Nearly two years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit Crown drops charge against stabbing victim’s meth-using friend who panicked, tried to clean up blood in, outside his home
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A Winnipeg man who spent 20 months in jail for a murder he didn’t commit returned to court Monday to be sentenced for trying to clean up the crime scene.
Michael Spence was charged with second-degree murder after 28-year-old Matthew Sutherland was found suffering from multiple stab wounds outside Spence’s St. Matthews Avenue home on Oct. 31, 2019.
Spence, 35, was taken into custody shortly after the killing and was set to stand trial last January when “new information came to light” pointing to another possible suspect, Crown attorney Mark Kantor told Court of King’s Bench Justice Ken Champagne.
In April, the Crown received confirmation of evidence linking another individual’s DNA to this crime, Kantor said. Spence was released on bail 10 days later.
“To be clear, at the time of the initial investigation, there was evidence supporting a charge of second-degree murder,” Kantor said. “However, based on recent developments and further investigation and review, the Crown has now formulated the opinion that there is no reasonable likelihood of convicting Mr. Spence for the murder of Matthew Sutherland.”
Court heard Spence and Sutherland were friends and that Spence’s home was frequented by drug users.
“It wouldn’t be the first time there was an incident in his home because people there did use methamphetamine,” Spence’s lawyer Tony Kavanagh told court.
Spence, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and, at the time of the killing was using meth, has protested his innocence from day one, but admitted to panicking and trying to clean up Sutherland’s blood inside and outside his home, Kavanagh said.
“Mr. Spence made a mistake — he cleaned up and he shouldn’t have done that,” Kavanagh said. “He knew that by doing that he would be impeding a potential investigation, but he was panicking and was off his medication.”
“Mr. Spence made a mistake — he cleaned up and he shouldn’t have done that… He knew that by doing that he would be impeding a potential investigation, but he was panicking and was off his medication.”–Tony Kavanagh, lawyer
Spence didn’t witness Sutherland’s murder, but in a statement made to police when he had been using meth and exhibiting “manic behaviour,” identified two suspects he thought were responsible, Kavanagh said.
“That day, he told police you should be looking at this person and that person,” he said. “He has not wavered from that. Lo and behold, the DNA evidence came back to the very person he indicated should be looked at.”
Spence had not been taking his medication when questioned by police and spoke quickly in a manner difficult to understand, Kantor said.
“However, after careful review, we have the benefit of a transcript of his statement and his responses were appropriate to the questions being asked of him,” he said.
The suspect Spence identified was not named in court and it was unclear if he had yet been charged in the slaying.
The Crown stayed the murder charge against Spence, who, in a plea bargain, agreed to admit to one count of obstructing justice. Champagne sentenced Spence to 30 months custody, equivalent to the 20 months he served before being released on bail.
Marie Richard, Sutherland’s aunt, cried as she showed court a picture of the man she considered a son. The stayed murder charge did not dampen the anger she directed at Spence.
“This is the man that was taken from me,” she told court in a victim impact statement. “He was too young. It was not his time.”
“Michael, your involvement crushed my soul. I can never forgive you. I hope you think about Matthew every f—ing day.”
The Crown acted completely appropriately in staying the murder charge against Spence, averting a possible miscarriage of justice had the case gone to trial, Champagne said.
“The last thing we need is another Indigenous man convicted of murder who isn’t responsible for murder,” he said. “I am quite certain Matthew Sutherland would not want that outcome.”
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.
Updated on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 7:27 PM CDT: Adds quotation mark