Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ostrowski reopens Vault Salon as he challenges 1987 conviction in slaying

Back to the life he knew

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Three years after he was released on bail from prison, Frank Ostrowski will soon be back cutting hair.

Ostrowski, 63, was released Dec. 18, 2009, after spending 23 years behind bars for a murder he says he did not commit. Since that day, his 1987 conviction has been under review to see if he was a victim of a wrongful conviction.

Soon, perhaps within hours, he and his daughter, Amber, will reopen the doors of the Vault Salon and Spa on Albert Street. One of the biggest salons in Winnipeg, owned by Internet pharmacy pioneer Daren Jorgenson, it has been closed for about a year. Ostrowski and Amber have hired about 20 people to staff the business.

"I'm doing this so I can make money and be employed," Ostrowski said. "I'm looking forward to this. It's a new start."

As a younger man, Ostrowski worked as a hair stylist before he became involved in the world of cocaine trafficking and was implicated in the 1986 murder of Robert Nieman. Two other men were convicted of carrying out the execution-style killing -- the driver was released from prison early in 2008 and deported to his native Portugal and the triggerman remains behind bars.

Ostrowski was convicted of orchestrating the killing, but his conviction has been challenged with the argument he got an unfair trial.

His lawyer, James Lockyer of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, has argued a secret deal key Crown witness Matthew Lovelace made with federal authorities to testify against Ostrowski was not disclosed to the jury. That alleged secret deal later saw Lovelace acquitted of drug trafficking months after he testified at Ostrowski's trial.

Lockyer has said without this information and other statements Lovelace made to police, the jury did not get a full picture of Lovelace's credibility.

Because of Lovelace's testimony, Ostrowski was sentenced to life behind bars with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Since his release, lawyer John Briggs, the former head of the Nova Scotia Law Reform Commission, has been reviewing Ostrowski's case on behalf of Ottawa's Criminal Convictions Review Group, a separate unit of the federal Department of Justice that looks into claims of wrongful convictions.

Briggs' report will answer if Ostrowski got an unfair trial.

CCRG head Kerry Scullion said Monday Briggs was in Winnipeg on Sunday interviewing his last witness.

Scullion said he was not in a position to disclose who that person is, but said Briggs' report will be finished sometime next month. That report will be shared with Ostrowski and his legal team as well as Attorney General Andrew Swan and Manitoba Justice.

"Both will be asked to provide comments," Scullion said. "Anything could happen from that. Mr. Ostrowski may not be happy and say, 'Geez, you didn't interview that person,' and the AG could say the same thing," Scullion said. "Briggs will respond to it accordingly."

Before Nieman's murder, Ostrowski was a mid-level drug dealer who was caught in a police raid with 308 grams of cocaine and $50,000 in cash in a hidden floor safe in his basement. The Crown argued Neiman was killed because he told police about Ostrowski's stash. Ostrowski has said all along he had no reason to see Nieman dead, as Nieman did not know about the floor safe. Ostrowski said he had installed the safe months earlier with Lovelace's help.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 A8


Updated on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:45 AM CST: replaces photo

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