Justice Department re-examines Delisle murder conviction after fifth estate story
2 major forensic labs are asked to assess the evidence in death of former judge's wife
The federal justice minister is taking a second look at a controversial murder conviction as a result of an investigation by CBC's the fifth estate and Radio-Canada's Enquête.
Jacques Delisle, a former judge, was convicted of murdering his wife, Nicole Rainville, in 2012 and is serving a life sentence. Delisle made appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, maintaining his innocence.
The Justice Department stepped in after a report by the fifth estate and Enquête raised troubling questions about the conviction.
Three top forensic experts who appeared on the fifth estate and Enquête discussed the gunshot that killed Rainville. They concluded that the bullet trajectory, entry wound and gunshot residue in the case all indicate suicide, not murder.
Now, the department's Criminal Conviction Review Group (CCRG), which handles appeals claiming wrongful conviction, has asked two major forensic labs to look at the evidence and make their own assessment.
The CCRG says it's waiting for the results of this review.
"Depending on what the results are, we'll decide whether or not to go forward from there," Kerry Scullion, director of CCRG, told the fifth estate.
If the CCRG decides to take the case to the next stage, Delisle will be able to apply for bail.
"We want the minister to say, 'I am satisfied that this is a decent case, that this has merit.' That is all she has to say, and Mr. Delisle can seek bail in Quebec Superior Court," Lockyer said.
'He turned 81 last month'
"But these things take time and that is why we want to have the opportunity now to ask for Mr. Delisle's release pending the minister's final decision," Lockyer said. "He turned 81 last month. People who are 81 years old, you never know how much time they have got left. Hopefully lots, but you never know that."
During Delisle's trial in 2012, the Crown claimed the shot that killed Rainville was fired at an angle of 30 degrees, which would be consistent with someone standing above her holding a gun to the front of her head.
In their reports and on the fifth estate, the experts concluded that, for various reasons, the gun appears to have been held at a 90-degree angle in relation to Rainville's head, which they say is consistent with suicide.
Dr. Peter Markesteyn, the former chief medical examiner in Manitoba and a forensic pathologist who has worked on cases involving the wrongfully convicted, says a shot fired at a 30-degree angle would have left burn marks on the victim's skin and hair.
None was found.
Because there were no marks or residue outside Rainville's skull, Markesteyn concluded that the gun must have been held at a 90-degree angle to the side of her head, which is consistent with suicide.
"There is no doubt, from a scientific point of view, that this was a perpendicular-held gun at the time of firing," Markesteyn told the fifth estate.
The Crown also claimed that the fact the bullet was found lodged in the back of Rainville's head meant it must have gone in a straight line, fired from a 30-degree angle at the front of her head — again, a finding consistent with murder.
According to the experts, the bullet went from the left temple, ricocheted off the right side of the head, and ended up at the back of the head, a trajectory consistent with a gunshot to the left temple at 90 degrees — that is, by Rainville.
A black powder burn
The final piece of evidence in the Delisle trial was the black powder burn found on Rainville's left hand. The Crown claimed it was a result of her trying to defend herself from her alleged killer. The defence claimed it was a result of Rainville firing the gun herself.
Dr. Michael Shkrum of the Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont., says the Crown got it wrong — if Rainville had in fact obtained the burns in self-defence, they would have been on a different part of her palm.
These burns, he says, in this pattern, indicate she was likely holding the gun herself.
"All the testing has been based on this 30-degree angle, and from what I've seen of the materials that were provided to me, they couldn't seem to replicate the deposition of the soot or powder residues on the deceased's hand."
The assessment is just the first hurdle in a long process of reviewing convictions.
Rainville, 71, who was partially paralyzed as a result of a stroke several years earlier, was found in her Quebec City home on Nov. 12, 2009, lying on the couch with a bullet in her head.
In an exclusive interview with the fifth estate and Enquête, Delisle said that while he did not kill his wife, he did provide her with the gun she used to shoot herself.