Twelve years after his twin daughters drowned under his watch, Nelson Hart will be released from jail with the guarantee that he will not face another trial on murder charges.
Mr. Hart joins a list of cases of “Mr. Big” police operations gone wrong, after the Supreme Court ruled last week that the confessions obtained by undercover RCMP officers were unreliable.
Mr. Hart confessed to killing his three-year-old daughters to a person he thought was the boss of a criminal organization, and recreated the scene where he would have pushed the girls off a dock in Newfoundland in 2002.
But Donovan Molloy, director of public prosecutions, said the confessions obtained by the RCMP were central to the Crown’s case against Mr. Hart, and that he could not proceed to a new trial without them.
“Without those statements, there was no longer a reasonable likelihood of conviction, and as such, we made a motion in court today to withdraw the charges,” he told reporters.
Mr. Hart’s ex-wife, Jennifer Hicks, showed no emotion as the decision to free her former husband was confirmed. She declined to speak outside court.
The Supreme Court rejected the validity of the confessions, ruling they could have been lies on the part of Mr. Hart, who had financial and emotional incentives to remain a member of the false underworld created by the Mounties.
Over all, the Supreme Court found that the RCMP “preyed” on Mr. Hart’s vulnerabilities, including his low education level, his gambling problems and his chronic financial difficulties.
Mr. Hart was convicted at trial in 2007, but the provincial court of appeal ordered a new trial. That ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Hart’s defence was based on the notion he lied during the Mr. Big operation. Mr. Hart had previously told police that he suffered an epileptic seizure after one of his daughters fell in the water, and then drove away to get help.
After the Crown dropped the murder charges, defence lawyer Robby Ash said Mr. Hart was “pleased at the outcome.” He dismissed the possibility Mr. Hart could face other charges in relation to the death of his daughters.
“I don’t see any evidence upon which the Crown could proceed in relation to any charge,” Mr. Ash said.
Mr. Ash refused to discuss a future recourse for financial redress. Still, he said that Mr. Hart was in custody for nine years, and suffered psychologically after he learned his new-found friends were in fact police officers.
“He believed the court was part of a grand conspiracy at one point. He had difficulty making attachments with even the people who were trying to help him,” Mr. Ash said in an interview.
He added the publicity that the case has garnered over the years will pose a specific challenge to Mr. Hart, and that a variety of community groups will be involved in facilitating his return to freedom.
“There is no doubt that Mr. Hart will need to reintegrate himself into society very carefully,” Mr. Ash said.
But some members of Mr. Hart’s family, located in Gander, Nfld., expressed concerns about his release.
“That’s our nice justice system that we’ve got,” said Dale Hart, who is married to Mr. Hart’s uncle.
Ms. Hart said she has recently discussed the matter with Mr. Hart’s father, stating Albert Hart is still “broken-hearted” about the death of the twin girls and “shocked” over the turn of events involving his son’s case.
Lawyer Marie Henein, who acted as a “friend of the court” as the Supreme Court heard Mr. Hart’s case, said that dropping the charges was the only logical conclusion after last week’s Supreme Court ruling.
“This is a case that involved the creation of an unreliable statement and it was done in the context of a person who was highly vulnerable, both emotionally and mentally, in every conceivable way,” she said.
With a report from The Canadian Press