Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unger seeks $14.5M for wrongful conviction

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KYLE Unger has filed a wrongful conviction suit, demanding $14.5 million from provincial and federal justice officials and the RCMP.

Unger -- who was convicted and then cleared of the 1990 murder of Brigitte Grenier at an outdoor rock concert near Roseisle -- filed a statement of claim in the Court of Queen's Bench, alleging three former members of the Crown attorney's office and four members of the RCMP "intentionally" and "maliciously" failed to disclose key evidence at his trial.

"The... grievous loss, damage and expense sustained by the plaintiff includes loss of freedom, loss of enjoyment of life, severe emotional trauma and distress," reads the statement of claim. "He was deprived of his youth, his education and a normal working life."

Statements of defence have not been filed. The allegations have not been proven in court.

Unger and another man, Timothy Houlahan, were convicted in 1992 of the Grenier murder and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The conviction was based, in part, on the use of the controversial "Mr. Big" sting operation, in which Unger reportedly told undercover police posing as criminals he had killed Grenier, and on scientific evidence that was later dispelled.

An RCMP expert testified a hair found on Grenier's sweater belonged to Unger. It was the only physical evidence against him, but DNA tests in 2005 showed the hair belonged to someone else.

Houlahan was given a new trial following an appeal in 1993 but he committed suicide before the trial took place.

Unger was released on bail in 2005 after a provincial review of murder convictions based on forensic evidence. DNA analysis cleared Unger of involvement in the murder. In 2009, a federal review said Unger had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and a new trial was ordered. He was acquitted at the new trial when no evidence against him was presented.

Those named as defendants include former Crown attorneys Bob Morrison and George Dangerfield, who has been at the centre of several other wrongful convictions.

Unger's lawsuit is not unexpected.

When he walked out of court a free man in 2009, Attorney General Dave Chomiak said Unger was only found not guilty -- not innocent of Grenier's murder. Chomiak said Unger was originally convicted under procedures that were permissible at the time, adding he didn't think Unger deserved to receive any compensation.

"The 12 men and women who convicted him did so on the basis of a confession that nowadays would not be entered into court," Chomiak said on Oct. 23, 2009. "So we're left with a conclusion that is not clear or clean-cut. We're left with a conclusion that Mr. Unger cannot and will not be prosecuted and nobody knows to this day who tragically murdered Brigitte Grenier."

Unger is requesting $7.5 million for general and aggravated damages, $3 million for punitive damages, $3.5 million for past and future loss of income and $500,000 for special damages.

Unger's lawsuit claims police and prosecutors used faulty techniques to convict him.

"The police defendants, the prosecuting defendants and (RCMP hair analyst Raymond) Cadieux individually, jointly and collectively breached the plaintiff's constitutional rights... and conspired to do so," reads the statement of claim.

The documents state Unger now lives in Merritt, B.C.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from The Canadian Press

Compensation for other wrongful convictions

 

Thomas Sophonow -- $2.6 million in 2001; branded a killer for 20 years for the murder of Barbara Stoppel, went through three trials, spent four years in prison.

 

James Driskell -- $4 million in 2008; spent 12 years in prison for the 1990 murder of Perry Harder.

 

David Milgaard -- $10 million in 1999; the Winnipegger spent 23 years in jail for the murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller in Saskatoon.

 

The Unger legal saga

 

June 23, 1990 -- 16-year-old Brigitte Grenier is murdered at a rock festival near Roseisle.

June 29, 1990 -- Kyle Unger and Timothy Houlahan, who did not know each other, are charged with first-degree murder.

Dec. 11, 1990 -- During a preliminary inquiry, charges against Unger and Houlahan are stayed.

June 25, 1991 -- Unger and Houlahan charged once again with first-degree murder.

Jan. 20, 1992 -- Trial for both men begins.

Feb. 28, 1992 -- Unger, now 19, and Houlahan, 17, convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years.

July 7, 1993 -- Unger's appeal is dismissed; Manitoba Court of Appeal orders a new trial for Houlahan but he commits suicide in 1994 before a trial is held.

April 23, 2003 -- Prompted by several high-profile allegations of wrongful convictions, the province sets up a committee to review all murder convictions involving hair analysis as key evidence.

July 27, 2004 -- DNA evidence refutes evidence that linked Unger to Grenier's murder.

Sept. 13, 2004 -- Unger files an application with the Attorney General of Canada for a ministerial review of his conviction.

Nov. 5, 2005 -- Unger released on bail.

March 11, 2009 -- Ottawa concludes Unger was likely the victim of a miscarriage of justice and orders Manitoba to conduct a new trial.

Oct. 23, 2009 -- Unger walks out of court a free man when at his new trial, no evidence is presented against him.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2011 A3

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