The former Crown attorney who led the prosecution of a Nova Scotia man wrongfully convicted of rape in 1970 said the man pleaded guilty to the charge just as his trial was about to begin.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Charles Haliburton was the Crown prosecutor in the Digby area in 1969 and 1970, when Gerry Barton was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl.

Barton, who was exonerated in 2011, has now launched a civil suit against the RCMP and the province of Nova Scotia, claiming he never gave an incriminating statement to police and didn't plead guilty to the crime of having sex with a female between the ages of 14 and 16.

The 64-year-old man, who now lives near Edmonton, is having his case heard in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Halifax this week.

Haliburton testified on Wednesday that he found documents in an old storage room in Digby and he had written on one of them: "Guilty plea on trial." He said that notation meant Barton went to court on Jan. 14, 1970 for a trial and "he pleaded guilty instead of having a trial."

Haliburton said aside from the notation on his file and documents from a preliminary hearing, there is no record of the court proceedings that led to Barton's conviction.

The former prosecutor said when he was recently contacted about the lawsuit, he began digging and found the Crown sheet from the original case in a storage room at his law practice.

"It was my firm belief that everything from that period has been destroyed," he told the court. 

"Curiously enough, this was not destroyed."

Race had no impact, says Haliburton

Haliburton said a large cache of records were destroyed about 15 years ago when records at the Digby County courthouse were moved to Halifax. He denied ever removing or destroying any files pertaining to Barton's case.

Barton's lawyer asked Haliburton if race played a role in the case. Barton is black.

"I don't think it had any impact at all," Haliburton answered. "I had no interest in seeing anyone convicted. It was simply a matter of carrying out my duties."

Haliburton read notes he put in the Barton file in 1970, which included questions such as: "Will we prosecute alleged rape?" and "Was she chaste?"

Haliburton also read his notes from his interview with the girl. "He took me by the arm, pushed me down on the cot," he read. "No sense shouting; no one could hear."

He said he had no reason not to believe her. 

The girl also said at the time that Barton told her not to tell anyone and that he would say he paid her for sex. The accuser recanted her accusations in 2008. She has since died.

Earlier in the trial, Barton told the court that a statement attributed to him was a fabrication. In it, Barton is quoted as saying he had consensual sex with the girl at her home in Jordantown in 1969, but he testified he never spoke to
any officers.

'They just threw me away'

Dale Dunlop, Barton's lawyer, said the complainant's account of events and the statement attributed to Barton are miles apart.

"To my mind, we have a very violent rape described by the complainant and then a completely different version of events, supposedly given by Mr. Barton," he told reporters outside the courtroom.

"We don't believe he actually made that statement and the two of them, to me, just aren't compatible."

Court records show Barton was sentenced to one year of probation. Haliburton said he wasn't jailed because he had never been in trouble with the law and was just 19 years old.

The former lawyer said the girl did not complain until after the baby was born.

Haliburton concluded his testimony Wednesday and final arguments will be made Thursday.

"I'm feeling pretty good because this is coming down to the last of it," Barton said outside the courtroom. "It makes me feel a lot better to get this off of my back."

He said he believes it is clear from the evidence that a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

"They never investigated. They never took the time. They just took the people who complained about it, they took their word. They left me out of the picture. They just threw me away," he said.

 
With files from The Canadian Press