TORONTO – A man who spent 31 years behind bars before his murder conviction was quashed has lost his bid to sue those involved in his prosecution, an Ontario court has ruled.
In dismissing the $14-million lawsuit, Superior Court Justice Eva Frank found the Ontario Court of Appeal had already weighed in against many of the allegations Romeo Phillion made in his claim.
“It is impossible to read the findings of the Court of Appeal in such a way that would allow for any interpretation other than that the defendants did not act out of malice,” Frank wrote in her decision.
Phillion’s lawyer, David Robins, said his client planned to challenge the ruling.
“I’ve been instructed to appeal the decision,” Robins said from Windsor, Ont.
In his claim, Phillion, 74, alleged negligence and wrongdoing by prosecutors and police. He claimed the defendants had failed to tell the defence about an alibi that might have exonerated him.
Phillion was convicted in 1972 of having murdered Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy five years earlier based on a confession he recanted almost immediately. He was jailed for life.
He ultimately persuaded the federal government to reopen his second-degree murder conviction, and the case was handed to the Ontario Court of Appeal for a review.
In March 2009, the Appeal Court quashed his conviction and ordered a new trial. The Crown ultimately withdrew the charge, arguing too much time had passed to pursue it.
Phillion sued for damages, naming two Ottawa police officers and the province’s attorney general.
In her April 24 decision, Frank noted the Appeal Court had rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing by police or Crown. She also said too much time had passed to try the claim now.
“It is not possible for there to be a fair trial in this action,” Frank wrote. “To allow it to proceed would be an abuse of the court’s process.”
Lawyer Kirk Boggs, who acted for the Ottawa police, said allowing the suit to proceed could have unfairly damaged the reputations of those involved in the prosecution.
“Sometimes the court system has to say enough: If we attempt to go further, we may do more harm than good,” Boggs said in a statement Wednesday.
“Witnesses have passed away, memories have significantly eroded and evidence has disappeared.”
In its split decision in 2009, the Ontario Court of Appeal made it clear it was not exonerating Phillion.
However, the court did find investigators had concluded at one point that Phillion could not have killed Roy because he was far from the crime scene.
Police said they later debunked the alibi and so the prosecution had no duty to tell the defence about it.
Still, the Appeal Court found a jury might have reached a different verdict had Phillion’s lawyer been able to pursue the alibi issue at trial.
A dissenting Appeal Court justice said only the killer could have known details in the confession.
He was the longest-serving inmate to have a murder conviction overturned. He always refused to seek parole, saying it would amount to an admission he had killed Roy.