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This article was published 17/7/2018 (453 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg convenience store owner imprisoned for plotting to kill his business partner is asking Manitoba's top court to consider new evidence he says proves he didn't have a fair trial.
Amare Gebru, 45, is appealing his conviction, arguing his language rights were violated because he got little help from an interpreter during his trial last year.
Gebru, who immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia and speaks English as a second language, intends to argue at the Manitoba Court of Appeal his conviction should be overturned and he should get a new trial. Appeal documents filed in court on his behalf say there is fresh evidence about his "limited fluency in English."
The new evidence comes from information Gebru provided in a sealed envelope filed in court.
Even without that evidence, his defence team argues, it's clear from the transcripts of the trial he was struggling with English. In a written summary of his legal arguments filed in court earlier this month, defence lawyer Saul Simmonds argued Gebru's constitutional right to an interpreter at trial was violated.
An interpreter was present during Gebru's trial but was rarely called upon to translate for him, which the defence argues led to nonsensical answers from Gebru.
"Not only did translation not occur during all portions of his trial, there was virtually no translation at the most crucial point of Mr. Gebru's defence: his testimony. Mr. Gebru's innocence was at stake, and his ability to communicate was unprotected," the defence factum reads.
Crown attorneys had yet to file their own factum as of Tuesday, and no date has been set for a hearing in the Court of Appeal.
Gebru is serving a five-year prison sentence at Stony Mountain Institution. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Vic Toews convicted him last year for hiring a man to murder and rob Semhar Ekubamichael, who was in her 20s when she bought a Balmoral Street convenience store with Gebru in 2011.
Their working relationship soon soured, and over the course of six weeks in 2012, Gebru was accused of hatching a plan that quickly evolved from robbery to murder, according to one of the store's regular customers, who ended up wearing a wire during secret meetings with Gebru as part of the police investigation against him.
Aristote Tchibaga testified Gebru approached him to be a hitman, offering him $10,000. Ekubamichael also testified against Gebru, saying Tchibaga told her about Gebru's plan before they went together to report it to police.
On the recordings, Gebru is heard speaking vaguely about a "mission" he wanted Tchibaga to complete.
In March 2017, Gebru testified in his own defence, in broken English, that he was the true victim and his business partner had hired a hitman to kill him. Gebru said after he found out a man had been hired to kill him, he came up with a plan to trap him by asking him a favour. At the end of Gebru's testimony, Toews acknowledged he was "puzzled" by the convoluted story.
Three months later, he delivered his decision convicting Gebru, who is expected to face deportation after serving his sentence for counselling to commit murder and counselling to commit robbery.
The married father of three, whose wife was undergoing cancer treatment at the time of the plot, received an outpouring of support from members of Winnipeg's Ethiopian community, who filled the courtroom at Gebru's sentencing hearing in October 2017.
"He's regarded by all as a great husband, a great father and and a great human being," Gebru's former defence lawyer, Mike Cook, said at the time.
Gebru started the appeal process less than a month after he was sentenced, initially intending to appeal both his conviction and his sentence. He's since dropped his appeal on the five-year prison sentence as he continues to fight the conviction.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.