A man who spent 10 years in prison for the 1984 abduction and death of 13-year-old Candace Derksen is suing the province and Winnipeg police for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Mark Grant, 55, accuses police of conducting a negligent investigation and Manitoba justice officials of malicious prosecution. Grant is suing for $8.5 million in damages.
"Mark Grant continues to this day to be a pariah and individuals… maintain their pursuit of him and attacks on his reputation," the lawsuit alleges.
Derksen went missing Nov. 30, 1984, on her way home from school in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Elmwood. Her body was found frozen to death and hog-tied in an industrial storage shed six weeks later.
Grant was first arrested in 2007, after police purportedly matched DNA found on twine used to bind Derksen’s limbs with Grant’s DNA.
Grant was found guilty of second-degree murder, following a jury trial in 2011.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal later overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial, ruling the trial judge erred by not allowing the jury to hear evidence another young girl had reportedly been abducted in a similar fashion in September 1985, when Grant was in custody. The appeal court also took into account shortcomings of the DNA evidence.
Manitoba Justice appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the order for a new trial.
Grant stood trial again in 2017, and was acquitted after a judge ruled the DNA evidence against him was unreliable and of no value. At trial, DNA experts called to testify for the defence told court analysis conducted by Molecular World lab director Amarjit Chahal was "fatally flawed" and "scientifically corrupt."
The lawsuit accuses Winnipeg police of "tunnel vision," alleging investigators "aggressively" pursued Grant as a suspect in 2006, despite the lack of any firm evidence pointing to his guilt.
Molecular World, a Thunder Bay-based DNA lab that matched Grant’s DNA to twine found in the shed, "manipulated" test results to conform with investigators’ theory of the case, the lawsuit alleges.
Police "failed to consider the fact that Molecular World, a relatively new company in a relatively new field of science, had an interest in giving them the answers they wanted in order to get further business from them in the future," says the lawsuit.
Prosecutors, the lawsuit alleges, relied on evidence "that was, at best, clearly flawed and/or unreliable."
Grant’s lawyers urged the Crown to join them in calling for a new trial, given the frailty of the DNA evidence, says the lawsuit. Instead, the Crown continued to pursue prosecution "in order to close an outstanding cold case and/or to defend themselves against a claim such as this one for wrongful imprisonment and/or to protect their own reputation."
Manitoba’s high rate of wrongful convictions — including the cases of Thomas Sophonow, James Driskell and Kyle Unger — points to systemic problems within the provincial criminal justice system, the lawsuit alleges, "suggesting that Crown attorneys are generally more interested in winning than furthering the ends of justice."
As a result of his incarceration, Grant continues to suffer emotional trauma, including anxiety, depression and loss of trust in the justice system, says the lawsuit. Out of custody, he continues to be assaulted and insulted by random strangers, the lawsuit alleges.
Updated on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at 11:21 PM CDT: Updates story