Nfld. & Labrador

He went to prison for a murder his friend committed. Now Greg Parsons feels cheated again

COVID-19 concerns mean Parsons can't attend a parole hearing for his mother's killer, and the board won't delay it.

COVID-19 means he can't attend a parole hearing for his mother's killer, and the board won't delay

Greg Parsons was in British Columbia for Brian Doyle's hearing, where he gave an emotional victim impact statement. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

A St. John's man who was wrongfully sent to prison for his mother's murder is furious a parole board hearing for the real killer is going ahead without his attendance.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Greg Parsons won't be there Thursday when Brian Doyle, 50, has a hearing in British Columbia to determine if he should be granted day parole.

"I truly believe in karma, I'm a good person," Parsons said Monday. "Let him out — I'd rather him be out on the street and fend on the streets, face realities, face what we're facing."

But Parsons wants to be there to provide a victim impact statement for the crime that has dogged the father and firefighter all his adult life.

On New Year's Day 1991, Doyle went to Catherine Carroll's home in St. John's, broke in through a basement window and stabbed and slashed her 53 times.

Parsons was 19 years old when he found his mother's body, and quickly became the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's prime suspect.

He was tried for murder and found guilty in 1994. DNA evidence cleared his name in 1998.

Despite there being no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony tying Parsons to the crime, he was found guilty of the murder of his mother, Catherine Carroll, in her St. John's home. (CBC)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Parsons was going to fly up alone to face Doyle at the hearing.

"I tell you one thing, my mother's death wasn't for nothing," Parsons said Monday

I'm sick to death that that despicable human being is living the life. This is ridiculous, this is not justice.- Greg Parsons

He said he understood when the Parole Board of Canada closed the hearing to all visitors, if it meant delaying it altogether.

Both Parsons and Lisa Freeman, an advocate for victims' rights whose father was murdered in 1991, contacted the board to ask for a postponement until the pandemic is over.

They were told, Parsons said, that delaying the hearing would infringe on Doyle's rights.

Brian Doyle, seen in this photo from 2002, was convicted of a lesser charge of second-degree murder in the death of Carroll, 45. (CBC)

"There's also rights for victims and this is extreme circumstances," Parsons said, who has hoped the decision will be reversed.

Greg Parsons's wife, Tina, said they were told they could submit an audio or video statement to be included in the file but teleconferencing was not available.

With few other options, Parsons plans to release his victim impact statement to the public.

In an email, the Parole Board of Canada said there is no provision under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to reschedule an offender's hearing.

Hearings are conducted by teleconference, the email said, adding it is "unable to facilitate victim and observer attendance at parole hearings at this time." 

Parsons feels he has been wronged at every turn — from his wrongful conviction, to the highly publicized inquiry into the police investigation, and at every parole board hearing.

Tunnel vision, poor police work

The wrongful conviction of Parsons — and others — exposed deep problems within the Newfoundland and Labrador justice system.

The provincial government apologized to Parsons in 1998, four years after he was convicted, and later compensated him.

In 2006, an inquiry led by Justice Antonio Lamer concluded poor police work and tunnel vision led to the wrongful conviction.

Parsons walks into Supreme Court in 1998 with his wife Tina and young son after DNA evidence cleared him of killing his mother. (CBC)

"The investigation and prosecution of Gregory Parsons became a 'runaway train,' fuelled by tunnel vision and picking up many passengers along the way," Lamer wrote at the time. 

The inquiry, Parsons said, was a farce that lined the pockets of attorneys and brought him little to no closure.

"That only thing beneficial that came out of the inquiry was that Justice Lamar said I was grossly undercompensated and starved out," Parsons said.

"Well, it was good enough for my legal team at the time. I'm rotted."

Prison something 'you'd see at Walt Disney'

Two years ago, Parsons attended Doyle's hearing for short-term release, for medical reasons, family contact, parental responsibilities, rehabilitation, community service and administrative purposes.

Parsons gave an impassioned victim impact statement but the parole board granted Doyle escorted temporary absences for a three-month term so he could attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in Victoria.

The board said it was the first step in reintegration for Doyle, who a prison psychiatrist says is a moderate risk to reoffend.

Parsons is infuriated that Doyle has been housed at the William Head Institution, a minimum-security prison with an ocean view in the Victoria area.

Victims of crime have criticized the prison setting, often referring to it as "Club Fed" and comparing it to a resort.

"It's something you'd see at Walt Disney," Parsons said.

"I'm sick to death that that despicable human being is living the life. This is ridiculous. This is not justice."

Doyle is serving his time at William Head Institution near Victoria. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Doyle was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years, ending in 2021, for second-degree murder.

The fact Doyle allowed his former childhood friend to sit in prison for a crime he committed is not given enough consideration, Parsons said.

"If that's not first-degree murder, nothing is," he said.

"These steps are happening so quick. If he gets day parole this year, he would be out next year."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.