Nova Scotia

Charge dropped against man connected to death of Cape Breton teen

Hayden Laffin was set to stand trial for attempting to obstruct justice in the death of Joneil Hanna, a 17-year-old from North Sydney, N.S. Laffin was the driver who hit Hanna.

Crown says no reasonable prospect of conviction

After a preliminary hearing last March, Hayden Laffin was expected to stand trial for attempting to obstruct justice in the 2018 death of Joneil Hanna. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Nova Scotia Crown prosecutors are dropping the only charges laid in relation to the 2018 death of Cape Breton teen Joneil Hanna.

Hayden Laffin was the driver who hit Hanna on Highway 223 near North Sydney in June 2018. Both had just left an outdoor graduation party at nearby Leitches Creek.

Hanna, 17, was alive when first responders arrived but later died in hospital from his injuries.

Laffin was charged with attempting to obstruct justice after Hanna's death, and the charge went to a preliminary hearing last March. A few months later, a provincial court judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to send Laffin to trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Joneil Hanna, shown with his baby daughter, died at age 17 after being hit by a car in Leitches Creek, Cape Breton. (Gofundme)

But that trial will no longer happen.

Crown attorney Kathryn Pentz said in court Wednesday the Crown had reviewed the transcript from the preliminary hearing and concluded there was no reasonable prospect for conviction.

In an interview after the court appearance, Pentz said a conviction had seemed realistic earlier in the case, but things changed.

"Cases are evolving and evidence evolves," Pentz said. She didn't say what specifically changed in Laffin's case.

Pentz said she conferred with other prosecutors, but ultimately the decision to drop the charges was hers.

Jenn Hanna, standing with her partner outside court Wednesday, said she was shocked to learn the only charge laid in connection to her son's death was being dropped. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

Victim's family shocked

Hanna's mother, Jenn Hanna, said she was broken up by the news. She said Pentz told her last week the charges would be dropped.

"I was in hysterics. I was crying. [It] wasn't the news I was expecting," she told CBC Wednesday.

Jenn Hanna said she's traumatized by her son's death and continues to have nightmares about it. 

Hanna's family is still pursuing a review of the police's handling of events leading up to Hanna's death.

Cape Breton Regional Police were called to the party in Leitches Creek the night of Hanna's death, and Hanna's parents have said they should have conducted a breathalyzer test on Laffin. Police said they didn't have grounds to do so.

Hanna's father, John Parr, filed a complaint under the Police Act over the breathalyzer issue, and over the police's failure to shut down the party. Parr said police neglected their duties, but an investigation by Halifax Regional Police disagreed. HRP investigators issued a report last March, clearing Cape Breton Regional Police of any wrongdoing.

Hearing on police involvment to come

Parr appealed that decision to the province's Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, who forwarded the issue to the review board for a hearing.

Jenn Hanna said she thought police could have prevented her son's death, or at least ensured more charges were laid. She said the justice system failed her son and Laffin.

"None of this should have happened ... Joneil shouldn't have been on the road, Hayden shouldn't have been driving."

The police review board hearing is scheduled for two weeks beginning Sept. 14.

With files from Brent Kelloway