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No bad faith in Unger investigation: statement of defence in wrongful conviction lawsuit

Unger 'significantly contributed' to own misfortune: lawyers

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Kyle Unger (right), with lawyer Hersh Wolch, walks out of court on Oct. 23, 2009.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Kyle Unger (right), with lawyer Hersh Wolch, walks out of court on Oct. 23, 2009.

The criminal probe that led to Kyle Unger being accused, tried and jailed for the 1990 murder of Manitoba teen Brigitte Grenier was "careful, cautious and conscientious," and there was no malicious "scheme" set in motion by the RCMP to get him to confess.

That's the official position of Canada's Attorney General, which has filed the first statement of defence in connection to a $14.5-million wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by Unger against four RCMP members, three former provincial prosecutors and the attorneys general of Canada and Manitoba.

Unger's lawsuit has gathered dust in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench without a response from any of the defendants for nearly two years.

That changed this month when federal justice officials representing the federal interests filed a firm denial of Unger's allegations they intentionally and maliciously withheld key evidence at his trial.

The only interest the RCMP had in the case was getting to the truth of how Grenier died, justice department lawyers say in the defence document.

"The investigation was devoid of bad faith or any purpose inconsistent with the conduct (of) a full, fair and proper investigation," the document says. "The investigation was conducted in a careful, cautious and conscientious manner with the sole goal of determining the truth with respect to the murder of Brigitte Grenier and who may, or may not, have been involved in the killing."

Cleared by DNA analysis, acquitted in 2009

Unger was convicted and then later cleared of Grenier's murder at an outdoor rock concert near Roseisle on June 23, 1990.

Unger and another man, Timothy Houlahan, were convicted in 1992 of Grenier's murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Unger's conviction was based, in part, on the use of the controversial "Mr. Big" sting operation by the RCMP, in which Unger reportedly told undercover Mounties posing as criminals he had killed Grenier.

The police technique has been widely panned by many criminal law experts who believe they are unethical and allow cops to prey on the vulnerable and disadvantaged to extract unreliable confessions. The stings are considered inadmissible in the U.S. and the U.K.

At trial, an RCMP expert testified a hair found on Grenier's sweater belonged to Unger. It was the only physical evidence against him, but DNA tests in 2005 showed the hair belonged to someone else.

The justice department says the expert used "contemporary established and accepted" scientific procedures to do the hair testing, and that his testimony was "straightforward, appropriate and honest."

Houlahan was granted a new trial following an appeal in 1993 but he committed suicide before it took place. Unger's appeals were dismissed.

Unger sat in jail until 2005 when he was released on bail following a provincial review of murder convictions based on forensic evidence.

DNA analysis cleared Unger of involvement in Grenier's murder. In 2009, a federal review said there was a "reasonable basis" to conclude Unger had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and a new trial was ordered.

He was acquitted at the new trial Oct. 23, 2009 when the Crown called no evidence.

Unger 'significantly contributed' to own misfortune: lawyers

Also named as defendants in Unger's claim are former Crown attorneys Don Slough, Bob Morrison and George Dangerfield, who has been at the centre of several other wrongful convictions.

Unger himself is partly to blame for any loss he feels he suffered because he "significantly contributed" to his own misfortune by through his "repeated admissions" of having killed Grenier, federal lawyers say.

"The (RCMP) defendants did not act with malice and were motivated solely by the public interest in the administration of justice."

Unger's lawyers Hersh Wolch and Greg Rodin were each away from their Calgary offices and couldn't be reached for comment. Unger now resides in B.C.

Unger was acquitted, not found innocent, and shouldn't be entitled to compensation, former provincial Justice Minister Dave Chomiak previously said. Chomiak said Unger was originally convicted under procedures that were permissible at the time.

Unger is requesting $7.5 million for general and aggravated damages, $3 million for punitive damages, $3.5 million for past and future loss of income and $500,000 for special damages.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

-- with Free Press files

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