Skip to main content

Jacques Delisle, left, walks into court Thursday, June 14, 2012 in Quebec City. Delisle was found guilty of first degree murder for killing his wife Nicole Rainville.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

New forensic evidence suggests the only Canadian judge convicted of murder is innocent and that his wife's death from a gunshot wound was suicide, his lawyer says in a recent request for a Department of Justice investigation of the case.

Retired Quebec Court of Appeal judge Jacques Delisle has been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder since 2012, when a jury found him guilty in a trial that fascinated the province. He has lost each of his appeals, including one to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013, and is now counting on a rarely used ministerial review that could return his case to the courts.

He has always maintained that his wife, Nicole Rainville, shot herself, though last year he told the CBC that he provided her with the loaded pistol that fired the fatal shot. Ms. Rainville was suicidal after a stroke left her right side paralyzed.

The famed appeals lawyer James Lockyer has taken up Mr. Delisle's case and is now urging the Justice Minister to wrap up a preliminary assessment launched last year and proceed to a formal investigation.

Three forensics experts have submitted reports to the department's Criminal Conviction Review Group attesting that the fatal bullet in Ms. Rainville's death was fired from a 90-degree angle rather than the 30-degree angle posited by the forensic pathologist in Mr. Delisle's trial, suggesting suicide rather than murder.

The experts point to fractures on the right side of her skull that indicate the bullet travelled horizontally from left to right before ricocheting to its final resting place in the back right side of her brain.

The trial pathologist who performed Ms. Rainville's autopsy missed these fractures, as well as bullet fragments in the right side of her brain. He also apparently failed to dissect the brain, inferring the bullet's trajectory from the entry wound and its endpoint.

In his memorandum to the minister, Mr. Lockyer argues that these errors led directly to Mr. Delisle's conviction and constitute a likely miscarriage of justice, which should trigger a formal investigation.

"He just connected two dots, without realizing there was a third dot in the middle, so he didn't look elsewhere," Mr. Lockyer said of the trial pathologist, André Bourgault.

Mr. Lockyer has had nearly a dozen wrongful convictions based on faulty science overturned, including several through ministerial review, and believes Mr. Delisle's case falls into that category.

"There is a systemic problem with the way science is used in criminal courts," he said. "It points to the problems that can happen in the justice system if we place too much reliance on experts."

Ms. Rainville's death was originally treated as a suicide after Mr. Delisle told first responders that his wife had shot herself in their Quebec City condo on November 12, 2009. But a patch of soot on Ms. Rainville's palm suggested to investigators that she had resisted as the gun was discharged, pointing to foul play.

When police began following Mr. Delisle they learned that he had been having an affair with his secretary, an ostensible motivation for killing his wife that the Crown leaned on heavily at trial.

The tale of a respected judge accused of a tawdry murder captured the Quebec public's attention. Mr. Delisle had spent fifteen years on the provincial Court of Appeal, and had retired just six months before Ms. Rainville's death to nurse his ailing wife.

The couple's children have always maintained their father's innocence.

"It's not a question of believing – it's stronger than feelings of belief, it's visceral," said Jean Delisle, Mr. Delisle's son, in an interview Wednesday. "We've believed him since Day 1. We've never abandoned him and we never will."

Mr. Lockyer filed the request for an investigation on May 11 and expects a decision from the minister within days. If the request is granted, the 81-year-old Mr. Delisle will seek bail on the grounds of his age, pending the result of the review, which could see his case returned to an appeal court or even set for a fresh trial.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe