Kyle Unger reaches out-of-court settlement for wrongful conviction
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/04/2019 (1500 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kyle Unger — who spent 14 years behind bars for a grisly 1990 slaying — has reached an out-of-court settlement in compensation for his wrongful conviction.
Just weeks shy of the 29th anniversary of the murder of 16-year-old Brigitte Grenier, and a decade since then-federal justice minister Rob Nicholson said “a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Unger’s 1992 conviction,” Unger’s lawyer, Gavin Wolch, confirmed Monday a settlement had been reached.
“I can’t talk about a number,” Wolch said, citing the confidentiality agreement in the compensation settlement that brings Unger’s decades-long legal odyssey to a close.
“But what people can take away from it… is when a settlement is reached, the lone message is Kyle Unger is as innocent today as the day he was born. That is what is being recognized.”
Wolch, the son of the late Hersh Wolch, who was Unger’s original lawyer in 1990 when he was first charged, said whatever the financial settlement is, it will never be enough.
“Whether it is a dollar or a billion dollars, there is no such thing as a monetary settlement that can restore someone’s lost liberty,” the lawyer said. “No amount of money can ever give that time back.”
Unger, 48, had been suing for $14.5 million. He launched the lawsuit in 2014 against then-prosecutor George Dangerfield, former prosecutor turned provincial court Judge Don Slough, former prosecutor Bob Morrison, the federal and Manitoba attorney generals, the RCMP and several investigators.
Unger, then 19, and Timothy Lawrence Houlahan, 17, were charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Grenier. All three had been attending a music festival in Roseisle in June 1990.
Unger was released after a preliminary hearing, due to a lack of evidence.
He was later ensnared by what became known as a “Mr. Big” undercover sting operation by the RCMP. The RCMP had used the tactic of pretending to be a large criminal organization seeking to entice a person to join the operation — in this case Unger — only after it was made clear they had to confess to a crime to earn the group’s trust.
The Supreme Court has since warned judges such operations now have to meet a high standard in order to be admitted as evidence, while judges also have to determine if there had been any chance of misconduct during the investigation.
In Unger’s case, he had already been through a days-long preliminary hearing where many of the details of Grenier’s slaying came out. In an interview with the Free Press last year, Unger said he couldn’t believe many of the things he told the people who turned out to be undercover police officers.
“(In court), I just put my head down in shame,” Unger said last year. “I was disgusted with stuff I said.”
Houlahan and Unger were convicted in 1992.
Houlahan died by suicide in 1994, while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on an appeal by the Crown of an appeal court decision to grant him a new trial.
Unger went to prison, where he stayed until being granted bail in 2005.
In 2009, Nicholson ordered a new trial for Unger. A few months later, he was formally acquitted when the Crown decided not to call any evidence.
Unger could not be reached for comment Monday. But last year, he told the Free Press it wasn’t just the years in prison he lost because of the wrongful conviction.
“I have these memories of what places looked like and I’ve had them for years,” he said. “But now I find, the more you go back, the more things have changed. It’s better not to go back. It doesn’t look the same way so now your memory has changed.”
He was also wistful of the life he didn’t have.
“The ripple effect in life of things you do… One small little decision and how it changes peoples’ lives.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.