Appeal Court tosses murder conviction
EDMONTON (CP) — It wasn’t exactly the stuff of eloquent courtroom drama.
An Alberta man forced to conduct his own defence against a charge of second-degree murder proved so inept that the province’s Appeal Court has tossed out his conviction and ordered a new trial.
“ The haunting record of the unfolding narrative and the clear display of this appellant’s bewilderment compels appellate interference,” said the court judgment, released Thursday.
Paul White, 23, was charged with the 2005 killing of Greg Shoemaker, 21, both from the Red Deer area. Shoemaker had been stabbed 34 times.
Trial justice Dennis Thomas convicted White, citing evidence that the then-18-year-old had wounds consistent with a knife fight and that the victim’s blood was found on White’s shower curtain.
But the trial was marked by repeated delays that began when the defence opened its case by calling White to the stand in May 2007. White testified that it was his girlfriend who had stabbed Shoemaker.
Immediately after that testimony, White’s lawyer quit, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Court adjourned until July to allow White’s new lawyer to get up to speed, then again until September when the lawyer told court he intended to argue for a mistrial. Additional adjournments delayed things until midDecember, at which time White’s second lawyer quit the case.
Court heard other lawyers were willing to represent White, but wouldn’t be available for the February dates that Thomas proposed. Thomas rejected a proposal to adjourn until June 2008 and told White the trial would proceed on Feb. 19, 2008, with or without counsel. When that day came, White represented himself. He called his girlfriend to the stand.
What happened next had a lot more in common with the TV show Judge Judy than Law and Order.
At one point, he asked if he could have a copy of the Criminal Code of Canada, or, as White phrased it, “the big book with all the rules in it.”
White, whose formal education pretty much ended at Grade 9, also asked “What is Section 10 and 11 of the Criminal Code? I’m just curious ’cause I don’t know.”
The Appeal Court ruled that while it’s important that cases move ahead, a 21-year-old with no criminal record facing a mandatory life sentence shouldn’t have been left on his own.
The court also found no evidence that White was simply trying to game the system by causing repeated delays.
Alberta Justice must decide whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada or simply gear up for a new trial.
White will remain in custody, but move from a federal jail to a remand centre. He may reapply for release on bail.