British Columbia

Man convicted of murdering wife granted bail after 17 years in prison

Wade Skiffington has proclaimed his innocence in the murder of Wanda Martin in Richmond, B.C., in 1994.

Wade Skiffington has proclaimed his innocence in the 1994 murder of Wanda Martin

Wade Skiffington speaks to reporters beside his father, Tom (left), on Wednesday. Skiffington was convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 based on what his lawyers say was a false confession during a so-called Mr. Big police sting. (Camille Bains/Canadian Press)

A man convicted of killing his common-law wife in 1994 will be returning home to Newfoundland and Labrador after a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted him bail pending a federal investigation into a possible wrongful conviction.

"I'd just like to thank your lordship for being fair and just,'' Wade Skiffington told Justice Michael Tammen on Wednesday as he stood in the prisoner's box.

Skiffington was accused of murdering Wanda Martin in Richmond, B.C., soon after the couple moved to the province, and was convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 based on what his lawyers say was a false confession during a so-called Mr. Big police sting.

His father, Tom Skiffington, said outside court his son will live with him in a town called Paradise — but added that he felt a tinge of sadness along with his elation after hearing a judge say his son would be released after 17 years in prison.

"The only thing I'm missing now is my wife. It's all she lived for, to see him come home. She passed away three years ago,'' he said while waiting for his son to walk out.

"I'm going to give him a big hug,'' he added.

Tom Skiffington said he had called his grandson Ian, who was speechless and grateful to hear his father would no longer be behind bars.

Ian was 18 months old when he was found unharmed with his mother's body in her friend's apartment. Martin had been shot six times.

Wade Skiffington applied to the justice department for a review of his case after losing an appeal of his conviction. The department concluded there was a likelihood of a miscarriage of justice, leading to a full investigation that's currently underway.

Wanda Lee Martin was found dead in 1994 with her young son beside her. (Supplied by family)

Tammen said that could take years but, in the meantime, Wade Skiffington does not pose a danger to the public and is not a flight risk so should be released to his family.

Tom Skiffington was required to post a $100,000 deposit and Tammen said Wade Skiffington must abide by conditions, including a daily curfew of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"He should not be released to a federal institution,'' Tammen said. "He should be released from here today.''

The evidence seems to clear Wade Skiffington of the crime, Tammen said, noting the man did not provide undercover officers with any new evidence and police had swabbed his hands for gunshot residue shortly after Martin's death but found nothing.

A phone number Wade Skiffington had written on his hand was still visible, suggesting he had not scrubbed it clean, the judge said.

Wade Skiffington pictured in an undated Facebook photo. (Facebook/Wade Skiffington)

Tammen suggested Wade Skiffington would not have been convicted had his trial been heard after 2014, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case of another Newfoundland and Labrador man, Nelson Hart, whose confession to undercover police involving the drowning deaths of his three-year-old twin daughters was found to be inadmissible.

Murder charges against Hart were later withdrawn.

'It's not over yet,' Crown says

Wade Skiffington's defence lawyer Philip Campbell, with the group Innocence Canada, said his client's release is a big step toward his exoneration. Innocence Canada is a non-profit legal group that advocates for those convicted of a crime they didn't commit.

"I want the public to listen closely to this case as it develops, to this judgment today and proceedings that will follow it and keep an open mind that sometimes innocent people are convicted,'' Campbell said.

Seven other similar bail applications have been filed in Canada and all except one have been successful, he added.

Crown counsel Hank Reiner told the bail hearing Wade Skiffington knew his common-law wife would be alone for at least 20 minutes while she visited her friend and that provided him with an opportunity to kill her.

"It's not over yet,'' Reiner said outside court Wednesday, calling Wade Skiffington's release an interim step.

"The reality is all the evidence was in front of the jury and they convicted him. So the issue here is really admissibility of the undercover confession.''

With files from Yvette Brend