The Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial on Nov. 07, 2006
Two high-profile defence lawyers have taken on the case of Danny Wood, a Saskatchewan prisoner twice convicted of murder. James Lockyer, a director with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, and Hersh Wolch, the lawyer for wrongly imprisoned David Milgaard, have joined the 51-year-old's defence team.
On Tuesday, federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced he is referring one of Wood's first-degree murder convictions to the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary because a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.
In 1984, a jury convicted Wood of the 1979 murder of 50-year-old Merla Laycock in Calgary. The Alberta Court of Appeal later overturned that ruling and ordered a second trial in 1990, where a judge again convicted him.
Despite years in and out of court, neither the Crown or defence were told the Crown's key eyewitness had told police she saw a man other than Wood with the victim shortly before she died.
"It makes the whole trial a complete fraud," one of Wood's Saskatoon lawyers, Barry Morgan, said.
Morgan, along with his partner Janice Theberge, has been representing Wood since 1999.
In 1983, Wood was also convicted of the Toronto sex slaying of Judy Delisle. After serving 23 years, he maintains his innocence in both cases, Morgan said.
"I have no question in my mind that Danny Wood did not get a fair trial (in the Calgary killing) and that's just wrong," Morgan said.
The new evidence was uncovered when a lawyer with the Justice Department's criminal conviction review group stumbled on the information after Wood applied to the minister for a review of his case. Five days after the murder, the key witness had identified a different man as the one she saw with the victim, then five years later identified Wood as the man, Morgan said. Any judge who heard that wouldn't have thought Wood was the killer beyond a reasonable doubt, Morgan said. Wood's original defence lawyer, Noel O'Brien, suspects the police kept the evidence from him.
Morgan asked Wolch and Lockyer to take on the case because of their expertise in defending the wrongly convicted.
"If he's serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit, then the sooner we know, the better," Lockyer said Thursday.
"If (Wood) didn't commit the crime, the person who did is out there," he said. "The person who did it may be readily identifiable."
Investigators have DNA evidence collected from semen in the victim's stockings. Lockyer will be asking Alberta Justice to check the specimen against DNA samples already in their data bank.
"If Mr. Wood didn't commit the crime, it could be a very easy crime to solve," he said.
Wolch is hopeful the Alberta Court of Appeal will order a new trial for Wood and that the Crown will withdraw the charge if there's not enough evidence to prosecute Wood.
Lockyer doesn't rule out examining Wood's other murder conviction at a later date.
Despite Wood's two convictions, Morgan said it's important the justice system re-examine his case because multiple murderers are treated differently in jail. He can't get conjugal visits and isn't enrolled in many programs at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert where he is incarcerated.
Morgan hopes the Alberta Court of Appeal will hear Wood's case by year's end.
Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler had asked the Alberta Court of Appeal to review convict Danny William Wood's first-degree murder conviction in the 1979 death of Merla Laycock.
Mr. Cotler made the rare move after counsel with the department's criminal conviction review group uncovered fresh evidence capable of undermining Mr. Wood's conviction.
After exhausting his appeals several years ago, Mr. Wood asked the department to conduct what is known as a Section 696.1 review of his case.
"This new and significant evidence could have had an impact on the fairness of Mr. Wood's trial and his conviction," the Justice Department said in a release yesterday
OTTAWA, February 15, 2005 -- Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today announced he has referred the first-degree murder conviction of Danny William Wood to the Alberta Court of Appeal, under the conviction review provisions of the Criminal Code.
Merla Laycock was found murdered on the night of March 1, 1979 in Calgary, Alberta. Five years later, Mr. Wood was charged with her murder. He was convicted of first-degree murder by a judge and jury, but the conviction was overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal. He was subsequently retried. On June 7, 1990, he was convicted a second time and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Further criminal appeals were unsuccessful and Mr. Wood applied to the Minister of Justice for a review of his murder conviction under s.690 (now section 696.1) of the Criminal Code.
During the course of the investigation, counsel with the Department of Justice Canada's Criminal Conviction Review Group discovered that significant evidence was not disclosed to Mr. Wood or his counsel during any of his criminal proceedings. This new and significant evidence could have had an impact on the fairness of Mr. Wood's trial and his conviction. As a result, the Minister is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this case.
The Minister made his decision after reviewing the Investigation Report, the submissions of counsel for Mr. Wood and the Attorney General of Alberta, and the recommendations of Mr. Bernard Grenier, his Special Advisor on the criminal conviction review process.
When the Minister of Justice concludes that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred, he can order a new trial or refer the matter to the Court of Appeal. The Minister cannot decide guilt or innocence nor can he overturn a conviction.
Pursuant to section 696.3(3)(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code, the Minister is referring the matter back to the Alberta Court of Appeal as an appeal against conviction. The Alberta Court of Appeal is in the best position to assess the relevance, reliability and potential impact of the undisclosed evidence on the fairness of Mr. Wood's trial and his conviction.