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Grant victim of wrongful conviction: defence

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IT took 27 years before Candace Derksen's killer was brought to justice.

And it will take several more months to find out if the conviction against Mark Grant will stand -- or if one of Manitoba's most notorious criminal cases is heading back to trial.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal reserved its verdict after two days of legal arguments. No date for a decision has been set.

"It's a difficult case," Chief Justice Richard Chartier said Wednesday.

Grant, 49, is seeking to have his second-degree murder conviction overturned and has cited 18 alleged errors made by Chief Justice Glenn Joyal in his handling of the jury trial, which ended in February 2011. Defence lawyer Saul Simmonds told court he believes Grant is the victim of a wrongful conviction.

The Crown spent much of the day Wednesday arguing the strength of the case and urging the appeal court not to interfere. While they admitted it wasn't a perfect investigation or trial, prosecutors said nothing would warrant a new hearing.

Derksen, 13, was grabbed off the street Nov. 30, 1984, while walking home from school. She was tied up and left to freeze to death inside a shed. Her body was found Jan. 17, 1985. Jurors spent three days weighing the evidence, which largely consisted of DNA evidence that cracked the case in 2007.

Three pubic hairs were found on or near Candace's body, although police have said she wasn't sexually assaulted. Four scalp hairs that appeared to have been lightly bleached near the roots were on her clothing. There is evidence Grant coloured his hair around the same time. DNA extracted from the twine used to tie her up was found to be a maternal match to Grant.

During the trial, Simmonds accused the Crown of using "bad science." He said police ignored evidence that pointed away from Grant, contaminated the crime scene and mishandled key exhibits, such as the twine.

Simmonds continued that argument this week, saying an American DNA expert who has reviewed the case believes evidence was manipulated against Grant.

"Even those of us who work in this system do not comprehend DNA," Simmonds said Wednesday. "While we all feel for the death of any children, we have to dispassionately review the evidence."

But the Crown said jurors were given all the information needed to make the correct ruling. "The Court of Appeal is in no better position than members of the jury to assess the science," prosecutor Ami Kotler said.

Simmonds also took issue with Joyal's pretrial ruling that excluded jurors from hearing testimony from a Winnipeg woman who claimed in 1985 she was kidnapped by a stranger in a similar fashion to Candace -- only to recant the story 26 years later.

Grant is also appealing Joyal's sentence, saying it's unduly harsh. Grant was given a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The Crown said Wednesday it was the correct decision.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 A10

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