Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Top court overturns murder conviction in death of former pro wrestler

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Manitoba’s highest court has overturned a first-degree murder conviction against a woman accused in the bizarre slaying of former pro wrestler Ivan Radocaj.

Rita Cushnie learned Thursday she will receive a fresh trial after the Court of Appeal expressed concern about the fairness of her 2011 jury trial.

Defence lawyer Mike Cook told the Free Press his client will be ecstatic at the news, considering she had been serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. No dates have been set for a new trial, and Cook said he will move quickly to make a bail application for Cushnie.

The news wasn’t nearly as positive for two other accused: Melody Sanford, the victim's wife, and Donald Richard -- Cushnie's son – had their first-degree murder convictions upheld by the same appeal court decision on Thursday. Both were also given life sentences with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

Two other accused, Christopher Houle and Daniel Richard, previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and were given life with no chance of parole for at least a decade. Richard was also a key Crown witness at trial against the others.

Radocaj, 43, was beaten to death inside his Interlake home in September 2007, only weeks after he married Sanford. Radocaj had actually predicted his own demise in a series of court documents filed in the weeks before the fatal attack. But jurors were not told any details of the background, out of fear it would contaminate the trial.

Radocaj filed documents in August 2007, claiming Sanford "tricked" him into a fraudulent wedding weeks earlier because she was after his money -- including a $49,000 Manitoba Public Insurance settlement relating to a car crash in which he broke his neck. Radocaj also claimed Sanford vowed to send Winnipeg street gang members after him following their bitter breakup.

Radocaj was a professional wrestler in the 1980s under various names, including the Croatian Giant.

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