Surprise guilty plea in murder case

Nathan Desharnais’ trial came to an abrupt end when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder

A Red Deer man unexpectedly pleaded guilty to second-degree murder partway through his trial on Tuesday.

Nathan Desharnais was on trial for the death of Talia Meguinis, who was last seen on Feb. 20, 2012 in Red Deer.

Her body, which had been left in a dumpster, was found at a Red Deer recycling facility on Feb. 22, 2012. Desharnais was charged seven months later after an RCMP Mr. Big sting operation.

Desharnais, who has a shaved head and bushy beard, showed little emotion when the charge was read to him and he replied “guilty” when asked how he pleaded.

The surprise guilty plea came after Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Eldon Simpson ruled in the morning that cellphone photos recovered from Desharnais’ cellphone could be used as evidence against him.

The photos were found on a cellphone that Desharnais was carrying when he was arrested in June 2012 for an unrelated aggravated sexual assault, for which he was later convicted.

Police couldn’t view the photos at the time because the phone was locked. But a year later, technology had improved and the cellphone was cracked revealing photos of a woman believed to be murder victim Meguinis, 27-year-old mother of three.

Defence lawyer Patty MacNaughton unsuccesfully argued in court on Monday that the cellphone photos are inadmissable as evidence because her client’s rights were breached when they were retrieved without a warrant.

Simpson said while police should have gotten a search warrant to crack the phone in June 2013 there was no evidence police had intentionally breached Desharnais’ rights.

Simpson also noted the law regarding searching cellphones was in “flux” at the time of Desharnais’ arrest. At the time, police routinely checked cellphone contents under the grounds it was “incidental” to an arrest.

Following the judge’s decision in the morning, MacNaughton asked for a lengthy break to speak with her client. The guilty plea came when court reconvened in the afternoon.

Crown prosecutor Bruce Ritter said a charge of interfering with human remains will be withdrawn. A date for sentencing is expected to be set on Wednesday.

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