house Mon­day as a new chap­ter opened in one of Canada’s long­est-run­ning wrong­ful con­vic­tion cases.

The On­tario Court of Ap­peal last year over­turned Phillion’s mur­der con­vic­tion for the 1967 stab­bing death of Ottawa fire­fighter Leopold Roy. It or­dered a new trial, but the court made it clear it had not con­cluded Phillion was in­no­cent.

Phillion has been free on bail pend­ing ap­peal since 2003. His lawyer James Lock­yer ar­gued be­fore an On­tario Su­pe­rior Court jus­tice that his client should ul­ti­mately be put back in the pris­oner’s box and ar­raigned for the crime one more time.

But the Crown has said it will not pro­ceed with a new trial, which would de­prive Phillion of the chance to plead not guilty, and any chance of hav­ing the fi­nal word on his case.

Mo­ments be­fore Jus­tice Lynn Ra­tushny en­tered the court­room, Lock­yer asked his diminu­tive sil­ver-haired client if he wanted to take a seat in the glassed-in pris­oner’s box once more, pre­sum­ably to make a sym­bolic point.

“No pris­oner’s box for me,” Phillion said from the front row. “I’m fine here where I can stretch my legs.”

Be­fore Lock­yer opened two days of le­gal ar­gu­ments Mon­day, Ra­tushny looked down from the bench to an oc­cu­pied chair to the right of the empty pris­oner’s box and said: “I would like to ac­knowl­edge the pres­ence of Romeo Phillion.”

Lock­yer said Phillion’s Char­ter rights were first vi­o­lated when he was wrong­fully con­victed at his 1972 trial. The Ap­peal Court later con­cluded po­lice de­tec­tives and a Crown pros­e­cu­tor with­held key al­ibi ev­i­dence that would have placed him in an­other part of On­tario at the time of Roy’s mur­der.

A fur­ther Char­ter vi­o­la­tion, Lock­yer ar­gued, occurred with the re­cent de­ci­sion by the Crown to deny Phillion a fair trial, which now left a “cloud of sus­pi­cion” over his head.

“How a case comes to an end is of na­tional im­por­tance,” Lock­yer told the judge, para­phras­ing from the vol­umes of Cana­dian wrong­ful-con­vic­tion case law that he placed be­fore her.

Lock­yer crit­i­cized the writ­ten ar­gu­ments filed with the court by the Ottawa Crown at­tor­ney’s of­fice that dis­puted Phillion’s claim that he faced “stigma and trauma” for be­ing wrongly con­victed and not prop­erly ex­on­er­ated.

The Crown ar­gued that Phillion had in­tro­duced no ev­i­dence to show that his pub­lic stand­ing had been di­min­ished by his con­vic­tion.

“This isn’t a pub­lic re­la­tions ex­er­cise,” said Lock­yer, adding the out­come of the case held “dev­as­tat­ing im­por­tance” to his client.

Dressed in a crisp, char­coal suit, Phillion lis­tened im­pas­sively as Lock­yer re­cited ev­i­dence that po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors de­lib­er­ately with­held from his lawyer at his 1972 trial — a decade be­fore the adop­tion of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms and the de­vel­op­ment of the sub­se­quent case law that now for­bids pros­e­cu­tors from hid­ing ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence.

Lock­yer as­sailed the “gall” of pros­e­cu­tors who sought to deny Phillion his day in court one last time, as he re­minded the judge that his client re­peat­edly turned down pa­role at­tempts that pro­longed his im­pris­on­ment for many more years, once say­ing: “Pa­role is for the guilty.”

Out­side the court­house, as a Fe­bru­ary gust whipped across his face, Phillion re­mained de­ter­mined.

“I want that cloud off me — pe­riod,” he said. “I know the truth’s right there and no­body can deny that.”

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