Prosecutor says he's sorry Driskell went to jail: inquiry

The Crown attorney who prosecuted James Driskell for murder expressed remorse Tuesday about Driskell's 12 years in jail.

The Crown attorney who prosecuted James Driskell for murder expressed remorse Tuesday about Driskell's 12 years in jail.

George Dangerfield was testifying at the the Winnipeg inquiry into Driskell's wrongful conviction for the 1990 murder of Perry Dean Harder.

Dangerfield prosecuted Driskell at his murder trial in 1991.

On Monday, Dangerfield admitted to knowing a key Crown witness lied several times on the stand while testifying against Driskell.

When James Lockyer, who is representing Driskell at the inquiry, asked Dangerfield Tuesday if he had anything to say to Driskell about the time he spent in prison, Dangerfield expressed remorse.

"I haven't spent my entire life mulling over this case," Dangerfield told the inquiry Tuesday. "Yes, I'm sorry he put all that time in prison. But I didn't intentionally try to get him into prison, I didn't intentionally do things to damage his chance to acquit himself."

Dangerfield further tempered his apology by saying Driskell may have been acquitted if he had testified at his own trial.

"And I honestly think today as I sit here remembering him as he was 15 years ago: a good looking young man … good appearance, good way with him … that had he gone in the box he might very well have been acquitted.

"He didn't, I'm sorry to hear, and he's been in jail ever since."

Sophonow, Unger, also prosecuted

Lockyer said Tuesday he wants the inquiry to recommend a review of even more cases prosecuted by Dangerfield.

Dangerfield also prosecuted Thomas Sophonow in the early 1980s and Kyle Unger in the early 1990s.

It was later found Sophonow had been wrongly convicted and he was acquitted. Unger spent nearly 14 years in prison for the 1990 sexual assault and murder of high school student Brigitte Grenier before a judge ordered his release on bail in 2005. Unger is currently on bail and awaiting a federal review of his murder conviction.

"This commission should recommend an examination of Mr. Dangerfield's cases in the past insofar as there may be concernsabout the manner in which he hasprosecuted them," Lockyer told the inquiry Tuesday.

But Jay Prober, Dangerfield's lawyer, argued Tuesday it wasn't relevant to talk about Dangerfield's other cases.

"To suggest that his cases should be reviewed, if Mr. Lockyer wants to do that he knows where to go," Probersaid Tuesday. "Go to another forum. Not this commission of inquiry."

'Breakdown of communication' in related investigation: justice official

Meanwhile, a Manitoba Justice official said Tuesday that another element of the Driskell case has "slipped through the cracks" thanks to a "breakdown of communication" related to last year's reinvestigation of perjuryat the Driskell trial.

The inquiry had earlier heard that the key witness at Driskell's trial, Ray Zanidean, lied several times while on the stand.

The inquiry had also heard that Zanidean demanded and received tens of thousands of dollars and other perks in exchange for his testimony, while threatening to change his story or recant altogether.

When Driskell's conviction was quashed in 2005, Manitoba Justice asked the RCMP and an outside prosecutor to investigate the perjury.

But CBC News has learned that the investigation has not even started.

"We had concerns in June that we hadn't heard from the RCMP and that there hadn't been any information that came back," said Don Slough, Manitoba's acting assistant deputy attorney general.

"So we followed up and then, unfortunately, discovered that, in fact, they were waiting to hear from us and the matter had, in effect, slipped through the cracks. So then we took steps to get it going again."

Slough said the RCMP had requested more information on the perjury from the province.

"Unfortunately, due to a breakdown of communication — and I wasn't part of those discussions, so I can't really identify where it was— their request didn't reach us and they didn't get the information," he said.

Because the RCMP is now involved in the Driskell inquiry, Slough said he has asked that Regina police look into the matter, specifically at Zanidean's testimony.

Released on bail in 2003

Driskell was sentenced to life in prison after his first-degree murder conviction for the 1990 killing ofHarder. The conviction was quashed by then justice minister Irwin Cotler in 2005 after Driskell had spent 12 years in prison. Driskell was released on bail in 2003.

Cotler cited several reasons for his decision, including new DNA evidence that showed hairs found in Driskell's van did not belong to the victim — the Crown had argued at trial that they did. He also cited problems with key witnesses and a lack of disclosure of information that could have helped Driskell's defence.

The Manitoba government then stayed the charges against Driskell, which keeps him out of prison but does not officially exonerate him.

The inquiry, which began July 17, is probing the role of police, the actions of the Crown and questions of disclosure in the case. The inquiry's commissioner has also been asked to determine when someone has met the threshold to be declared factually innocent or wrongly convicted.