A man who spent nearly 32 years behind bars for a murder he says he did not commit wept in court Thursday as the Crown officially withdrew the charges against him and the judge issued an apology.
Romeo Phillion was convicted of second-degree murder based on a confession he gave police decades ago in connection with the death of firefighter Leopold Roy.
After years of proclaiming his innocence, the Crown officially withdrew the charges on Mr. Phillion's 71st birthday.
"It's a special day for me – my birthday. It's the best birthday I ever got," Mr. Phillion told CTV Ottawa on Thursday.
"I had an apology from the judge, which I waited 38 years for. And my life will be positive from now on."
But the legal battle is not over for Mr. Phillion. He will continue to fight for a new trial to officially clear his name.
"I got many more years to go. I'm not going to die tomorrow. I'm going to stick around. My lawyers will take care of the rest," he said.
Mr. Phillion's murder conviction was struck down by Ontario's top court in March, 2009. The judge presiding over the case ruled the prosecution withheld a key piece of evidence in Mr. Phillion's 1972 murder trial.
Appeal Court Judge Mike Moldaver found the Crown never told the defence that at one point investigators concluded Mr. Phillion was 200 kilometres away from the crime scene at a gas station in Trenton, Ont., at the time of the murder.
However, later in the investigation, police claimed they had debunked Mr. Phillion's alibi.
Mr. Phillion discovered the information when a parole officer passed him the details in a brown envelope 25 years after he was convicted.
Judge Moldaver ruled that if the jury at the 1972 murder trial had been given the information, the outcome of the trial might have been different.
Although the appeal court tossed out Mr. Phillion's murder conviction last year, the judge made it clear the ruling was not a declaration of innocence. A new trial would have to determine that.
Mr. Phillion was released from prison on bail in 2003, pending his appeal hearing. Even though he could seek parole during his jail term, he always refused it, saying it would be like an admission of guilt.