British Columbia

Guilty plea was involuntary says B.C. man in prison for 34 years after child's murder

Phillip James Tallio wants to appeal his second degree murder conviction because he says he didn't knowingly plead guilty.

Now 51 years old, Phillip James Tallio wants to appeal his conviction for the 1983 killing of a toddler

Phillip James Tallio, in this undated picture, was 17 when he was convicted of second degree murder. (Rachel Barsky)

A B.C. man wants out of prison after 34 years in custody for the murder of a 22-month-old little girl in Bella Coola, B.C.

Phillip James Tallio is 51 years old. 

He was 17 in 1983 when the child was suffocated during a sexual assault after a drinking party at a home in the central coastal community. 

Tallio pleaded guilty to second degree murder. 

Involuntary plea 

Documents filed in the B.C. Court of Appeal say that plea was involuntary. 

The documents say Tallio did not knowingly instruct his lawyer to plead guilty to the crime. 

Now, he wants the court to overturn his conviction. 

"The issues in the case are a multitude of issues from the issues of what was going on with forensic psychiatry at the time, DNA issues and the treatment of Indigenous peoples," said Tallio's co-counsel Rachel Barsky, of UBC's Innocence Project.  

"Those are things that have been detailed in materials that have been filed to the Court of Appeal that are under a temporary publication ban."

The documents say Tallio`s cognitive capacity at the time of the plea limited his ability to appreciate what was happening in court.

As well, his cognitive limitations weren't fully recognized for a significant time after the conviction and sentence. 

Tallio has maintained his innocence the entire time he has been in jail. 

"He's spent his entire lifetime in prison and for him, when hopefully he is released, he is going to be entering an entirely new world," said Barsky. 

Parole catch-22

Tallio's case unfolded six months before the enactment of Canada's Young Offenders Act.

The then-teenager was convicted and sentenced as an adult. 

He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 10 years.

But Tallio's attempts to get parole have been thwarted, according to Barsky, by his ongoing claim of innocence. 

"It's a Catch-22 situation, where someone like Phillip, because he maintains his innocence, he actually cannot obtain parole. The Correctional Services Canada and the Parole Board, they don't know how to work with that," said Barsky. 

"They say, well you're not taking accountability and responsibility for your offence, therefore, we can't assess your risk in the community."

Tallio's lawyers will go to court next month in a bid to get permission for the appeal to proceed.