BROADCAST DATE : Mar 5, 2010

The Wrong Man

Despite the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, there are still cases in Canada in which innocent people are convicted — most disturbingly, for murder. the fifth estate investigates the murder convictions of four Manitoba men and the Crown prosecutor, George Dangerfield, who presided over all of them.

In the 1980s, as Manitoba’s star Crown Prosecutor, Dangerfield was legendary for his creativity and flair in the courtroom and his apparent disdain for defence lawyers. He was successful in getting convictions for some of the most notorious murder cases in that province. But, two of those convictions have been overturned, charges quashed on a third, and a federal review of a fourth is ongoing, making Dangerfield responsible for the most wrongful murder convictions in Canada. In The Wrong Man, reporter Bob McKeown looks back on the three cases and reveals a possible fourth.

At the heart of the story are three men: Thomas Sophonow, James Driskell, and Kyle Unger. Beginning with Sophonow, the prosecution of their cases covered more than a decade. It would take another decade before their convictions began to unravel, with revelations of the Crown’s withholding of crucial evidence, bargains and deals with jailhouse informants, questionable testimony and coerced confessions.

In the past year, the case of Frank Ostrowski of Winnipeg became public and fit a familiar pattern. In 1987, Ostrowski was convicted of a murder he insisted he did not commit. The prosecutor at his trial was George Dangerfield. After 23 years in prison, Ostrowski is now out on bail, awaiting a legal decision that will determine if he, too, will join the list of Sophonow, Driskell and Unger.

In interviews with McKeown, the men reflect on their lost years spent behind bars – reputations destroyed, their own lives and those of their families shattered. As for Dangerfield, he is retired now and living in Vancouver, where McKeown confronts him.