Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Court of Appeal reserves decision in Labossière case

Wrongful conviction claimed in murders of man's relatives

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A Manitoba man convicted of murdering his parents and brother is waiting to learn whether he'll be granted a new trial.

Denis Jérome Labossière believes he's been wrongfully convicted of the 2005 murders of his relatives. He took his case before Manitoba's highest court Wednesday to ask it to overturn a jury's findings of guilt on three counts of first-degree murder.

The Court of Appeal hearing was live-streamed by the Free Press and other media from TV cameras inside the courtroom. It was the first time the top provincial court has allowed this to happen.

As was a case earlier this month in the Court of Queen's Bench, the presence of cameras was unobtrusive and didn't appear to disrupt the proceedings.

Chief Justice Richard Chartier, hearing the appeal with colleagues Justice William Burnett and Justice Holly Beard, reserved their decision to an unspecified date.

Labossière, who is serving a sentence of life in prison without chance of parole for 25 years, was not in court.

The bodies of Fernand Labossière, 78, his wife Rita, 74, and the couple's son Rémi, 44, were found in their burned-out farmhouse in St. Leon.

Denis Jérome Labossière was convicted of hiring a man, Jeremie Toupin, to kill them.

Court heard the three were shot and killed in their home before gasoline was poured in their farmhouse and lit, burning their bodies beyond recognition.

Relatives testified Labossière was angry with his brother for getting the farm instead of him and not managing it properly. The farm, worth $1.3 million, was $500,000 in debt at the time.

Toupin was initially jointly charged with Labossière, but entered into a plea deal with justice officials that saw him plead guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and become the key witness in Labossière's prosecution.

Labossière's battle for a new day in court is being fought on the grounds Toupin's testimony was tainted and the trial judge didn't adequately warn the jury about the dangers of using other evidence to try to confirm his story.

After his arrest, RCMP played Toupin portions of witness statements given by Labossière's relatives relating to the investigative theory of why the murders happened. This happened prior to Toupin giving a formal statement.

Years later, the relatives and Toupin testified at trial, with Toupin telling the jury information Labossière claims came from relatives. That evidence is therefore tainted, Labossière believes.

Things become further muddied, Labossière asserts, in how jurors were instructed to look to other evidence to try to confirm Toupin's story. That evidence included the testimony of the relatives whose statements were played for Toupin.

The jury was left with a false impression there was "volumes" of so-called "confirmatory evidence," which they may have felt made it safer to trust Toupin's version, defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe argued Wednesday. "There was a lot less confirmatory evidence than the judge told them that was there," said Wiebe.

Crown attorney Ami Kotler argued for Labossière's convictions to stand, as what RCMP played for Toupin was "vague" in terms of the level of detail he would have learned.

There's a big difference between exposing a witness to a theory versus specific facts of a case, said Kotler.

RCMP revealed none of the material facts of their investigation to Toupin, he argued.

In the end, claims of tainted evidence and how much Toupin could be trusted were addressed in open court at the trial and also by the judge in her final instructions to the jury, Kotler said.

It was the jury's job to figure out what and whom to believe, he said.

There was a significant amount of evidence pointing to Labossière's guilt, Kotler said.

"It was (Labossière's) words and actions that led to his convictions and not an error by the learned trial judge," said Kotler.

"The jury's decision to find him guilty would not have changed with the sort of minor tinkering to the (final jury instructions) that (Wiebe) is contemplating," Kotler said.

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2014 0

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