Man convicted in death of Laura Jessome denied new trial
'Based on the evidence before me, Mr. McNeil got what he bargained for,' says judge
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has denied a new trial for a man convicted in a high-profile killing in Cape Breton.
Morgan James McNeil pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Laura Jessome, who was strangled to death in May 2012.
McNeil entered his guilty plea in September 2016 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
He and another man, Thomas Barrett, had both been charged with second-degree murder in Jessome's death.
But because Barrett was unable to obtain a lawyer in time, the trial went ahead with McNeil as the only defendant. On the first day of the trial, he entered his guilty plea.
In an agreed statement of facts entered at the time of his plea, the court heard how Jessome, Barrett and McNeil were at Barrett's house. The two men were doing drugs.
Jessome left apartment
According to the statement. when Barrett refused to share with Jessome she stormed out of the apartment.
Barrett sent McNeil to retrieve her. When he dragged her back into the apartment, Barrett grabbed Jessome and strangled her to death.
In the statement, the Crown conceded that McNeil didn't cause Jessome's death, but by bringing her back to the apartment he gave Barrett the opportunity to kill her.
McNeil accepted the plea deal on the condition that he did not have to testify against Barrett.
Barrett was finally scheduled to go to trial on a murder charge in August 2017.
But the Crown withdrew the murder charge and Barrett pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact. Barrett admitted only to placing Jessome's body in a hockey bag and dumping it in the Mira River.
It was only when McNeil discovered the deal that Barrett received that he tried to appeal his conviction and sentence. He tried to argue that he was not properly instructed by his lawyer on the consequences of pleading guilty and he felt pressured to enter his plea.
Court says McNeil not pressured
Even though the normal appeal period had elapsed, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal agreed to consider whether to grant an extension in McNeil's case.
In a decision published Friday, the court ruled that it is clear from the evidence that McNeil had no intention of appealing during the normal period and only belatedly tried to get his case reopened when he heard what had happened with Barrett.
The court also found that McNeil was not pressured, or poorly represented, when he decided to plead guilty.
"Based on the evidence before me, Mr. McNeil got what he bargained for," Justice Cindy Bourgeois wrote.