HALIFAX — A high-profile group of lawyers that has secured the exoneration of 18 wrongly convicted persons in Canada has taken on the case of a Nova Scotia man sentenced to life in 1999 for fatally stabbing his former girlfriend.
The Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, which counts among its clients David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin and Steven Truscott, said Wednesday it filed an application last year with the federal Justice Department for a review of Glen Eugene Assoun’s case.
Kerry Scullion, director of the department’s Criminal Conviction Review Group, said a recently completed preliminary assessment shows there may have been a miscarriage of justice in the case.
“In this case, we have determined that, yes, we think there may be (a miscarriage of justice),” Scullion said in an interview from Ottawa. “So we now move to the investigative stage of our process.”
In September 1999, Assoun was convicted by a jury in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court of second-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Brenda Lee Anne Way.
Way’s partly clothed body was found behind an apartment building in the Halifax area on Nov. 12, 1995. She had been stabbed six times and her throat had been slashed.
Assoun, who was living in British Columbia when he was arrested more than two years later, has always said he was wrongfully convicted of the crime.
He represented himself at his trial in Halifax after firing his lawyer three days in to the court proceedings.
His sentence included a provision that he could not apply for parole until he had served 18 1/2 years in prison.
After his trial, applications for appeals were dismissed by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Scullion said now that a preliminary assessment has been completed, his group of federal lawyers will conduct an in-depth investigation that could include testing exhibits and interviewing witnesses.
An investigation report will then be handed to Assoun, Nova Scotia’s attorney general and the federal justice minister, who will decide whether Assoun’s application has merit.
The federal minister will have the option of rejecting the application or seeking a remedy, which could include calling for a new trial or hearing, or a new appeal proceeding.
Scullion said provincial Crowns rarely go ahead with a new trial if one is ordered, which means the convictions are typically quashed and the accused is presumed innocent.
Meanwhile, Assoun is expected to seek bail by using the preliminary assessment, which is not a public document.
Federal lawyers and Assoun’s lawyers are scheduled to gather next week in Halifax to ask a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge to seal the assessment and impose a publication ban on its contents.
The assessment contains information that has not been tested in court, Scullion said.
“There are reliability, credibility, admissibility issues,” he said. “You want to protect all the judicial proceedings along the line.”
Assoun’s bail hearing is scheduled for late November.