Glen Eugene Assoun granted bail as murder conviction reviewed
Man serves 16 years for killing ex, but conviction could have been a miscarriage of justice
Glen Eugene Assoun trembled on the brink of tears Monday as a judge granted him bail after serving more than 16 years behind bars for a murder he and his lawyers say he didn't commit.
The Nova Scotia man was given a life sentence for killing his former girlfriend 19 years ago, but federal government officials are now probing a possible miscarriage of justice in the case.
“I’m an innocent man,” Assoun said outside court. “I lost my freedom and my liberty in this building for something I didn’t do. I came here today and I had my liberty restored. It’s a great day for me.”
Assoun, 59, was accompanied in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax by three lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted — Philip Campbell, Sean MacDonald and James Lockyer.
It's a good day because an innocent man has been allowed to walk out of prison.- Sean MacDonald, defence lawyer
Campbell told reporters outside court that the evidence for the conviction was “insubstantial and deeply flawed.”
“It is more than one thing, and a lot of different things, converging on what we view as a conclusion of Glen Assoun’s innocence,” he said.
“One of the things that the evidence establishes is a reasonable basis for concluding that there was collusion among witnesses who were thought to be independent," MacDonald said.
“It’s a good day because an innocent man has been allowed to walk out of prison," he said, noting that Assoun has grandchildren he's never met. "It's been a horrific time for him in jail."
Lockyer said the case always had the "odour of a wrongful conviction."
"The criminal justice [system] screws up sometimes, and it screws up more often than people would like to believe," Lockyer said.
Family members post surety
Justice James Chipman ordered Assoun's release from custody while his conviction is investigated by federal officials and reviewed by the federal minister of justice.
Conditions for Assoun's release include a ban on drinking alcohol. He must abide by a curfew and live with a family member, but he won't be living in Nova Scotia. Two family members agreed to post $200,000 as surety.
He's not allowed to own or carry any weapons and is not allowed to contact any members of the family of his ex, Brenda Way, or witnesses in the case.
Crown lawyer Marian Fortune-Stone stressed that the preliminary assessment that indicates there may have been a miscarriage of justice has not been tested in court, but she agreed that Assoun's application for release had merit.
"He has a supportive family, two of whom have invited him to live in their home," Fortune-Stone said. "Mr. Assoun is not a risk to himself or others."
Violent 1995 slaying of Brenda Way
Assoun was found guilty in 1999 of second-degree murder in Way's death. The 28-year-old woman's body was discovered in November 1995 behind a Dartmouth apartment building. Her throat was slashed and she had been badly beaten.
Way, a former prostitute, was cleaning up her life and living with her father when someone killed her, according to family members.
A bail hearing for Assoun had been scheduled for five days this week, but both Crown and defence lawyers agreed he should be released.
Assoun looks considerably different from footage taken 16 years ago following his arrest. He is now clean shaven, and wore a collared shirt and plaid V-neck sweater for his court appearance Monday.
Assoun has always maintained his innocence. Recently, a federal Department of Justice lawyer took a fresh look at the case and suggested there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
A preliminary review of the case was completed by the Justice Department's criminal conviction review group in August.
The author of that review, lawyer Mark Green, wrote: "The report is comprised of a detailed review of the case and my preliminary findings that there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred."
The review was sealed and details about its contents are banned from publication.
Dartmouth lawyer Don Murray represented Assoun during his preliminary inquiry and the early stages of his 1999 trial. Assoun then fired Murray and represented himself during the jury trial.
Following his conviction, Assoun was given an automatic life sentence and was ordered to serve 18.5 years behind bars before being eligible for parole.
His sentence included a provision that he couldn't apply for parole until he served 18 1/2 years in prison, which meant he would have been eligible to do so in 2016. But Campbell said it was far from certain that he would have been granted parole, given that he has not admitted to the crime.
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With files from The Canadian Press