Frank Ostrowski relieved but still angry Ottawa reviewing murder conviction
'They ruined my marriage, they ruined my family,' Ostrowski says of conviction and prison sentence
Frank Ostrowski, who spent 23 years in jail before getting bail in 2009, says he's relieved that his murder conviction will be reviewed, but he's angry that he's had to spend 23 years behind bars for a crime he insists he did not commit.
The review was announced on Tuesday by Peter MacKay, the federal justice minister and attorney general of Canada.
"I am satisfied there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Ostrowski’s 1987 conviction," MacKay stated in a news release from the government.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal will review the case, but a date has not been given.
"I'm happy, relieved and appreciative of the help the [Association in Defence of the] Wrongly Convicted has done for me, and I appreciate the words by Peter MacKay," Ostrowski told CBC News.
However, the 65-year-old says he still harbours a lot of anger and resentment over the conviction and lengthy sentence.
Ostrowski recalled a time when his wife visited him in jail, asking him to confess to the murder so he could get out of prison earlier.
"I says, 'I don't care if I die in prison, I'm not admitting to doing something I didn't do,'" he said. "They ruined my marriage, they ruined my family, they hurt my family."
Accused of ordering death of informant
Ostrowski, a former hairstylist who became a cocaine dealer, was convicted of ordering the 1986 murder of informant Robert Nieman, another drug dealer.
The Crown at the time said Nieman was killed out of fear he was set to tell police about Ostrowski's cocaine operation.
Ostrowski has always maintained his innocence but was convicted largely because of the testimony of Matthew Lovelace, a drug dealer who had cocaine charges against him dropped in exchange for his testimony.
Ostrowski's lawyers and the jury were never told about that arrangement and the witness told the trial he did not receive any favours in exchange for his testimony.
"They framed me for the murder, and for that they should be in severe trouble," he said, referring to Lovelace and the Crown attorney who helped put him away.
"He knew that Matthew Lovelace was committing perjury on the stand, and he allowed that perjury to be heard by the jury," he added.
Ostrowski made appeals to the Manitoba Court of Appeal and sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Both were rejected.
However, after the discovery of new information in the case, Ostrowski’s lawyers submitted an application to the federal justice department for a review of the murder conviction.
Granted bail in 2009
In December 2009, a judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench granted Ostrowski bail pending a decision from MacKay.
"It has been a long wait and the saga still has a way to go," James Lockyer, senior lawyer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"It will be our task to convince the Manitoba Court of Appeal that Frank Ostrowski is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice."
After two failed businesses, Ostrowski currently works for the John Howard Society.
Ostrowski is the fourth Manitoba man convicted of murder to have his guilt thrown into doubt.
- James Driskell was convicted of killing a friend in Winnipeg in 1990 based partly on testimony from a witness who as given tens of thousands of dollars in expense payments as well as immunity on an arson charge. Driskell's conviction was quashed in 2006.
- Kyle Unger was convicted of killing a teenage girl at a rock festival in 1990, based partly on hair samples found at the scene. DNA tests years later showed the hairs did not belong to him.
- Thomas Sophonow was found guilty of killing a waitress in 1981 based largely on the testimony of a witness who contradicted in court what she had told police. The defence was not told about the contradiction at the time, and Sophonow spent four years in prison before he was freed.
With files from the CBC's Nelly Gonzalez and The Canadian Press