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Antonio Lamer Inquiry

Wrongfully convicted: Parsons storms out of inquiry

Justice Antonio Lamer

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - A Newfoundland man wrongfully convicted of his mother's murder stormed out of a public inquiry into the case Tuesday, as the prosecutor who sent him to prison recounted her version of the trial.

Greg Parsons said it was difficult for him to sit through the testimony of Catherine Knox, who successfully prosecuted him for second-degree murder 10 years ago.

"She apologized yesterday and today she's passing off all the responsibility on myself and my lawyer," Parsons said outside the hearing room where commissioner Antonio Lamer is probing three cases of wrongful conviction in Newfoundland.

Parsons accused the former prosecutor of putting on a show for the commission.

"This is not the woman who was the prosecutor at my trial, (this woman) with her soft-spoken voice and the sobby eyes," he said.

Knox was the sole prosecutor at Parsons 1993 trial, which took place over the course of six months and eventually heard from about 140 witnesses.

In the end Parsons was found guilty and given a life sentence. He served just six weeks in 1994 before he was granted bail pending an appeal.

Parsons was later exonerated by DNA evidence and was formally acquitted in 1998. A childhood friend has since pleaded guilty to the crime.

During sometimes emotional testimony, Knox has had trouble recalling exact events that took place a decade ago.

As the inquiry probes every detail of the investigation and prosecution, Knox has repeatedly admitted that she would do many things differently now.

But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight, she testified.

And while mistakes were made, they were made in good faith, believing they were the right thing to do, she told commissioner Antonio Lamer.

"It was my responsibility to present all of the evidence ... the good, the bad and the indifferent," said Knox, who now practices law in Saskatchewan.

Despite the terrible outcome, she said she was fair.

"At the end of the day it was not for me to decide the truthfulness," Knox testified. "That was for the judge and, ultimately, the jury, properly instructed by him on the law."

Knox admitted she feels she is on the defensive about her handling of the case, one of three before the commission.

The commission has already heard from Ronald Dalton, who spent nearly nine years in prison for his wife's murder before the province's Appeal Court overturned the conviction. Dalton was acquitted at a new trial.

Later this year the inquiry will look at the case of Randy Druken, who was convicted of the 1993 murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Marie Young, largely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who has since recanted. The Crown eventually stayed the charges.

Although he has long demanded a public inquiry into the cases, the proceedings have clearly been difficult for Parsons, whose wife tried to comfort him Tuesday as transcripts of trial testimony were read out.

As he returned to the hearing later, Parsons said he holds Knox largely responsible for his ordeal.

"She should have had the legal knowledge to know that there was no case there," he said. "I was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without one piece of evidence -- not one, not a hair, not a fibre, not a fingerprint -- and I've got to listen to this person in there vilify me once again."


Prosecutor apologises for wrongful conviction

ST. JOHN'S - The former Crown attorney who prosecuted Greg Parsons for the murder of his mother apologized today for her role in the wrongful conviction.

In hindsight, there were many things she would have done differently, Catherine Knox told a public inquiry examining the cases of three men who were wrongly convicted of murder in Newfoundland.

"I accept that Greg Parsons was wrongfully convicted of this offence and that he is innocent of causing the death of his mother," Knox said as Parsons stared from the front row of public seating.

"I regret that I was part of a process and a system that led to his wrongful conviction. I apologize to Mr. Parsons, to his family, and to all others who were affected by this tragic outcome."

Parsons was the sole prosecutor of the case that sent Parsons to prison for the 1991 murder of his mother, Catherine Carroll.

Parsons served six weeks in prison in 1994 before he was granted bail pending an appeal. He was later exonerated by DNA evidence and was formally acquitted in 1998. A childhood friend has since pleaded guilty to the crime.

Inquiry commissioner Antonio Lamer heard Knox explain how the case had been handled by two previous Crown attorneys before it arrived on her desk in 1993.

Knox testified that she began to review the case about a month before the trial began in September of that year.

"In hindsight and with the knowledge I have now . . . I know that it wasn't adequate time," she told Lamer.

Still, Knox said she felt prepared as the trial began, even though it was a troubling case that relied on circumstantial evidence.

"When you're dealing with a circumstantial case as a Crown, you don't have the comfort of having something that you can hang your hat on, like a confession, an eyewitness, or something that will allow you the comfort of knowing you're probably right," she said.

"We didn't have the smoking gun."

But Knox, by then an eight-year veteran of the Crown attorney office, said she felt the case was strong enough to proceed.

She said she questioned investigators on every piece of evidence and asked them to gather statements from witnesses even as the trial proceeded.

The inquiry has heard from many of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers involved in the investigation. They have testified about a lack of training and leadership, and their general inexperience at the time.

But Knox said that didn't appear to be the case during the trial.

"I dealt with a confident group of men who had confidence in their abilities and they portrayed to me and to the jury their confidence," she told the inquiry.

Knox admitted to making mistakes but said they were made in good faith.

"Had I had to do it over again I would have proceeded differently, but that's with the benefit of knowing we were wrong," said the lawyer, who at times during her testimony appeared to wipe tears from her eyes.

She is now in private practice in Saskatchewan.

Parsons is one of three cases under scrutiny at the inquiry.

The commission has already heard from Ronald Dalton, who spent nearly nine years in prison for his wife's murder before the province's Appeal Court overturned the conviction. Dalton was acquitted at a new trial.

Later this year the inquiry will look at the case of Randy Druken, who was convicted of the 1993 murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Marie Young, largely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who has since recanted. The Crown eventually stayed the charges.


Prosecutor apologises for wrongful conviction

ST. JOHN'S -- A prosecutor who put a Newfoundland man behind bars on a charge of murdering his mother has apologized, for the first time, for her role in his wrongful conviction.

Catherine Knox offered her apology yesterday at a public inquiry into three cases of wrongful convictions in Newfoundland.

She says she accepts that Gregory Parsons was wrongfully convicted of killing his mother.


Parsons takes aim at police, prosecutors

ST. JOHN'S -The first of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers who was on the scene the night Catherine Carroll was murdered in 1991 took the stand Tuesday at the Lamer Inquiry.

'I've never taken a specific course in major crime or homicide related course' Roger Kennedy, a constable in 1991

Commissioner Antonio Lamer is investigating the wrongful conviction of Gregory Parsons Carroll's son.

Speaking from the stand, Sgt. Roger Kennedy said members of the police force received little training to handle murders years ago.

"I've never taken a specific course in major crime or homicide related course," he told the inquiry.

Kennedy, a constable in 1991, was the first officer on the scene of the murder.

"I'm going to try to show that this investigation was a rudderless ship," said Jerome Kennedy, Parsons' lawyer, who added that provincial police didn't have proper resources to conduct a major homicide investigation.

Sgt. Derek Tilley was next to take the stand at the inquiry. As a constable during the murder investigation, Tilley had only six months experience when he was called to take pictures and examine potential pieces of evidence.

"I felt very uncomfortable with what I was observing at the scene. It was probably my level of expertise," Tilley said.

Parsons and his lawyer aren't just upset with the police. Former members of the Crown prosecutors office are also scheduled to testify at the Lamer Inquiry.

At beginning of proceedings Tuesday morning, Parsons read a prepared statement about how his life has been affected. As he left the stand, he pointed his finger at former Crown prosecutor Kathy Knox and said, "I hope you get the blame."

DNA evidence collected in 1991 became crucial to police years later when authorities finally convicted the man who did stab Catherine Carroll to death; Brian Doyle, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder this year.


Restore faith in justice system, Parsons says

ST. JOHN'S - Gregory Parsons has made a statement at the Lamer Inquiry looking into his wrongful conviction of murder.

'If anything comes from this inquiry, I hope it's change' Gregory Parsons

He asked to speak as phase two of the inquiry into the province's justice system began Tuesday morning.

"If anything comes from this inquiry, I hope it's change," Parsons said.

He was convicted of the 1991 death of his mother Catherine Carroll, who was stabbed repeatedly while in her home. Parsons told the inquiry he has had a difficult time trying to live a normal life, despite his eventual exoneration.

"When your five-year-old child looks at you and says 'I know why you were in jail daddy, because you killed your mother' - it makes you angry," he said.

Parson's childhood friend Brian Doyle pleaded guilty this year to committing the murder.

The inquiry will hear testimony from the police officers who investigated the crime; it will also hear from former Crown prosecutors.

Commissioner Antonio Lamer is also looking into the cases of two other men, Ronald Dalton and Randy Druken, who were also wrongly convicted of murder.


Inquiry begins to plumb wrongful conviction

ST. JOHN'S - Members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the provincial justice system will be the focus of an inquiry for the next six weeks.

'The investigation was conducted totally improperly' lawyer Jerome Kennedy

Phase two of the Lamer inquiry begins Tuesday, looking into the arrest, conviction, and appeal of Gregory Parsons. The St. John's man was convicted of killing his mother Catherine Carroll she had been stabbed 53 times.

DNA evidence later cleared Parsons and the province exonerated him. Parsons eventually received compensation for his wrongful conviction, and the government promised to review what happened. It appointed retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Antonio Lamer to head the inquiry.

Various members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, including Ab Singleton, the lead investigator; will appear before the inquiry, as the public hears how Parsons came to be blamed.

"There were various police officers acting and making decisions without informing other main players in the investigation," says Jerome Kennedy, one of Parsons' lawyers. "That will simply support, in my view, that the investigation was conducted totally improperly."

Past members of the Crown prosecutor's office will also testify:

Wayne Gorman, who is now a judge in Corner Brook

Colin Flynn, another provincial court judge

Bernard Coffey, a private lawyer in St. John's

Parsons' lawyer says many people played a role in his client's conviction.

"It was a team effort," says Kennedy.

"Once this starts to come out it's going to establish that it wasn't only the police or the involvement of the police that led to this wrongful conviction."

Earlier this year, a court sentenced Brian Doyle, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the brutal 1991 murder of Catherine Carroll.


Williams changes powers of inquiry

Review of wrongful murder convictions gets increased scope in Newfoundland

Newfoundland premier-designate Danny Williams has agreed to change the powers of a continuing inquiry to enable the probe to uncover the root causes of three wrongful murder convictions.

Announcing the move before he even takes office, Mr. Williams may have defused a controversy surrounding the inquiry by former chief justice of Canada Antonio Lamer.

"My primary objective is to restore the public's confidence in the judicial system," Mr. Williams said in a news release. "That can only occur through a thorough and proper commission of inquiry."

The announcement was enthusiastically received by Jerome Kennedy, a lawyer for two of the men -- Ronald Dalton and Greg Parsons.

"We have to find out how three men were wrongfully convicted of murder in a province this size in a period of six years," Mr. Kennedy said yesterday. "Mr. Williams's approach appears to be that if there is a problem, let's identify it and correct it. At this point we cannot ask for more." He said that Bill Collins, a lawyer for the third man -- Randy Druken -- echoed his views.

"The premier's comments and the fact that he could find the time to deal with this issue within a week of coming off a long election campaign gives me great hope that, with leadership like this, steps can be taken to restore faith in the justice system," Mr. Kennedy said.

Shortly before the inquiry commenced last month, Mr. Kennedy wrote an angry brief to Mr. Lamer to say that his inquiry could become a "whitewash" aimed at shielding those who are to blame.

Mr. Kennedy accused the province of cunningly neutering the commissioner. He said the inquiry had no hope of meeting the standards set by previous inquiries into the wrongful convictions of Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin and Thomas Sophonow.

His chief complaint was that the terms of reference prevent Mr. Lamer from treating all three as wrongful convictions, and impeded him from making recommendations which go to the heart of systemic failures.

Mr. Kennedy said he had pinned his hopes on Mr. Williams winning the provincial election. As a successful lawyer, he said, Mr. Williams knew first-hand the emotional and psychological costs of being charged with murder.

Mr. Dalton spent eight years in prison for murdering his wife before he was acquitted at a retrial. Forensic evidence pointed toward her having choked on cereal rather than having been strangled.

Mr. Parsons was acquitted of murdering his mother after DNA evidence showed another man was the killer. Mr. Druken's 1995 conviction for murdering his girlfriend was stayed by the Crown two years ago after the Newfoundland Court of Appeal ordered a retrial because a key witness had lied.

Mr. Kennedy said the province has yet to concede the "factual innocence" of Mr. Dalton and Mr. Druken -- notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Dalton was acquitted by a jury on the basis that his wife died accidentally, and a complete absence of evidence linking Mr. Druken to the murder of his girlfriend.

Rather than providing an opportunity for the three men to have their names cleared publicly, he said, establishing their innocence would not even be a part of Mr. Lamer's mandate.

Mr. Lamer has already raised some questions about his terms of reference, and Mr. Williams encouraged him to raise more.

Mr. Kennedy alleged that the previous government was hoping to keep a lid on information that could increase its liability in lawsuits the three men have launched.


Lamer rejects call to quit inquiry

ST. JOHN'S -- An inquiry into wrongful convictions in Newfoundland and Labrador will continue after Antonio Lamer rejected a call to step down.

Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was asked on Wednesday to stop heading up the inquiry.

Gerry O'Brien, a lawyer for one of the witnesses, had asked Lamer to remove himself from the inquiry because he believed there was a conflict between his former job with the Supreme Court and the inquiry.

After a short recess in proceedings, Lamer rejected O'Brien's application.

The inquiry is looking into why Ronald Dalton sat in prison for more than eight years waiting for his appeal on a murder conviction.

Lamer was on the Supreme Court in 1999 when the top court dealt with the Dalton case, and Lamer read a document that discussed the delay.

The country's top court refused to hear a Crown appeal related to the case.

But Lamer ruled that the inquiry is looking at different questions than he dealt with before, so his prior knowledge won't colour his determinations.

The inquiry is also looking into the wrongful convictions of Randy Druken and Gregory Parsons.


First phase of Nfld. wrongful convictions inquiry hears from last witness

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. (CP) - Ronald Dalton was acquitted of his wife's murder after he spent nearly nine years in prison and now it seems the legal profession is on trial at a public inquiry examining the delay.

Defence lawyers, justice officials and court staff have been called to account at the inquiry, which is also investigating two other cases of wrongful conviction in the province. "There has to be accountability," said Jerome Kennedy, the lawyer who eventually argued Dalton's appeal and the final witness in the first phase of the inquiry.

"If the system is to work properly, all participants have to be accountable, be it the police, Crown counsel, defence counsel, judges," Kennedy said after his testimony.

Inquiry commissioner Antonio Lamer heard that while Dalton's notice of appeal was filed within weeks of his December 1989 conviction, no further documents were sent to the court until a frustrated Dalton filed his own documents in October 1996.

Lamer, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice, heard that four different lawyers spent years arguing over funding with the province's Legal Aid Commission after Dalton exhausted his own savings.

The commission heard that Dalton's first lawyer, David Eaton, resigned without explanation in August 1992. He apparently did no work on the case for for 2? years.

Dalton enlisted another lawyer, David Day, in 1993.

Four years later, Dalton fired Day, who was struggling with stress-related illness as a result of his work at the public inquiry into sex abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's.

While he had researched the case and pursued forensic evidence, Day hadn't filed any documents in four years.

Day's junior partner, Sandra Burke, testified Friday that she provided Day with a draft document by August 1994.

Burke said she was "absolutely horrified" in October 1996 when she found out Dalton had filed the draft document himself, repeated letters to Day having gone unanswered.

Despite assurances from Day, by January 1997 nothing had been done, she said.

Burke contacted Dalton.

"I essentially told him that he should get another lawyer," Burke testified Friday.

Then she contacted Kennedy and asked him to take on the case. Within a year, the appeal was heard.

Dalton is suing Eaton and Day as well as the province and the medical examiner who testified at his first trial.

Over much of the next year, Lamer will also hear about the cases of Randy Druken and Gregory Parsons.

Druken was convicted of the 1993 murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Marie Young, largely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant.

He spent almost six years in prison before he was granted an appeal in 1999.

The Crown consented to a new trial after the informant said police had pressured him to make a false statement. The Crown eventually stayed the charges.

Parsons was 19 in 1991 when he found his mother stabbed to death in her St. John's home.

In 1994, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder. He served six weeks before he was granted bail pending an appeal.

Parsons was later exonerated by DNA evidence and was formally acquitted in 1998. A former friend has since pleaded guilty to the crime.

At the end of the inquiry, Lamer can make recommendations to avoid similar cases in the future.

There have already been changes, Kennedy said.

The commission has heard that rules limiting the amount of time lawyers have to follow-up appeals were rarely enforced.

"The rules of court are very rigidly enforced over there now and if there are any delays, counsel are called before the court and forced to address the issue," Kennedy said outside the hearing room.

The commissioner can also recommend compensation for Dalton and Druken. Last year Parsons accepted an apology and compensation from the province.

Dalton, the first witness at the inquiry, sat through the testimony of all the others.

"It's nice to have some of this stuff made public (but) there are no big revelations in it for me," he said Friday.


Case overwhelming for lawyer

A 35-year-law veteran admitted Thursday that working on Ronald Dalton's murder appeal was like trying to push an elephant up the stairs.

"There came a point in time during my representation, and I can only describe it by quoting a line in a song by Bon Jovi, 'pushing an elephant up the stairs'. Between illness and frustration I wasn't getting the elephant up the stairs," David Day testified at a commission of inquiry.

Dalton's lawyer Bob Simmonds asked him why he didn't just walk away from the case with the realization that he wasn't doing Dalton any good.

"I couldn't withdraw because I denied that I was that ill. I was so far along with the file I had to press forward. In hindsight, I should have said I can't continue," said Day, who is well-known for his work on the Hughes Commission.

Dalton, a former bank manager, was convicted in 1989 of the second-degree murder of his wife, Brenda, and sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 10 years.

An appeal was launched immediately, but the 47-year-old spent eight-years in a maximum security prison before the file found its way to the Court of Appeal in 1997 with lawyer Jerome Kennedy's assistance.

Dalton's conviction was subsequently overturned by the appellate court in 1998 and a new trial ordered. He was acquitted in June 2000.

Day, who became involved in Dalton's appeal in 1993, has been testifying for the past two days before the commission of inquiry headed up by Antonio Lamer, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Day has told Lamer that while he was contacted by Dalton in 1993 to represent him at his appeal, an agreement for legal aid funding wasn't secured until Nov. 22, 1994 - due in part to wrangling over appropriate funds.

But Day also told the inquiry that throughout the period he represented Dalton, November 1994 to 1997, he experienced severe ill health which at times impaired his efficiency, a condition he did not address with Dalton.

One of those bouts caused a delay in legal aid issuing the certificate.

Day sent Dalton a solicitor/client agreement April 28, 1994, which Dalton returned days later with words of encouragement contained in his letter that after five years his appeal was making progress.

However, two months later, the legal aid commission wrote Day to determine if he would be accepting the certificate.

Simmonds pointed out that correspondence shows the commission was waiting for Day's response.

Day said he was waiting for them and that there had been a misunderstanding.

By June 9, 1994 the misunderstanding was resolved, however, Simmonds said, the certificate was still not issued because Day had not asked legal aid to issue it.

"We're now approaching another year since he wrote you, and all that's holding it up is a phone call for the certificate, which is crucial to get the file started. You could have phoned the commission and had it sent over to your office by courier in 10 minutes," suggested Simmonds.

Day agreed.

"I took ill in June 1994, I ultimately was in hospital the summer of 1994, I was sufficiently rehabilitated by November 1994. Yes, somebody could have called and said send the certificate to us, but I wouldn't have been there to honour it," Day explained.

"I'm not discounting your illness, but I put to you you knew the only thing from continuing the deal was the signing of the certificate," said Simmonds.

Unquestionably, Day said.

Simmonds asked Day if he though it appropriate to call for the certificate and get his associate working on the appeal, in light of his illness and the fact Dalton was still in jail.

"My preoccupation was myself. I should have called the secretary to have legal aid issue the certificate, but I wouldn't be there to honour it. I should have called Dalton. Why didn't I? I have pondered that. When a person is ill you go into denial, refuse to believe your health has interfered with your ability to complete work. My hope was to be on the bridge to finish the job," Day told the inquiry.

"I didn't notify him. I believed in him and his case. I wanted to do it. I wanted to solve it. I was wrong. I will add that what I just said applies with equal force from November with respect to my ability to live up to my responsibilities," he said.

Simmonds asked him why he didn't get his associate Sandra Burke to work on the file.

"It is my responsibility at the end of the day, when the inquiry looks at the delay, I was responsible, not Ms. Burke," he said.

However, Simmonds noted in the end Burke did do some work on the file and in fact prepared a factum which she sent to Dalton in 1995, one year before Day sent the exact same document - minus Burke's name and the date.

By the end of June 1994 there was still no legal aid certificate.

Correspondence filed at the inquiry revealed that in October 1994 legal aid, as well as Dalton, was still left wondering what was going on with the file and the certificate.

On Nov. 22, 1994, Day wrote to legal aid: "this firm agrees, effective today, to accept a certificate from the Newfoundland Legal Aid Commission to represent Ronald Dalton on his appeal."

The certificate was issued three days later and honoured by Day in January 1995.

Following the day's proceedings, Simmonds said the issue with Day was not the time he spent on the file, his research or even the money he spent out of his own pocket, "it was his conduct or carriage of the file did not produce any useful result, or a very limited result."

"He did not properly deal with Mr. Dalton, he did not advise Mr. Dalton of relevant concerns and issues which were retarding the progress of the file such that, as we heard today, that he purposefully did not sign the certificate from the period June 30 up until January the following year he should have then reassessed his position but that went on until finally out of absolute exasperation Mr. Dalton on April 3, 1997 contacted Mr. (Jerome) Kennedy," he said.

The inquiry continues today.

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