Nova Scotia

Shelburne man, wrongly convicted of wife's murder, dies

Clayton Johnson, who spent five years in prison wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife, has died.

Clayton Johnson died on Sept. 20 after an unspecified illness

Clayton Johnson, flanked by his daughters Dawn, left, and Darla, stands outside Nova Scotia Appeal Court in Halifax on Monday, Feb.18, 2002. The court overturned Johnson's 1993 murder conviction in the death of his wife and ordered a new trial. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Clayton Johnson, who spent five years in prison wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife, has died.

Johnson was a former teacher and carpenter. He died last week at the age of 71, according to an obituary posted on the website for H.M. Huskilson's Funeral Homes and Crematorium Ltd. 

Johnson's wife, Janice, died after a fall down the stairs in the family home in 1989. Johnson was accused of beating her to death, was convicted of murder in 1993 and was sent to prison. 

He maintained he was innocent throughout.

The road to freedom

He appealed his conviction, but in 1994 the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal refused to overturn it. A year later, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to the hear the case.

Things started to turn around for Johnson in 1998 when he and the Association in the Defence of the Wrongly Convicted submitted an application to Canada's Department of Justice to revisit the case. On the same day, the CBC program The Fifth Estate aired an investigative documentary on Johnson's conviction.   

Release from prison 

By September of 1998, Johnson was freed after several pathologists concluded his wife's death was the result of a freak accidental fall that resulted in massive fatal head injuries.

Clayton Johnson and his daughter Darla head from Nova Scotia Appeal Court in Halifax in 2002. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

However, it took until Feb. 18, 2002, for the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to overturn the original conviction and order a new trial. There was never a new trial and Johnson was a free man.

Johnson then launched a lawsuit against the provincial government to claim damages for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. He was awarded $2.5 million in compensation. 

Life after prison

Once out of prison, Johnson ran a contracting business until he retired. His obituary said he had a passion for woodworking and carpentry.

Johnson is survived by his daughters and grandchildren. His obituary states the was a kind, loving and compassionate man who had a deep faith in God. It also said he enjoyed spending time with family and friends, sharing laughs, playing cards and watching baseball. 

The obituary said Johnson suffered from an illness before he died, but didn't say what that illness was.

A funeral for Johnson will be held at H.M. Huskilson's Funeral Home in Shelburne on Saturday at 2 p.m.