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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

Leon Walchuk 2003

April 29, 2013: Walrus Magazine has a feature by Julian Sher about the Walchuk case, titled "Trials and Error". Sher is an investigate reporter with the Toronto Star and author of 6 books. He has done extensive research on this case and explains how bad forsenic evidence and junk science continue to send innocent people to jail and how our Justice System makes it difficult for people who have been wrongfully convicted to clear their names. An eye opener for those who believe our legal system is fair and just in all cases.

Leon Walchuk: No one in the media has bothered to become familiar with the real facts in this story. Now, the insurance companies are ganging up with the crown to not only deprive him of his liberty but also his livelihood.

It cannot be over-emphasized that the purpose of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction, it is to lay before a jury what the Crown considers to be credible evidence relevant to what is alleged to be a crime. Counsel have a duty to see that all available legal proof of the facts is presented: it should be done firmly and pressed to its legitimate strength but it must also be done fairly. The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty than which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be efficiently performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of judicial proceedings.
-- Supreme Court of Canada - Boucher v. R., [1955]

In The James Driskell case, we have seen how a prosecutor failed to provide defence counsel with salient facts regarding the nature of their evidence: namely that thir chief witness was a known liar and had been paid about $80,000 for his testimony. Even though defence counsel Greg Brodsky was aware that there was something very fishy, he became aware of just how fishy 5 months after Driskell lost his appeal.

Every case is different, of course, but there are some similarities in the Walchuk case. The RCMP tampered with the accident scene, turning it into a "crime" scene, and failed to produce evidence which the defence expected them to produce and which they could easily have defended. The prosecution used witnesses with no expertise but only malice towards the defendant to present a case which stood the facts on their head. All the evidence supported Leon Walchuk's testimony that Cori had driven the vehicle into the house causing gas to become ignited which started the blaze. Half of the hockey stick which became broken during the tussle which resulted in Cory falling down the stairs is clearly seen in one of the photos but is mysteriously missing from another one. This was a prosecution theory which flew in the face of the facts and which put the defence at a terrible disadvantage.

After Walchuk's murder conviction, he hired an independent fire investigator who concluded that the evidence fit the defence version of the case and could not fit the facts which the prosecution presented. The car which Cori drove into the house has since disappeared.

It is a shame that it takes so long for a conviction obtained so maliciously to receive a hearing.


Justice quashes Walchuk suit

A Melville-area man, currently imprisoned for the second-degree murder of his estranged wife, won't be able to collect fire insurance on his house.

In a Court of Queen's Bench decision delivered Thursday in Regina, Justice William Matheson rejected a lawsuit by Leon Dale Walchuk seeking to collect the insurance from Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company.

Wawanesa refused to pay the insurance on the farm home northeast of Melville that burned March 30, 1988 saying because Walchuk deliberately ignited the fire he voided the policy.

On the night of the fire, the body of Walchuk's estranged wife, Cori, was discovered in the basement. An autopsy revealed she died of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the fire.

Walchuk was convicted of second-degree murder in June 2000 and was sentenced by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Larry Kyle to 16 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

In sentencing Walchuk following a two-week trial in Yorkton, Justice Kyle determined Walchuk "intentionally started the fire which caused the death of Cori".

During his murder trial Walchuk contended the fire was accidental and began when Cori drove her car into the porch on the northeast side of the house. That argument was rejected by Justice Kyle.

Walchuk hoped to use a section of the Criminal Code to appeal to the federal Justice Minister to re-open the case based on new evidence which purportedly showed the fire was accidental.

Part of that evidence was contained in a nine-page report by Dr. Gerald Hurst of Austin, Texas, an arson expert who examined the house in October 2002 with another arson expert from Texas, Wayne Gibson.

"The evidence purported to show arson does nothing of the kind," Hurst concluded in his report.

A second report by Alberta arson investigator Peter Pendlebury indicated the fire likely was caused by an electrical short when Cori rammed her car into the house.

In dismissing Walchuk's lawsuit against Wawanesa Justice Matheson ruled allowing it to continue would be an "abuse of process" because it would challenge the results of his criminal trial.

To find that the fire was accidental would mean an attack on the original ruling by Justice Kyle that the fire was deliberately set and caused the death of Cori.


Insurance Co. won't pay
Judge ponders Walchuk claim

A Court of Queen's Bench justice has reserved his decision as to whether a Melville-area farmer convicted of murdering his wife can pursue an insurance claim on a house he's accused of burning to cover his crime. Justice Bill Matheson has been asked by Wawanesa Insurance to throw out a claim by Leon Dale Walchuk who is currently imprisoned for the second degree murder of his estranged wife, Cori Walchuk, March 30, 1998.

Walchuk was convicted and later sentenced June 14, 2000 to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 16 years by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Larry Kyle following a trial in Yorkton. Although Justice Kyle ruled Walchuk set the blaze that killed his estranged wife, Walchuk's suit contends that since arson wasn't proved, his insurer, Wawanesa Insurance, should pay his claim, believed to be about $150,000.

Walchuk filed the claim in 1998 but Wawanesa rejected it shortly after Justice Kyle ruled Walchuk deliberately set the fire that killed his estranged wife.

During court proceedings in Regina last week, Wawanesa lawyer Dan Kwochka argued Walchuk's civil suit should be disallowed and to let it proceed could put the administration of justice into disrepute.

Walchuk's claim also constituted an abuse of process, Kwochka argued.

Kwochka told court that to allow Walchuk's civil suit to proceed would be a "collateral attack" on Walchuk's murder conviction.

However, Walchuk's lawyer, Grant Schmidt of Melville, argued the suit doesn't question the actual murder conviction but instead disagrees with the proposition Walchuk deliberately set the fire. Schmidt told court the federal Justice minister will be asked under Section 696 of the Criminal Code to reopen the case based on fresh evidence that points out the fire was not a case of arson. An autopsy done on Cori Walchuk determined she died of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the fire. If it's proved the fire was accidental, then Walchuk's conviction of second degree murder could be thrown into doubt.

In a interview with The Advance Thursday, Schmidt said he doesn't know when the judge's ruling will be made nor would he comment any further.

"This is a professional matter, it's not political," says the former provincial politician.

However, on a website - www.saskatchewangold.com - Walchuk professes his innocence, refuting the findings of Melville fire investigator Jim Fairbank who testified at the murder trial.

According to the website "Wawanesa Insurance is trying to have the court throw out Leon's civil suit citing "abuse of process". They believe that because Justice Kyle found Leon guilty of murder, they should not have to pay out the insurance claim. This action erupted only after the overwhelming evidence proving the cause of the fire was filed and after the payment to secure a jury was paid.

"It seems quite obvious that someone is afraid of this matter being heard in court once again especially when the decision of there being no arson would be decided by reasonable citizens," the website reads. The website takes further issue with Fairbank: "One must also remember that the Crown's fire expert, ex-cop turned fire investigator, Jim Fairbank, never determined the cause of the fire, nor could he say whether the fire was accidental or intention(al). He also got a nice new job with Wawanesa Insurance shortly after the conclusion of the criminal trial."

In an affidavit filed with Court of Queen's Bench Oct. 30, 2003, Walchuk states his conviction for murder was based on incomplete evidence: "Fresh evidence makes the issue of arson an entirely different issue". Part of that evidence is the findings of Dr. Gerald Hurst, an arson expert from Texas, outlined in a report compiled following his examination of the fire scene in October 2002 when he and another Texas expert, Kenneth Wayne Gibson, conducted tests.

In his nine-page report, Dr. Hurst disputes the findings of a cause-and-origin report by Wawanesa Insurance investigator W. Ross Cheriton that determined arson as the fire's cause.

Dr. Hurst's report discusses ignition of wood, time of ignition, burn patterns, gasoline effects and Zonolite insulation effects, among other points.

"After having both read Cheriton's report and investigated the scene of the fire myself, I see no reason based on the physical evidence to doubt the testimony of Mr. Walchuk. The physical evidence at the scene points to an accidental fire and not arson.

"The evidence purported to show arson does nothing of the kind. This is a classic case of a finding of arson which could only be reached by ignoring techniques and admonitions of (National Fire Protection Association 921- Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations) and other well-accepted learned treatises in the fields of fire investigation and fire dynamics," Hurst concluded in his report.


November 26: The insurance company gangs up with the Crown to try to strike Walchuk's civil claim

Walchuk was not present at the hearing. He has provided us with his response to the Leader Post report:

  • There is significant new evidence which indicates that the cause of the fire was accidental.
  • The original fire investigator never did determine the cause of the fire.
  • This ex-cop turned fire investigator also chose to deviate from the guidelines which are accepted by his profession and tried to convince the court of his own theory in regards to this matter.
  • It should also be noted that Jim Fairbank began working for Wawanesa Insurance shortly after the completion of the trial.
  • Without the cause of the fire been known the judge should not have been able to return a murder conviction. Our laws are such that in matters as serious as this the crown's case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • This did not happen in my case. The court of appeal chose to blindly follow the lower court's decision, despite acknowledging the obvious errs made be the lower court. This, in my opinion, was nothing more than an attempt to maintain the credibility of the system instead of pursuing justice.
  • I hope that the judge reviewing this matter doesn't fall in the footsteps of the previous courts especially in light of such overwhelming new evidence. There have been two fire investigations done on the site by extremely competent individuals who all agree that this is not a case of arson.
  • I am requesting that a jury hear this civil matter. I feel that this is the only chance for a fair hearing.--Leon Walchuk, November 26, 2003

Burned down the house, but wants insurance

A Melville-area farmer convicted of murdering his estranged wife and accused of setting his house on fire to cover his tracks is trying to collect on the insurance money.

But serving prisoner Leon Dale Walchuk won't get the cash if the insurance company has its way.

On Tuesday, Wawanesa Insurance was asking Queen's Bench Justice Bill Matheson to throw out the claim as an abuse of process.

Dan Kwochka, the lawyer representing Wawanesa, said the civil suit shouldn't be allowed to continue because it would be a "collateral attack" on the criminal conviction that could put the administration of justice in disrepute.

On June 14, 2000, Justice Larry Kyle sentenced Leon Dale Walchuk to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 16 years after finding him guilty of the second-degree murder of Cori Walchuk on March 30, 1998.

When emergency crews arrived at Leon Walchuk's farm the night of the death, they found the house in flames and Cori Walchuk's car smashed through the back porch door. She was found dead in the basement.

Walchuk's story was that he had been fighting with his ex-wife, but that it was she who had rammed the house with the car, accidentally starting the fire.

Kyle said that story wasn't credible, ruling instead it was Leon Walchuk who deliberately set the blaze that killed the mother of two young children.

Kyle also said the blows Walchuk inflicted on his ex-wife, apparently with a hockey stick, were a factor in her death.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal later upheld the conviction.

On Monday, Leon Walchuk's lawyer, Grant Schmidt, said Walchuk plans to use a section of the Criminal Code to ask the federal justice minister to re-open his case based on fresh evidence suggesting the fire wasn't arson.

Schmidt also argued that while the civil lawsuit takes issue with the notion Leon Walchuk set the fire, it isn't an attack on the murder conviction.

Matheson reserved his decision on whether or not he would quash the lawsuit, but expressed skepticism with some of Schmidt's arguments.

He referred to a section of Kyle's decision that noted Cori Walchuk was screaming as the house burned around her.

"He (Kyle) couldn't have found him guilty of murder unless he also found him guilty of setting the fire," Matheson said.

Schmidt countered that some future proceeding might find that Cori Walchuk was beaten to death but that the fire was set accidentally.

"I urge that the civil case here proceed," Schmidt said.

Leon Walchuk filed an insurance claim in 1998, but Wawanesa rejected it after he was convicted of murder and the judge said he set the fire.

The value of the claim wasn't discussed in court, but it's believed to be approximately $150,000.