Unger won't get compensation: minister
Wrongfully convicted man's lawyer says he still plans to apply
Kyle Unger won't be getting any compensation from the province and no inquiry will be held into the Manitoba man's wrongful conviction, provincial Justice Minister Dave Chomiak said Friday.
Unger, 38, was acquitted Friday of murdering 16-year-old Brigitte Grenier in 1990, a crime for which he spent 14 years in a B.C. prison.
There are no grounds for compensation, the minister said, because it was Unger's own confession that resulted in the original conviction in 1992.
Unger's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, had told reporters Friday morning that he intended to pursue compensation for his client.
Chomiak said the case is different than the one of another wrongfully convicted Manitoba man, James Driskell, because in the latter murder trial, it was found that evidence was withheld.
"Without his confession, he would not have been charged," Chomiak said about Unger. "Without the confession, he would not have been convicted. Twelve men and women in a jury convicted him."
As for an inquiry, Chomiak said it was not necessary.
"The causes of wrongful convictions have been exhaustively explored in two recent Manitoba inquiries into cases of about the same vintage. We also have the benefit of inquiries in other provinces into these issues," he said. "Together, they have resulted in substantial changes in the way evidence is now gathered, weighed, disclosed and presented in court."
Chomiak's announcement came just a few hours after Unger was formally acquitted of Grenier's murder in a Winnipeg courtroom.
Grenier was beaten, strangled and sexually mutilated at a rock concert in the small Manitoba community of Roseisle, about 120 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.
When told of Chomiak's announcement in the afternoon, Wolch had a mixed reaction.
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry," he said. "To be turned down before we asked — it's remarkable. I'd say I'm flabbergasted, but I've had it happen before. It's not surprising.
"We'll deal with that. I mean, they refused to compensate David Milgaard, too, and many others. They make so many mistakes. They just compounded it, if that's the decision."
Wolch said he still intends to make an application for Unger, whom he said absolutely qualifies for compensation.
"I've learned never to be optimistic in these kind of cases, because almost every good thing has been derailed at some point in time," he said. "The government is entitled to make mistakes and do things that are somewhat idiotic."
RCMP not reopening case
Meanwhile, the RCMP announced Friday that it would not reopen the investigation into Grenier's murder.
"Our role is to gather the best evidence possible in any cases we investigate," said spokesperson Line Karpish.
"It is our position that following the investigation into the Brigitte Grenier murder in 1990 and successful conviction in 1992 (and subsequent appeal of the conviction upheld as well as leave denied by the Supreme Court), the RCMP did present the best evidence that could be gathered at the time to public prosecution.
"As an organization, we respect the court decision."
Unger was convicted of Grenier's murder along with Timothy Houlahan, who was released on bail in 1994 when his conviction was overturned by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1994. Houlahan killed himself later that same year.
14 years in prison
Unger spent 14 years in a B.C. prison before being granted bail in November 2005.
Bail was granted after a Forensic Evidence Review Committee established by the province called into question the hair comparison evidence used at Unger's trial. New DNA testing suggested the strand of hair found at the scene of the crime and originally used to convict Unger did not come from him.
Unger's lawyer subsequently filed an application to the minister of justice for a review of the murder conviction. Based on the DNA evidence, a judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench said she had "very serious concerns [he] may have been wrongly convicted of murder."
In November 2005, at age 34, Unger was granted bail pending the minister's decision.
In March 2009, Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that a new trial has been ordered for Unger, whose bail conditions were then loosened to give him more freedom.
At Friday's hearing, the Crown said it had no evidence for a new trial and withdrew the charges, prompting Judge Glenn Joyal to order the acquittal.