WINNIPEG — Kyle Unger, who served 14 years in prison after being convicted in a teenage girl’s grisly slaying, is expected to walk out of a Winnipeg courtroom Friday with his freedom and name fully restored.
But he won’t just be joining the list of Canadians wrongly convicted of murder. The Crown won’t simply stay the first-degree murder charge that has hung over Unger’s head, but will take the extra step of agreeing to have him formally acquitted, a source close to the case told The Canadian Press.
“This is the first time in (Manitoba’s) history this has happened,” the source said.
Unger was convicted, along with Timothy Houlahan, in the grisly death of Brigitte Grenier, who was beaten, sexually assaulted and mutilated at a rock concert southwest of Winnipeg in 1990.
Only 19 at the time, Unger was found guilty based largely on a questionable confession he gave to undercover police and a hair found on the victim’s clothing, which an RCMP expert testified belonged to Unger.
Unger maintained his innocence and DNA testing would eventually prove that the hair was not his. Questions also arose about the confession. Unger said he lied to the undercover officers, who told him they were drug dealers, because he wanted to work with them.
Unger was released from prison in 2005 and last March the federal justice minister ordered a new trial, saying in a written statement that a “miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”
Since then, the Crown has been working to decide whether to retry Unger, withdraw the charge — which would leave open the possibility of a retrial — or clear his name by agreeing to have him acquitted.
A retrial may have been a challenge to mount. The disproven hair was the only physical evidence linking Unger to the crime. The undercover sting that led to his confession has holes in it because his recount of the killing included several factual errors.
He told the undercover agents that he had killed Grenier on a bridge, which, in fact, wasn’t built until months after the killing.
The only witness who claimed to have seen Unger take part in Grenier’s killing was Houlahan. Houlahan’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1994.
He committed suicide while awaiting a new trial.