Ronald Ward’s conviction on second-degree murder reduced to manslaughter
Ontario’s highest court has overturned the murder conviction of a Wingham man found guilty five years ago of second-degree murder, setting him free.
Ronald Ward was convicted instead of manslaughter after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that there were errors in the judge’s instructions to the jury at the trial in the death of Scott Hayes on Feb. 12, 2010.
His life sentence, with no chance of parole for 12 years, was reduced to time served or about seven years when factoring in his pre- trial custody.
Ward, 33, was convicted by a London jury in September 2011 after his case was moved from Huron County to the Middlesex County courthouse because of the damage caused to the town square and the courthouse during the 2010 Goderich tornado.
After Ward’s trial, Hayes’ death was considered to be the firstmurder in Wingham since the police department was established in 1879.
With the appeal, the Huron County town once again has a clean slate.
Ward hadmaintained throughout the trial that the death was accidental, but it was clear there was bad blood betweenHayes and theWard brothers overHayes’ girlfriendwhois the mother of his children.
Hayes had gone to jail for a 2006 punch-up withWard’s brother over the woman.
In early 2010 and just weeks after Hayes was out of jail, Ward’s brother had kissed the woman while driving her home from a stag-and-doe. She had been at the party with Hayes even though they were under a court order not to associate with each other.
The woman confessed to Hayes, who then challenged Ward’s brother to meet in the parking lot behind a downtown business. Ward was asked by his brother to watch his back.
The fight was on when Ward showed up in the parking lot with two teenaged passengers. He could see his brother was cowering and Hayes was punching.
Ward fishtailed on the slippery, snow-covered surface in the parking lot, straightened, accelerated, and then braked. He struck Hayes, pushing him into the wall of the business. Hayes died of skull fractures and a torn brain stem.
After pinning him to the wall, Ward got out of the truck and walked over to Hayes but didn’t offer any assistance. He drove off with his brother and two passengers and prevented one of them from calling 911.
He was arrested several days later inThunder Bay.
Ward hadmaintained during the trial that the whole incident was an accident. Theappeal court said that “therewas no realistic prospect of a not guilty verdict” based on that assertion.
However, the judge’s instructions “did not adequately equip the jury to determine the nature and extent of the appellant’s liability for the death of Scott Hayes,” the court said.
The jury was supposed to decide whether the unlawful killing was murder ormanslaughter.
By law, an accident is an unintended act. The appeal court said Ward committed two unlawful acts by assaulting Hayes with the truck and by driving dangerously.
The judge, the court said, erred by not explaining what an accident was under the law.
The jury also was told that it could use after- the- fact conduct when considering if the death was an accident. A further error was made when the judge instructed the fault element required for a murder conviction.
All those errors stopped the jury deciding if the Crown “had established the fault element required for conviction of second- degree murder,” the court said.
“We are satisfied that, although the appellant was not properly convicted of second-degree murder, he was properly convicted of manslaughter.”