Nova Scotia

How a key witness in Glen Assoun murder case changed her story

A key witness in Glen Assoun's murder trial changed her story years later. Assoun was exonerated for the murder of Way earlier this year.

Woman testified about an encounter she had around the time of Brenda Way's murder

Glen Assoun, right, and his lawyer speak outside of a Halifax courtroom earlier this month. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The woman in the video is covered in scratches and scars. She would say later they were the result of a violent encounter with a man.

It is November 2010 and the woman is being questioned about her part in the murder trial of Glen Assoun.

One of Assoun's lawyers, Sean MacDonald, has tracked her down to question her about why she initially told police that Assoun was the one who killed his former girlfriend, Brenda Way.

Assoun spent 17 years in prison for killing Way, but was exonerated earlier this year following a review by the Criminal Conviction Review Group in the federal Justice Department.

The woman's testimony was key to convincing the jury at his second-degree murder trial that Assoun was the killer.

The woman, who, like Way, worked as a prostitute, testified about an encounter she had around the time of Way's murder.

She got in a truck with a man who assaulted and sexually assaulted her. She said that during the attack the man told her he'd killed "Pitbull," which was a nickname sometimes applied to Way.

The woman said she identified Assoun after seeing his mugshot in a TV news report on Way's murder. Way's body was found behind an apartment building in north-end Dartmouth in November 1995.

Assoun represented himself for much of his trial and sparred with the woman during her time on the stand.

Mark Green, an investigator with the federal Justice Department who reviewed Assoun's case, observed that Assoun's conduct in that cross-examination probably served to alienate both the witness and the jury.

Woman had doubts

But the woman would later say she had doubts that Assoun was her attacker as early as when she was in the courtroom.

"He didn't match up," she told Green in an interview in 2014. "He wasn't the same height. He was shorter, actually. He wasn't as big as I remember."

Despite her misgivings, she didn't voice her concerns.

"I just thought the cops knew what they were doing and had the right guy," she told Green.

The woman said police arrested her for public intoxication and she said they told her they wouldn't release her unless she talked.

During her interrogation, she said she was shown a most-wanted video of Assoun before she ever gave a statement.

The video mentioned Assoun by name and linked him to Way's killing. She said police never showed her pictures of any other possible suspects.

Appeals exhausted by 2010

By 2010 when MacDonald questions the woman, Assoun has exhausted all avenues of appeal in his case.

MacDonald is with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, later renamed Innocence Canada. MacDonald was part of the team trying to convince the federal justice minister to overturn Assoun's conviction.

In her interview with MacDonald, the woman is restless and squirming. At several points she says she doesn't remember.

But she has a clear recollection of what police were telling her after her first arrest.

"If I didn't say anything I could be seeing myself in that cell a lot longer," she said.

Following her interview with MacDonald, the woman swears a new affidavit, laying out her revised position on the man who attacked her.

As the Justice Department review got underway in 2014, Green would do an audio interview with the woman to review her original testimony and what she had told MacDonald four years before.

Interviews in July 12 release of material

Both interviews were contained in the bundle of material released by the court on July 12, after Assoun was exonerated.

"I just think it's not fair that he's sitting in there," the woman told Green at the conclusion of their interview.

"I just hope nothing comes back on me for taking this long."

Halifax Regional Police released a statement on July 12 which said because of the possibility of future legal action in the Assoun matter, they would have no further comment.