A Winnipeg woman claims she has been wrongfully convicted of her role in the murder-for-hire of former pro wrestler Ivan Radocaj.
Rita Cushnie was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury last year. She returned to court this week, asking the Manitoba Court of Appeal to overturn the verdict and order a new trial.
The high court has reserved its decision.
Four other accused were implicated in the deadly plot: Melody Sanford, the victim's wife, and Donald Richard – Cushnie’s son - were also convicted of first-degree murder and given life sentences with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. They were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
Christopher Houle pleaded guilty to second-degree murder were given life with no chance of parole for at least a decade.
"The case against Ms. Cushnie was markedly different from that of her co-accused. They had confessed to their involvement and other witnesses testified as to their involvement. The case against our client was predicated on the testimony of one witness, a witness who recanted most of his evidence in cross examination," Cushnie’s lawyer, Mike Cook, told the Free Press on Thursday.
Radocaj, 43, also known as the Croatian Giant, was beaten to death in his Interlake home in September 2007.
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. He also claimed Sanford vowed to send Winnipeg gang members after him following their bitter breakup.
His father, Josip Radocaj, filed an affidavit as part of an emergency hearing seeking to have his son's assets frozen so Sanford couldn't sell them. He told court his son called hours before his death, claiming Sanford wanted to meet him.
"I told him not to go because I was afraid for him. My son replied 'I will try' and that he would call me the following day. That's the last time I ever heard from him," he said.