A Newfoundland Supreme Court jury has found Nelson Hart guilty of killing his twin daughters at Gander Lake in 2002.
Hart, sobbing,dropped his head and shook it as the jury in Gander returned its verdicton Wednesday on two counts of first-degree murder. The jury had deliberated for about 16 hours, beginning late Monday.
Hart, 38,was charged in 2005, almost three years after his three-year-old daughters, Karen and Krista Hart, drowned near a wharf on Gander Lake.
Justice Wayne Dymond gave Hart the automatic sentence for first-degree murder: life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
Hart's wife, Jennifer Hart, left the courtroom sobbing after the verdict was announced.
The charges followed an elaborate undercover RCMP operation in which Hart was led to believe he was working for a large, Montreal-based criminal organization.
In fact, he was dealing with a series of undercover officers, who testified that Hart — who was asked to make deliveries in cities across the country while picking up cash payments — came to regard the phoney mobsters as friends.
Only wanted to 'look like a big criminal,' Hart says
As guards escorted him out of the courtroom, Hart maintained — as the defence said since the trial started on Feb. 27 — that he made a false confession to impress people he thought were criminals.
"They told me I'd have my ribs broke. I had to make myself self look like a big criminal, just like they were," Hart told reporters.
The prosecution argued that Hart— a welfare recipient who lived in stark poverty — feared having hisdaughters taken by child protection workers.
The jury was told that social workers had twice planned to apprehend the children, on grounds that Hart and his wife were not able to provide food and shelter for the children. Court was also told that social workers did not suspect Hart of being a bad parent.
Hart's brother, Mervin Hart, had testified he had agreed to take in the girls and Hart's wife, but not Hart himself.
Court heard that Hart did not want his daughters to call his brother "Daddy."
Videotaped confessions key to prosecution
Two key pieces of evidence for the prosecution were videotapes of covertly recorded conversations Hart had with the officers.
In one, recorded in a Montreal hotel room, Hart told an undercover officer —who was posing as the boss of the criminal gang — that he had killed his two daughters and then lied to police about what happened when the twins died.
When the phoney crime boss heard Hart's confession, he told Hart, "It's pretty much a perfect murder."
Hart told the officer, "It was pretty well organized." He boasted to the phoney boss that he had been able to throw off the police investigation.
In another recording, made at Gander Lake, Hart showed an undercover officer how he pushed the girls into the water.
As well, the jury was told by an undercover officer that Hart confessed to the murders during a conversation in a Montreal bar. That conversation was not recorded.
Told undercover officer he lied
The court also heard Hart tell an undercover officer that he lied about having had an epileptic seizure at Gander Lake — one of two versions of the drownings that Hart gave police in 2002.
Hart initially said one of his daughters had fallen into the water and he left the other by the lake while he drove to get help. Hart said he did not enter the water because he could not swim. He drove back to Gander to get his wife, who also could not swim.
He later told RCMP investigators that he had had an epileptic seizure at the lake and that his daughters panicked and wound up in the lake.
Defence argued confessions were false
The RCMP organized the undercover operation, which launched in early 2005, when their initial interrogations with Hart went nowhere.
Hart did not testify in his own defence, although he had asked Justice Wayne Dymond for permission on Monday morning to testify without the public present. Hart had said stress from testifying could trigger an epileptic seizure.
Dymond turned down the request.
Hart's lawyer, Derek Hogan, had asked the jury to disregard Hart's videotaped confessions because Hart had a long history of lying in his life.
Undercover officers, none of whom can be identified because of a court order, said Hart was relaxed and friendly on the occasions when he made confessions. The defence argued that Hart feared for his life, and that the confessions were coerced.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, Hogan maintained that Hart feltthe threat of violence was real.
"One of the officers acknowledged the only way you leave a crime family is through witness protection or in a box if you're killed. So that was disingenuous or dishonest to say," Hogan told reporters.