Canada·FIFTH ESTATE

New trial ordered for retired Quebec judge convicted of killing his wife

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti has ordered a new trial for Jacques Delisle, 85, a retired Quebec Court of Appeal judge convicted of first-degree murder in the 2009 death of his wife.

Federal justice minister says new evidence suggests miscarriage of justice occurred in Jacques Delisle's case

New trial ordered for judge convicted of murdering wife

The National

14 days ago
1:38
Ottawa has ordered a new trial for the only Canadian judge ever to be convicted of murder, Jacques Delisle. The federal justice minister said Delisle's conviction for killing his wife was likely a miscarriage of justice. 1:38

The federal justice minister has ordered a new trial for retired Quebec Court of Appeal judge Jacques Delisle, 85, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2009 death of his wife, Marie Nicole Rainville.

"Following a thorough review, and the identification of new information, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Delisle's case and that there should be a new trial," David Lametti said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon.

Lawyer James Lockyer said he'll argue for Delisle's release from prison pending a new trial at a hearing in Quebec Superior Court Friday.

"It gives Mr. Delisle a chance to live out his sunset years without being in jail," Lockyer said. "He was eligible for parole if and when he reached the age of 102."

Lockyer said he hopes the Quebec Crown will decline to proceed with trial and simply drop the case.

"It's now for the Quebec justice [officials] to decide whether or not they're going to prosecute," Lockyer said.

"They've taken nine years out of this man's life. It's a terrible miscarriage of justice, and I want him to live his remaining days without this hanging over his head."

Has insisted he is innocent

Delisle turns 86 next month, Lockyer said, and is in shock at the news.

His daughter, Élène Delisle, told Radio-Canada Wednesday that the family is very happy.

"We were so excited when we heard," she said. "His spirits are strong. He has always had hope. He's a symbol of resilience."

Since his conviction in 2012, the retired judge has continued to insist he is innocent.

Delisle's wife of 49 years died from a gunshot to the head. At trial, forensic experts offered differing testimony of whether she could have fired the gun herself or whether it was fired by another person.

The federal justice minister has ordered a new trial for Jacque Delisle, a retired Quebec Court of Appeal judge convicted of murdering his wife in 2009. (Radio-Canada)

Delisle's requests for appeal were denied, leaving the incarcerated man with the last-ditch option to appeal directly to the justice minister, which he did in 2015.

In a rare prison interview that year, Delisle told The Fifth Estate that Rainville had died by suicide after telling him of her intentions. He said a stroke and serious fall had left her seriously disabled and depressed.

"I'm telling the truth, really, it's as simple as that," Delisle told The Fifth Estate's Mark Kelley. "There are innocent persons in prisons. You have one in front of you."

A joint Fifth Estate-Radio-Canada investigation also uncovered new expert ballistics analysis that supported Delisle's version of events and, legal experts said, raised reasonable doubt.

Lockyer said he presented the justice minister with 10 experts in forensic pathology, forensic neuropathology and firearms. 

"Between them, they present a compelling case for suicide," Lockyer said.

The error made, Lockyer said, was during the autopsy, when the original neuropathologist did not properly examine the trajectory of the bullet in the brain, which he said would have shown only Rainville had held the firearm.

Independent board needed: lawyer

Lockyer said Minister Lametti was "very brave" to order a new trial because the decision may not be popular in Quebec, where Delisle's trial drew huge public attention and criticism of the formerly well-respected appellate judge, who was already retired at the time of his wife's death.

"It's the right move and the fact that, politically, it may not be the best move perhaps shows you why it's something that shouldn't be in the minister's hands," Lockyer said.

Lockyer chaired a committee looking at the possibility of replacing the ministerial review with an independent commission to review applications. The ministry announced public consultations on the issue last week.

Lockyer noted that few such applications ever result in new trials, and long delays plague the system. In this case, Delisle waited six years for the ministerial review.

Delisle was already retired by the time his wife of 49 years, Nicole Rainville, above, died of a gunshot wound to the head. (Radio-Canada)

Lockyer has been involved in exonerating more than 20 people over the years and founded the predecessor of Innocence Canada, a non-profit that resolves wrongful-conviction cases. He called this case "an easy one" because. he said, the miscarriage of justice was obvious.

But convincing the minister's office of that was "difficult at first," Lockyer said.

"I think there was a sense of, 'How could we possibly do this in the first-ever prosecution of a judge in the Western world for murder? How could we possibly have created a wrongful conviction?' But that's what they did," he said.

In 2012, the Crown argued Delisle premeditated the murder in order to start a new life with his mistress and get away from his wife, who was paralyzed on one side of her body because of the stroke. The details of their personal lives drew much media attention.

But Delisle told the Fifth Estate that he was confident the jury would believe the defence arguments that showed flaws in the forensic science and find him not guilty.

Delisle said he tried to dissuade wife from suicide

In 2015, as part of The Fifth Estate documentary, Delisle laid out his account of his wife's death, including details he had not shared with police.

Rainville, 71, had recently suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on one half of her body. The previously active senior then broke her hip and became depressed.

"I never saw, never saw Nicole smile after her fall," Delisle told The Fifth Estate.

Then, Delisle said, his wife told him she wanted to die.

"'I still love you, Nicole. I'm here to take care of you,'" Delisle said he told her. "I did my best to convince her not to go further in her thinking, but she was convinced."

He said she asked him to bring her his handgun, a gift from an old friend. At her request, he said, he confirmed it was loaded and left it on the table.

Delisle continued to plead with her not to die, he said. She asked him to leave her alone for an hour.

WATCH | The Fifth Estate's 2015 documentary on the Delisle case:

He said he went out to run errands, believing his wife would not use the gun. He returned home within the hour to find her dead on the couch.

He told the Fifth Estate that he then lied to police and did not tell them he had loaded the gun and left it beside her. He decided not to testify in his own defence.

"Now I realize that was a mistake, but it's too late," Delisle said at the time. "That was not a smart decision to make. That was a sentimental decision I made. I thought of my family first."

Lockyer said the Delisle case shows how susceptible any Canadian is to being potentially wrongfully convicted.

"It could happen to me and you and them, all of them, which is why we need an independent commission to review these cases."


If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca 
  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with the Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

With files from Alexandre Duval, Radio-Canada

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