James Driskell has recovered his innocence. Now he's looking for accountability.
The 46-year-old Winnipeg man spent more than 12 years in prison because forensic scientists made mistakes and witnesses lied.
And for more than a decade, Manitoba prosecutors concealed evidence that two key witnesses were paid more than $80,000 and given immunity and housing deals in exchange for testifying against him at his trial.
Driskell always insisted he was innocent of the 1990 murder of his friend, Perry Dean Harder. Yesterday, his case took what his lawyer described as an "exhilarating" turn, when federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler quashed Driskell's first-degree murder conviction and ordered a new trial, saying "a miscarriage of justice likely occurred."
Cotler went on to detail repeated and "serious" breaches of the Crown's duty to disclose evidence in the case.
The two key witnesses "likely committed perjury" but that was never disclosed to Driskell's lawyers, he said. And a DNA test has discredited hair evidence that was at the heart of the Crown's case.
Almost immediately, Manitoba Attorney General Gord Mackintosh announced the province would not re-prosecute and was instead staying charges against Driskell and setting up a public inquiry.
Hobbling on a leg broken in five places - a mishap that occurred during an auto repair - Driskell, a father of eight, said he was "shocked" everything came to such an abrupt end.
But the questions have really just begun.
"I'm glad it's over, but my main concern still remains that I'd like to see someone accountable for this, because I've spent the last 15 years being told I have to be accountable - I have to admit this, I have to admit that," Driskell told the Star in an interview from Winnipeg.
"Now that the whole, general public knows there was information hidden and stashed in the corner somewhere and not turned over to defence lawyers, someone has to be answerable for that," he said.
"It hasn't only happened in my case. It goes back to Tommy Sophonow, David Milgaard and Guy-Paul Morin."
Mackintosh said he's also looking for accountability.
"These are very difficult matters and this is very troubling and disturbing," he told the Star. "And yet, you know, the positive aspect is there have been revelations in this case that can provide justice."
Mackintosh said he will be considering the names of potential inquiry commissioners over the next few weeks and consulting with the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted on the terms of reference for the probe.
Depending on the timing, it could mean three inquiries will be running simultaneously into miscarriages of justice in Canada.
An inquiry is currently underway in Saskatchewan into Milgaard's 1969 murder conviction and another is examining three wrongful murder convictions in Newfoundland.
'We took this case, we shook it and we won it.'
--James Lockyer, acting for James Driskell
It will also be at least the sixth Canadian inquiry into a wrongful conviction.
"It's been going on and on and on," Driskell said yesterday. "This can happen to absolutely anybody, and it seems there are no checks in place."
Driskell spent much of his life on the tough streets of Winnipeg's north end. His father was murdered at age 44.
Together, Driskell and Harder ran a "chop shop," cutting up stolen vehicles and selling the parts. Both had been charged with possession of stolen property. But in June 1990, a week before he was to appear in court, Harder disappeared.
Three months later, a passenger on a train spotted Harder's body near a north Winnipeg railway track, in a shallow grave.
Before he died, Harder struck a plea bargain deal with the Crown and was expected to plead guilty to the stolen property charges. The Crown's theorized that he was killed so he wouldn't be able to testify at Driskell's trial.
But Driskell's lawyer insisted he had been told by Harder's lawyer that his client would not be testifying against Driskell.
Ray Zanidean - RCMP informant paid to perjure testimony against Jim Driskell. Allowed to get away with serious arson.
Harder was shot at least once, but no gun was ever found. The only physical evidence connecting Driskell to the crime were three hairs found in his van, which were linked to Harder by an RCMP hair analyst.
The Crown also had a star witness, Reath (Ray) Zanidean (right), who testified that he overheard Driskell plotting the murder and confessing to the crime. He was backed up by another witness, John Gumieny.
Driskell was convicted by a jury on June 14, 1991 and sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years. He lost every appeal. Five years ago, he approached the Toronto-based association.
"We took this case, we shook it and we won it," said James Lockyer, Driskell's lawyer and one of the group's founding directors. "We put it in the wringer, turned it upside down and all these coins fell out."
The association met with Manitoba justice officials in 2000 and asked them to release trial exhibits for DNA testing. Two years later, the province agreed and paid for tests, which showed the three hairs in the van did not belong to Harder.
John Gumeiny - RCMP informant. Winnipeg Police are now looking for him in connection with a rape in Winnipeg. He had also been convicted of rape when he sold his perjured testimony against Jim Driskell.
Lawyer James Lockyer and the AIDWYC pressed Manitoba justice officials to disclose other evidence still sitting in government files. They discovered that Ray Zanidean and John Gumieny (right) received "tens of thousands" of dollars in exchange for their testimony, Lockyer recalled this week.
Zanidean, in particular, was paid nearly $83,000, including a $20,000 lump sum payment to move to Alberta. Manitoba justice officials also took over his mortgage payments.
Saskatchewan justice department officials had urged their Manitoba counterparts to disclose the deal to Driskell's trial lawyer, Greg Brodsky. But it would be 10 years before Brodsky learned of payments or deal.
Meanwhile, in 1991, Zanidean made an anonymous phone call to Brodsky's office, attempting to recant his testimony.
Both he and Gumieny have either recanted or threatened their testimony, information that was never disclosed but "significantly undermined" their credibility, Cotler said yesterday.
After DNA results were obtained in Driskell's case, Driskell's lawyers obtained his release on bail, pending yesterday's decision by Cotler.
Driskell had asked Cotler to review the case using his powers under sec. 696.1 of the Criminal Code and was only the second federal prisoner to be set free while the review was ongoing.
Wrongfully convicted, now Driskell holds his head high
An increasingly shaky case against convicted killer James Patrick Driskell disintegrated altogether yesterday, adding the Winnipeg man's name to a growing list of miscarriages of justice.
Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler launched a swift chain of events around noon, when he used a special Criminal Code provision to order a new trial for the 46-year-old man.
Manitoba's Department of Justice promptly entered a stay of proceedings and called a public inquiry into the affair, ending Mr. Driskell's conviction without exonerating him.
He had been free on bail since late 2003, after serving a total of 12 years in Stony Mountain penitentiary convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his friend, Perry Dean Harder.
"Can you imagine if we had the death penalty in this country?" Mr. Cotler said in an interview yesterday.
"With capital punishment, there is no appellate review. We would have been executing innocent people."
Mr. Cotler said the Driskell case will live on as a "case study" in the dangers of police and prosecutorial tunnel vision, inadequate disclosure of evidence, false testimony and poor scientific analysis. "Let us hope we all learn lessons from this miscarriage of justice," he said.
"I'm still shaking, it's unbelievable," Mr. Driskell said in an interview yesterday, minutes after lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted told him that his 15-year ordeal was over.
He was convicted in 1991, a year after Mr. Harder was last seen outside his rooming house in a pickup truck. The victim's remains were found in a shallow grave just outside Winnipeg three months after he disappeared. He had been shot at least once.
At the time of Mr. Harder's disappearance, he and Mr. Driskell were jointly charged with possession of stolen goods. The Crown theory was that Mr. Driskell killed his partner in crime to prevent him from giving damaging testimony.
Mr. Driskell never stopped asserting his innocence. Police stymied a Winnipeg Sun investigation in the early 1990s, and nearly a decade passed before the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) and Centurion Ministries took up his cause. Their initial breakthrough involved DNA testing of several strands of hair that exculpated Mr. Driskell. They also wrested from the police a long-buried internal report that raised numerous questions about the case.
Yesterday morning, AIDWYC lawyer James Lockyer and co-counsel Alan Libman appeared at Mr. Driskell's door to deliver the good news.
"He was crying," Mr. Lockyer said in an interview. "He said: 'Now, I can hold my head high.' I think what he liked most of all was that they are going to hold an inquiry. It's unfortunate they wouldn't acknowledge his innocence, but we sort of dragged them to the edge of the cliff. We just couldn't quite push them off."
Mr. Lockyer said the growing list of wrongful convictions in Canada is horrifying. "Every time we latch on to one of these cases, look what happens," he said. "Driskell was lucky. Minister Cotler put a great effort into this case, yes, but only because it was put on a plate in front of him. I've got a dozen cases behind this, and we're not able to get to them. So, how many more are out there?"
Mr. Cotler said several key findings pointed toward a wrongful conviction, including:
Forensic analysis of three strands of hair found in Mr. Driskell's car that had supposedly linked him to Mr. Harder showed they did not belong to the victim.
The report that Winnipeg police suppressed for 10 years included information of great relevance to the defence.
The Crown failed to disclose that its two key witnesses, Ray Zanidean and John Gumieny, received "substantial" compensation after they testified that Mr. Driskell planned the murder. (Mr. Zanidean was also given immunity on an arson charge in Saskatchewan, apparently in return for his testimony.)
For 11 years after Mr. Driskell's trial, the Crown failed to disclose information that Mr. Zanidean likely committed perjury at the trial.
In another development yesterday, the province released a report on the case by Manitoba Provincial Court Judge John Enns. It said the action, "or inaction," of Crown prosecutors bordered on the criminal offence of gross negligence.
However, Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh told reporters that a public inquiry would be more useful than pursuing criminal charges against police or prosecutors. "A commission of inquiry can tie together all the different pieces of review that have taken place," he said.
In the interview, Mr. Driskell said that after years of living in a tightly structured prison regimen, he has lost the capacity to make choices and shoulder routine responsibilities. He said he has also struggled to divide his time among eight children and 14 grandchildren.
Healing the psychological scars of a family that spent 15 years with the stigma of his conviction has added to the ordeal, he said. "It's been a struggle from the day I got out on bail. Getting my life together has been far more of a challenge then I ever dreamed it could be."
Mr. Driskell said he has never given any thought to launching a lawsuit or applying for compensation for his wrongful conviction. "I've been focused more on getting my life together," he said. "You try not to look forward to things."
WINNIPEG, MB (CP) - James Driskell's 14 years spent protesting his innocence in the death of his friend Perry Harder were finally rewarded Thursday when the federal justice minister quashed his first-degree murder conviction.
Irwin Cotler ordered a new trial, but Manitoba Justice officials quickly opted not to re-try the case and filed a stay of proceedings Thursday. Driskell's lawyer says the move effectively exonerates his client, but prosecutors said the stay "is not a recognition of factual innocence."
Driskell was delighted with the news.
"I'm overwhelmed," Driskell told a news conference.
"I imagine it's going to take a few days to actually sink in and I'm going to take my time with it and try to analyse my feelings over the next few days."
Cotler, whose department has been reviewing the case since the fall of 2003, said new evidence that surfaced two years ago led him to conclude "that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Driskell's case."
Driskell was convicted in 1991 largely on the evidence of hair samples found at the crime scene, but he always maintained his innocence. He was released on bail in late 2003 after the federal government agreed to the review.
Driskell and Harder were facing charges of possessing stolen goods in 1990. But just days before their hearing, Harder was shot to death and his body was found near railway tracks in north Winnipeg.
DNA tests revealed the hair samples used to convict Driskell were incorrectly identified. Other evidence showed that two Crown witnesses were paid to testify against Driskell and prosecutors failed to disclose information that one witness likely committed perjury at the trial.
Cotler said he had no legal power to make a finding of guilt or innocence.
"My own remedial authority under the Criminal Code only allows me to both go as far and pronounce as far as I did," Cotler told a conference call with reporters.
But he said the Crown's decision to stay the proceedings reflects its doubts about convicting Driskell again.
James Lockyer, a lawyer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted - which took up Driskell's case, praised Cotler's decision.
The group also credited the Manitoba government with acting quickly in deciding not to retry Driskell and ordering a judicial inquiry.
But Lockyer said while he's disappointed Manitoba Justice is still not prepared to acknowledge Driskell's innocence, his client no longer has a dark cloud hanging over him.
"He's clear, free, exonerated, not guilty, didn't do it, never did it and never should have been found to have done it."
He accused the prosecution of refusing to give up and acknowledge reality, but noted it's a position not uncommon with wrongful conviction cases.
In a letter filed with Court of Queen's Bench on Thursday, senior prosecutor Bob Morrison said the stay is "simply a recognition that our ethical standard for proceeding is no longer met."
Both Driskell and Lockyer said they're looking forward to more details about the case and how it was handled from the outset coming to light in the inquiry.
In conjunction with Thursday's announcements, Manitoba Justice released its final report on the case prepared by former provincial court judge John Enns.
Enns specifically reviewed allegations the Crown failed to disclose evidence to Driskell and his lawyers that could have overturned his conviction.
Enns was scathing in his conclusions.
"What remains is that by actions, or more precisely by inaction amounting to gross negligence bordering on the criminal offence of obstruction of justice, important disclosures did not take place," wrote Enns.
He said it was not possible to determine specific blame, but said senior Crown officials, "either collectively or individually, failed seriously in their duty to disclose."
Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said the report points to the need for a judicial inquiry.
Meanwhile, Driskell said he still has a lot of work to do rebuilding relationships with his eight children and 14 grandchildren.
"What's everyday living for you is a challenge for me," said Driskell, who attended the news conference in a wheelchair after recently breaking his leg in five places.
But he said he's looking forward to living without the curfew and other restrictions he has been under while on bail.
"That feels good," said Driskell.
"Now I can actually work toward trying to put a life together."
An early-morning phone call yesterday ended James Driskell's nearly 15-year struggle to shake blame for a murder he says he didn't commit. "I said 'Is it real?' then, 'It's over?' ... For 15 years I've been fighting for my life. That's what this is about to me," Driskell said, describing a phone conversation with his lawyers.
Driskell, who spent 13 years behind bars, has been on bail Nov. 28, 2003. The 46-year-old has maintained his innocence in the death of his friend Perry Harder since the day he was charged.
"I'm overwhelmed," Driskell, who was in a wheelchair after breaking his leg three weeks ago, said at a press conference yesterday.
After a review by of the case by federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Driskell's June 1991 first-degree murder conviction for the Harder's death was quashed and a new trial ordered.
Cotler cited several reasons for his decision, including a credibility problem with two key witnesses, a failure by the Crown and police to disclose some evidence to Driskell's defence and new DNA hair evidence which refuted evidence presented at trial.
Manitoba Justice has stayed proceedings and will not re-try Driskell, said deputy attorney general Bruce MacFarlane. He said this is not an exoneration of Driskell.
"We're not saying Mr. Driskell is guilty," MacFarlane said. "We're saying the evidence doesn't support our continuation of the case. We can't prove guilt or innocence."
MacFarlane said police have been asked to see if there are grounds to lay perjury charges against the Crown's star witness, Reath Zanidean, who later admitted lying in court.
Driskell -- whose plight was supported by several organizations, including the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted -- said he isn't planning to seek compensation, just answers.
"For years I've been held accountable for something I didn't do ...
'What I would like to see is accountability," he said.
Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said an inquiry will be ordered into the matter, though it's unclear when it would begin.
"Even though this is essentially a 13-year-old matter, let's get to the bottom of it," he said.
Manitoba Justice officials also released an independent review yesterday which looked at the disclosure of evidence in the case.
The review found senior Crown officials "failed seriously in their duty to disclose" information during the trial.
"His findings indeed raise alarm bells," Mackintosh said.
OTTAWA, March 3, 2005 - Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today announced he is using his powers under the conviction review provisions of the Criminal Code to order a new trial for James Patrick Driskell.
Mr. Driskell was convicted in Winnipeg in June 1991 of first-degree murder in the death of Perry Dean Harder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
In October, 2003, Mr. Driskell's counsel completed an application to the Minister of Justice for a review of the murder conviction pursuant to sections 696.1-696.6 of the Criminal Code. In November, 2003, a judge of Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench granted Mr. Driskell bail pending the Minister's decision.
Cotler said that he "has concluded that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Driskell's case. Accordingly, I am granting the application for ministerial review, quashing the conviction, and ordering a new trial."
The Justice Minister said there were a number of significant factors which accounted for the exercise by him of this rarely-used remedy, including:
Cotler said that these new matters taken and weighed together "clearly denied Mr. Driskell the right to a full and fair hearing. They so seriously prejudiced the fairness of the original trial and the validity of the original conviction that the only appropriate remedy is to quash the conviction and grant a new trial."
For an application for ministerial review to succeed, the Minister of Justice must, by law, be satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred. If this legal requirement is met, the Minister may grant one of two remedies - a direction for a new trial, or a referral of the matter to the court of appeal to be heard as a new appeal.
When rendering a decision on an application for ministerial review, the Minister is not making a finding of guilt or innocence. The Minister has no legal power to make such a finding. The Minister is simply returning the matter to the courts in circumstances where there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred. Ultimately, the courts will decide the issue of the applicant's guilt or innocence.
The Minister made his decision in Mr. Driskell's case after reviewing the Investigation Report and advice of the Criminal Conviction Review Group (CCRG) of the Department of Justice, the submissions of counsel for Mr. Driskell and the Attorney General of Manitoba, and the recommendations of Mr. Bernard Grenier, his Special Advisor on the criminal conviction review process.
In January, federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for Justice released a major new report on the prevention of miscarriages of justice. Prepared by a committee of senior police officers and prosecutors from across the country, the report contains a series of recommendations for police and prosecutors on how to prevent wrongful convictions.
The Federal government released the Report on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice. This should be required reading for every prosecutor, cop, and criminal defence lawyer in the country. Federal prosecutor's report 2005
Senior officials from Manitoba Justice took no action after a Crown witness in the James Driskell murder case -- who received tens of thousands of dollars in compensation -- lied when he denied being offered money in exchange for his testimony, new documents show. Reath "Ray" Zanidean, the Crown's star witness, denied under oath he was provided with anything other than room and board while under police protection when he was questioned at Driskell's 1991 first-degree murder trial by defence counsel Greg Brodsky.
However, new documents obtained by the Free Press show that prior to testifying, Manitoba Justice wrote Zanidean a cheque for $7,600 and promised tens of thousands of dollars more following the trial.
In all, Manitoba Justice would pay Zanidean nearly $83,000 for testifying at Driskell's trial, including nearly $30,000 in cash.
The undisclosed payments to Zanidean were part of a witness protection agreement between Manitoba Justice and Zanidean that was being negotiated and partly paid out prior to the trial, according to documents obtained by the Free Press.
Driskell was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years for the 1990 murder of his friend Perry Dean Harder. He was released in November 2003 after new evidence came to light showing he did not get a fair trial.
The federal Justice Department is in the final stages of an investigation of Driskell's claims of innocence. A final decision from Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is expected later this year. Cotler could dismiss Driskell's claim, order a new trial or send the case to an appellate court for further review.
The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) claimed Zanidean committed perjury at the trial, and that the jury's verdict on the murder charge might have been different if the witness had admitted how much he was being paid to testify.
The newly obtained documents show the Zanidean witness protection agreement involved officials in the highest levels of the prosecutions branch -- including the assistant deputy minister of justice and the director of prosecutions -- before the start of the trial.
However, neither George Dangerfield, the trial prosecutor, nor any other senior Manitoba Justice official disclosed the full details of Zanidean's compensation to the defence. Under rules established by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1950s, and according to the codes of conduct of law societies across Canada, the defence should have been provided with this information prior to trial.
Then, when Zanidean lied about the compensation at trial, no one from Manitoba Justice alerted the court. Again, the Supreme Court has established that the Crown carries a clear responsibility in law to identify any instance where, to its knowledge, one of its witnesses lies in court.
AIDWYC lawyers who have championed Driskell's claim to innocence argue the new file material shows that Manitoba Justice failed in its duty to disclose Zanidean's compensation deal, and another deal arranged for Crown witness John Gumieny. "They had a responsibility to disclose it to the defence at a very early date, long before the trial," said Toronto lawyer James Lockyer, who heads up the AIDWYC team representing Driskell.
"To allow a chap to essentially lie with impunity is extraordinary."
Dangerfield declined to be interviewed. But his lawyer, Jay Prober, said Dangerfield denied having any knowledge of the monies paid to Zanidean.
Prober said Dangerfield was primarily responsible for trying the case, and did not involve himself in the specifics of the negotiations with Zanidean's lawyer, which were being handled by Bruce Miller, then Manitoba's director of public prosecutions.
Dangerfield agreed, Prober said, that details of all payments to witnesses should have been disclosed to the defence. And Dangerfield added that if he had known about the $7,600 paid to Zanidean prior to testimony, he would have turned it over to Driskell's lawyers, Prober said.
"If Zanidean perjured himself, any suggestion by anybody that George Dangerfield knew is absolutely, totally and completely rejected," said Prober.
Deputy Attorney General Bruce MacFarlane said he could not comment on specifics of the Crown's handling of the Driskell case. However, MacFarlane said it was concerns such as this that prompted Manitoba to ask Ottawa to perform an independent investigation and, if the federal minister deems it necessary, to refer the new evidence in the Driskell case back to Manitoba Court of Appeal to see if it would alter the original verdict.
In addition, Attorney General Gord Mackintosh asked former provincial court judge John Enns to review the Driskell case to see if police and prosecutors fulfilled all their duties to disclose evidence. Enns has completed the second stage of his report, which specifically asks whether prosecutors disclosed all relevant evidence to the defence, but Manitoba Justice has not yet released it to the public.
"There are serious issues concerning the way in which the trial was conducted," MacFarlane said. "That's why we were and continue to be quite aggressive in terms of our desire to have this case independently reviewed, not by us but by somebody else." A Free Press investigation, based on case files released in 2002, revealed that Zanidean received tens of thousands of dollars from Manitoba Justice for living and relocation expenses, including a $20,000 lump-sum payment made six months after the trial.
The first batch of documents seemed to show that most, if not all, of the compensation was paid to Zanidean after his appearance at Driskell's trial, allowing Zanidean to say in court he had not received anything in exchange for his testimony.
However, new files obtained by the Free Press in late 2004 show that well in advance of his testimony, the province paid Zanidean thousands of dollars in compensation, and pledged more money and assistance to come after the trial.
Witness protection and compensation negotiations were started by Dangerfield and his junior, Greg Lawlor. Closer to the trial, director of prosecutions Bruce Miller, with the oversight of assistant deputy minister Stu Whitley, took charge of negotiations with Zanidean's lawyer, David Kovnats.
In December 1990, two months after Driskell was arrested for Harder's murder, Kovnats sent a list of 15 demands to Miller, the director of public prosecutions, that Zanidean wanted met before he would testify. These demands included the purchase of Zanidean's house, relocation from Manitoba with a new identity and money to live on until he could start a new job, and the purchase of his 1983 Chevette and replacement with a comparable vehicle.
Although Manitoba Justice would not meet all these demands, many were agreed to prior to Zanidean's testimony. At the top of the list was a decision by Manitoba Justice to compensate Zanidean for falling behind in his mortgage payments.
Zanidean was in police protective custody from December 1990 until June 1991, when Driskell's trial concluded. Zanidean and his lawyer, Kovnats, argued that while in protective custody, Zanidean could not work and thus could not make his mortgage payments.
In exchange for $7,600, a sum equal to the down payment and equity position on the home, Zanidean and his wife, Susan Fehr, agreed to sign over the property to the mortgage company and walk away.
The money was put in a trust account in mid April 1991, nearly two months before Zanidean testified at Driskell's trial. On June 4, 1991, the second day of Driskell's trial, Kovnats wrote again to Miller and asked for another $1,000 in compensation for a motorcycle and other contents destroyed in a garage fire that occurred after Zanidean left his house to move into a safe house. Kovnats also proposed Manitoba Justice make a $30,000 lump-sum payment in lieu of relocation efforts.
Ultimately, Zanidean would receive full relocation services as provided by the RCMP, and a $20,000 payment.
Following Justice Minister Cotler's final decision, Manitoba Justice will have some difficult decisions to make regarding Zanidean. This is the second time allegations of perjury have been brought against him since the trial.
In 1992, after Driskell's trial had concluded, Manitoba was contacted by officials from Saskatchewan Justice who offered evidence that Zanidean had committed perjury when he denied he had been offered immunity for a Swift Current arson in exchange for his testimony at Driskell's trial.
Saskatchewan officials said their investigation uncovered that Zanidean believed the Winnipeg Police Service, in a bid to keep him under control, promised him immunity for the arson without first getting approval from Saskatchewan, the prosecuting jurisdiction. Even though the immunity deal was unauthorized, Saskatchewan Justice said the offer had ruined its chances of getting a conviction and dropped the case.
The Manitoba government says it won't order a new trial in the case of James Driskell, a man who says he was wrongly convicted in the murder of his friend and served a dozen years in jail for the crime.
The province made the decision Thursday afternoon to stay first-degree murder charges against Mr. Driskell.
However, the stay does not officially exonerate him.
The move came only hours after federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler quashed Mr. Driskell's 1991 conviction.
In a statement, Mr. Cotler said he has concluded "that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Driskell's case."
Mr. Driskell told a news conference in Winnipeg after the decisions were made was that he hoped that the environment would begin to change in miscarriage of justice cases, but he wasn't confident that would happen.
"I'm just hoping that from here on, the main thing I would like to see is accountability somewhere ... everything has been stuffed under the rug for so long," he said.
He said his faith in the justice system has been forever shaken. And he said he is "in shock" that the entire saga came to an end so quickly on Thursday.
However, he says he is not interested in compensation for the 12 years he spent in jail.
Mr. Driskell had always maintained he was not guilty of killing his friend Perry Harder. A growing body of evidence emerged after his conviction that might support the claim. The only physical clues linking Mr. Driskell with the crime were three hairs found in his van that supposedly came from the victim; years later, DNA tests showed the hairs did not belong to Mr. Harder.
Mr. Driskell was convicted in 1991 largely on the evidence of hair samples found at the crime scene. He was released on bail in late 2003 after new evidence came forward, prompting the federal Justice Department to undertake the review of the case, the results of which were finalized Thursday.
Mr. Driskell's lawyer, James Lockyear, said on the one hand he and his organization, the Association for the Wrongfully Convicted is relieved. "The stay doesn't leave any cloud whatsoever over Jim. He's clear, free, exonerated, not guilty, didn't do it, never did it and never should have been found to have done it."
But he added, "the problem you find in these cases is that the prosecution simply won't give up, and won't acknowledge reality. It's something that you see in my experience in every single one of these wrongful conviction cases. And a stay of proceedings is really a prosecutor's way out of a problem in that there's nothing that we representing Mr. Driskell can do about a stay of proceedings.... They have done it, and we're stuck with it. "
However, he said at the same time, neither he nor Mr. Driskell wanted to go through a new trial.
Mr. Driskell said he's had a tough time since he has been out of jail.
"The last 15 months that I've been out have not been easy. It's a major adjustment. I don't think there's any way I could put a possible time frame on when it gets back to normal," he said.
He said he is trying to get re-acquainted with his eight children and 14 grandchildren
OTTAWA - The Manitoba government said it will not have a new trial for James Driskell, following the federal justice minister's order that his murder conviction should be quashed.
Robert Morrison, the prosecutor in charge of the case, said the Crown's case has been "undermined and weakened." Morrison says it's not likely Driskell would be convicted again, so he has asked that the charge be stayed.
The stay does not officially exonerate Driskell but means he will stay out of prison.
Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler ordered a new trial in the case Thursday, saying that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.
Cotler's decision meant that Manitoba's justice department would have the option of ordering a new trial or staying the charges against Driskell.
Cotler's announcement followed a federal review of the case.
Cotler said that he "has concluded that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Driskell's case. Accordingly, I am granting the application for ministerial review, quashing the conviction, and ordering a new trial."
Driskell spent 12 years in prison for the murder of his friend Perry Dean Harder in 1991. Police allege that Perry had implicated Driskell in a series of break and enters. Driskell denied any involvement in Harder's death.
Cotler said he based his decision on a number of factors including:
DNA analysis on three hairs found in Driskell's van. At Driskell's trial, the Crown said they belonged to Harder. But further DNA testing done a decade later found that none of those hairs belonged to the victim.
The Crown's failure to disclose that its two key witnesses - Reath Zanidean and John Gumieny - who had testified that Driskell planned the murder, received financial compensation. They also have recanted or threatened to recant their testimony.
The Crown's failure to disclose information that Zanidean likely committed perjury at the trial.
Winnipeg Police failure to disclose information that would have been helpful to Driskell's defence
[These factors] so seriously prejudiced the fairness of the original trial and the validity of the original conviction that the only appropriate remedy is to quash the conviction and grant a new trial," Cotler said.
Driskell has been free on bail since 2003 while the federal justice department reviewed the case.
He said Thursday that he's not interested in compensation for his time in prison, but he does want someone to take responsibility for the case.
"The main thing I would like to see is accountability somewhere. I don't really believe I will see it, because everything has been swept under the rug for too many years and they seem to have a system in place for doing that now. But like my conviction being overturned, anything is possible," he said.
"I would like to see where Manitoba Justice is going to stand now, if they're going to put some checks in place so this doesn't happen to anybody. It could happen to anybody in this room."
Manitoba Attorney General Gord Mackintosh announced Thursday that a formal commission of inquiry will be ordered into the Driskell case.
"When the justice system fails as it has in this case, we need to get to the bottom of it and take every step possible to guard against future matters that could erode public confidence," Mackintosh said in a release.