Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Case proves system works, police say

Accused man freed after checks and balances 'came together'

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Police investigate the death at 626 Balmoral on February 26, 2013.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Police investigate the death at 626 Balmoral on February 26, 2013. Photo Store

That Robert Maier is a free man today is proof fail-safes in the criminal justice system work and they prevented a miscarriage of justice.

That's the official response from the Winnipeg Police Service after the sudden collapse this week of a homicide case that saw Maier, 38, jailed for eight months on a manslaughter charge only to later find out the man he was accused of killing in a rooming-house suite actually died of a drug overdose.

"With the information we had at hand, we believed there was sufficient evidence to lay a charge of manslaughter," Supt. Gordon Perrier said in response to questions left hanging from the unusual development.

Perrier said the decision to charge Maier with manslaughter in connection with the Feb. 25 death of Ron McKinnon inside 626 Balmoral St. came after consultation with the Crown attorney's office, which is routine in serious cases.

Perrier said investigators didn't recommend any particular outcome to prosecutors, but naturally had formed an opinion as to what they believed happened in the case.

One of the major questions looming after the charge was dropped, however, revolves around how police had issued an official statement on March 1 saying an autopsy conclusively linked injuries McKinnon suffered from an assault Maier committed to the death.

This wasn't true. As court heard this week, McKinnon actually died of the overdose. It took nearly eight months for toxicology and autopsy reports to be finalized in the case, a delay attributed to the complexities of the necessary testing and systemic pressures.

Perrier wouldn't speak to what information the medical examiner's office initially provided homicide investigators or comment on the contents of any reports from the ME's office. He agreed police investigators may have been offered a preliminary opinion to go on.

Police investigations don't end when charges are laid, Perrier suggested. As new information comes in, things can, and do, change, he said.

Maier was freed Wednesday after being cleared of allegations he killed McKinnon. But he pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and received a sentence of eight months' time served.

Maier admitted kneeing and twice punching the 54-year-old McKinnon many hours before he was found dead in his suite, but swore from the outset he had nothing to do with killing him.

Judge Carena Roller was told a preliminary autopsy report issued just after McKinnon's death stated cause of death couldn't be known until toxicology results were completed.

"(Medical examiners) were not in a position without that information to make a final determination," the Crown told Roller. Toxicology results wouldn't be finalized until late September, and ultimately found McKinnon died from an overdose of alcohol and prescription pills.

Investigators initially believed McKinnon died as a result of blood loss from a lacerated cheek, the Crown said. It wasn't made clear, however, on what basis police arrived at this conclusion, and it was one Maier's defence lawyer said never rang true.

"It made no sense and sounded speculative and improbable," Martin Glazer said.

When it comes to deciding whether to lay a charge, police use a "reasonableness" threshold as a guide, said Perrier. After the prosecution commences, Crown attorneys then assess whether going ahead with the case is in the public interest and whether there's a reasonable likelihood of conviction.

In the end, systemic checks and balances brought about the correct outcome in Maier's case. "These systems all kind of came together," said Perrier.

Maier has a lengthy criminal record, court heard. The Crown asserted he likely would have been denied bail if he had applied for it after his arrest.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A8

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