The spectre of a mistrial hangs over a high-profile murder case in Saskatchewan after a Supreme Court ruling on undercover police stings.
Justice Gerald Allbright was ready to deliver a verdict in the first-degree murder trial of Douglas Hales, who is accused of strangling and beating Daleen Bosse, a woman he had met at a bar where he worked as a bouncer.
The case against Mr. Hales included evidence from a so-called Mr. Big sting, in which undercover RCMP officers posed as members of a criminal organization trying to recruit Hales.
At the end of last month, the Supreme Court raised the bar for what is necessary before confessions extracted through such stings are admissible in court.
Justice Allbright told a packed courtroom in Saskatoon on Friday that he is left with two options: reopening the Hales case to hear from witnesses on matters specific to the Supreme Court ruling, or declaring a mistrial and starting over.
The Crown favours pushing ahead and believes the Mr. Big evidence will be allowed.
The defence favours a mistrial.
“Our position is that when the law changes this significantly and this dramatically, it is almost impossible to revisit the evidentiary landscape of a trial and rejig that to conform to the new law,” said Mr. Hales’s defence lawyer, Bob Hrycan. “It is really difficult, and there are risks inherent in doing that.”
Ms. Bosse’s burned remains were found four years after she vanished in 2004.
During final arguments, the Crown contended that Mr. Hales killed the university student out of rage when she mocked his sexual impotence. The defence argued that Ms. Bosse died of alcohol poisoning and that Mr. Hales burned her body out of panic, believing he’d be charged with murder since he provided the alcohol.
The Supreme Court ruling on Mr. Big stings dealt with the case of Newfoundland resident Nelson Hart.
Mr. Hart was convicted of first-degree murder in March, 2007, in the drowning deaths of his daughters, based on evidence from a Mr. Big sting.
The conviction was overturned in September, 2012, by the province’s Appeal Court, which questioned the reliability of his confession.
The Supreme Court agreed. It ruled prosecutors must prove a Mr. Big confession is admissible by showing it’s reliable and that it won’t unfairly prejudice a crime suspect during court proceedings. The Crown must also prove the confession was not obtained via police coercion, or was facilitated due to a suspect’s mental health or addiction issues.
Matthew Miazga, Crown prosecutor in the Hales case, believes the issue of reliability is addressed because court heard how the accused led undercover officers to the area where Ms. Bosse’s remains were located.
“The court can look to all the circumstances of the case to determine how reliable the statement might be,” said Mr. Miazga. “I think one simply has to listen to the submissions that were made before, and there are going to be similar submissions made on the issue of reliability.”
Justice Allbright is to hear further arguments on the two options Sept. 22.
He said he considered simply issuing a verdict, but didn’t feel comfortable because of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It is important what we do is right,” the judge said.