Appeal begins in 37-year-old child murder case
Tallio appeal hearing starts this month, 37 years after conviction for killing child
As the first hearing dates approach this month for Phillip Tallio's historic bid to overturn a decades-old murder conviction, the former Bella Coola man is adjusting to life outside prison walls, reconnecting with family and making new friends while navigating a pandemic.
Tallio, who pleaded guilty in 1983 to the murder of a child but has maintained his innocence since then, is expected to testify at the first day of his appeal hearing at the B.C. Court of Appeal starting Oct. 13.
If Tallio's appeal is successful and his conviction overturned, his nearly 37 years in jail would make Canadian legal history as the longest prison term served by someone found to be wrongfully convicted.
In January of this year, Tallio was released on bail pending his appeal, which was originally scheduled for March. But weeks after Tallio left jail — for the first time in his adult life — the COVID-19 pandemic threw the court system and much of the rest of the world into limbo.
“It's quite ironic that once he was finally out on bail, the whole world is now on house arrest,” said Tallio's lawyer Rachel Barsky.
“It's the first time he's been out in 37 years into the world, and the world is just a very different place right now.”
But Tallio was “very grateful” he wasn't still incarcerated when COVID-19 hit, Barsky said, “because he's mentioned to me that in prison, all diseases spread like wildfire.”
He's doing well, she said, living in a halfway house in the Fraser Valley awaiting his appeal.
Tallio's bail restrictions prevent him from travelling to his home community in Bella Coola, where he was arrested in 1983 for murdering his 22-month-old relative Delavina Mack.
Members and supporters of the Mack family, who opposed Tallio's release, say they will attend his appeal hearing.
After Tallio's release this year, his younger brother, who was a child when Tallio was first incarcerated, came to the Lower Mainland to visit him. He brought traditional Nuxalk food that Tallio hadn't been able to enjoy in decades, including dried salmon, moose steak, ooligan grease, soap berries and herring eggs. It was an emotional reunion, Barksy said.
Tallio has been looking for parttime work, but has so far been unsuccessful, Barsky said, and his job-seeking efforts have been hampered by the pandemic. But he has been enjoying getting outside, she said, biking and going for long walks.
An affidavit filed in support of Tallio's bail describes when his “whole world crumbled” in September 2018, when his only child, Honey Hood, died suddenly. Hood, born seven months after Tallio's arrest in 1983, left behind three daughters.
Tallio wrote in his affidavit of wanting “to meet my three granddaughters and to be able to provide them with the life that their mother dreamt of building for them.”
Marie Spetch, a former corrections guard who first met Tallio when he was a teen, and her daughter Robyn Batryn are among those closest to Tallio. He calls them his adopted mom and sister. They met with him when he first emerged from prison, but COVID-19 has since ended their in-person connection, Batryn said. Spetch, now 96, has dementia and lives in a retirement home, but continues to speak to Tallio by phone.
Batryn said she was feeling good about the upcoming case, but she said Tallio is feeling “a little apprehensive” because he doesn't know what's going to happen.
Tallio is now doing his own budgeting and cooks for himself, Batryn said. An earlier affidavit filed by Tallio stated that during his time in minimum security prison he began a ketogenic diet of fish, poultry and vegetables, and had lost a substantial amount of weight.
Batryn and Spetch had attended many of Tallio's previous court dates, but they won't be going to this one due to health concerns around the pandemic.
“He knows that he's told the truth and for me, I think the truth always prevails and hopefully this will have some really positive outcomes,” she said.
While in prison Tallio befriended Jim Turner, the owner of a Surrey-based trucking company who had read about the case in The Vancouver Sun and reached out to the prisoner. Turner said his company gave Tallio a few things he had wanted, like a stereo, some clothes and a gaming system, and they visited him with warm lunches and helped with his canteen needs.
Turner has been taking Tallio out for meals since his release, and introduced him to golf, which he has enjoyed. Turner's company has since started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign naming Tallio as the beneficiary.
Tallio's appeal is expected to last four weeks.