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Justices reserve decision on new trial for Labossière

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A Manitoba man convicted of the cold-blooded murders of his parents and brother will have to wait to learn if he'll be granted a new trial.

Denis Jérôme Labossière believes he's been wrongfully convicted of the 2005 murders of his relatives, and took his case before Manitoba's highest court this morning to ask them to overturn a jury's findings of guilt on three counts of first-degree murder.

The Court of Appeal hearing was live-streamed by the Free Press and other media from TV cameras placed inside the courtroom.

It was the first time in Manitoba history the top provincial court has allowed this to happen.

Labossière, who is serving a sentence of life in prison without a chance at parole for 25 years was not personally present for the hearing.

A jury found Labossière guilty in February 2012 in the slayings of his parents and brother in 2005.

The bodies of Fernand Labossière, 78, his wife Rita, 74, and the couple’s son Rémi, 44, were found in their burned-out farmhouse in St. Leon, Man.

Denis Labossière was convicted of hiring a man, Jeremie Toupin, to kill the family members.

Court was told the three were shot and killed in their home before gasoline was poured in their farmhouse and lit, burning their bodies beyond recognition.

Relatives testified Denis Jérôme Labossière was angry with his brother for getting the farm instead of him and, in his mind, not managing it properly while frittering away his money on gambling. The family farm, worth $1.3 million, was $500,000 in debt at the time.

Toupin was initially jointly charged with Labossière, but entered into a plea deal with justice officials that saw him plead guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and become the key witness in the prosecution of Labossière.

Labossière is battling for a new trial on the belief Toupin's testimony was tainted, and that his trial judge didn't warn the jury enough about the dangers of using certain other evidence to try and confirm his story.

After his arrest, RCMP played Toupin portions of witness statements given by Labossière's relatives that related to the police theory of why the killings took place.

Years later, the relatives and Toupin testified at trial, with Toupin telling court information that Labossière now alleges came directly from the mouths of his relatives.

The evidence is therefore "tainted" and not independent evidence, Labossière believes.

The water becomes further muddied, Labossière asserts, by the fact that jurors were instructed to look to other evidence to try and confirm Toupin's story — and that evidence included the testimony of the same relatives whose statements were played for Toupin.

The jury was left with a false impression that there was "volumes" of so-called "confirmatory evidence" that they may have felt made it safer to trust Toupin's version, defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe said.

"There was a lot less confirmatory evidence than the judge told them that was there," said Wiebe.

Crown attorney Ami Kotler told the appeal court panel the convictions should stand, as exactly what RCMP played for Toupin was "vague," in terms of the level of detail.

There's a big difference between exposing a witness to a theory versus specific facts of a case, said Kotler. RCMP revealed none of the actual material facts of their investigation to Toupin, he said.

In the end, the issue of the tainted evidence and how much to trust Toupin was addressed in open court at trial and by the judge in her final instructions on the law to the jury, Kotler argued.

In the end, it was the jury's job to figure out what and whom to believe or not, he said.

Looking at the trial as a whole, there was significant amount of other evidence pointing to his guilt, Kotler said.

"It was (Labossière's) words and actions that led to his convictions and not an error by the learned trial judge," said Kotler.

"The jury's decision to find him guilty would not have changed with the sort of minor tinkering to the (final jury instructions) that my learned friend (Wiebe) is contemplating," Kotler said.

Chief Justice Richard Chartier and colleagues Justice William Burnett and Justice Holly Beard reserved their decision to an unknown date.

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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