Supreme Court to decide if man convicted in Reita Jordan murder should be tried again

The case of a Nova Scotia man who admitted to burning the body of Reita Louise Jordan, but not to killing her, landed at the country's top court on Monday.

Paul Trevor Calnen was convicted of 2nd-degree murder in woman's 2013 death

Paul Trevor Calnen is accused of killing Reita Louise Jordan in 2013. (CBC)

The case of a Nova Scotia man who admitted to burning the body of Reita Louise Jordan, but not to killing her, landed at the country's top court on Monday.

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on whether Paul Trevor Calnen should be put on trial for a second time on a charge of second-degree murder. The court reserved its decision.

Nothing about the case has been straightforward.

Jordan — who lived with Calnen in his home in Hammonds Plains, N.S. — disappeared on March 18, 2013. Depending on which version you believe, she was either his girlfriend or someone who lived in the basement.

A day after she was last heard from, a friend contacted police about Jordan's disappearance. Jordan's family also contacted police and a missing person's investigation was opened.

When Calnen was first questioned, he denied knowing anything about her whereabouts and denied they were in a relationship.

Police interrogation

The missing person's case eventually became a homicide investigation.

Calnen was arrested and brought in for questioning. Toward the end of the interrogation, police brought Jordan's mother, Donna, into the interrogation room. She hugged Calnen and begged him to provide the family with closure.

At that point, according to his lawyer's brief for the Supreme Court hearing, Calnen broke down and said Jordan's ashes were in a lake by her parents' cottage in Sherbrooke.

Calnen would eventually paint a disturbing picture of what happened to Jordan. While he never admitted to killing her, he outlined a series of moves he made after she died.

He said he placed her body in his pickup truck and drove her to Ingramport, N.S., leaving her remains in the woods. Calnen claimed he was using crack cocaine during this period and was panicking.

Reita Jordan was last seen in March 2013. She was 34. (Amy Jordan)

Calnen told police he didn't think the hiding place in Ingramport was good enough, so he moved Jordan next to a wooded area in Musquodoboit, where he built a large fire to burn her remains. Still not satisfied, Calnen brought the charred remains back to his home in Hammonds Plains, where he set yet another fire.

Calnen then took the ashes and disposed of them in the lake in Sherbrooke. Police searched the three areas he described. They found some of Jordan's personal effects in the woods in Ingramport, nothing related to the case in Musquodoboit, and ashes and bone fragments at the lake in Sherbrooke.

After initially denying he was even home when Jordan disappeared, Calnen eventually admitted they had argued and she became violent. He said she took a swing at him and missed, lost her balance and fell down the stairs to her death.

His lawyer, Peter Planetta, insisted in court documents that there was no evidence to disprove Calnen's version of what happened in his home.

Convicted of murder

Calnen was charged with second-degree murder and indecently interfering with Jordan's remains.

He went on trial in November 2015 before Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

At the start of the jury trial, Calnen pleaded guilty to the charge of indecently interfering with human remains, meaning the trial was only going to be about whether Calnen caused Jordan's death.

Calnen is escorted during one of his court appearances. (CBC)

At the conclusion of the Crown's case, Planetta said the Crown had failed to prove a case for murder and argued jurors should be directed to only consider the lesser charge of manslaughter in their deliberations.

Justice James Chipman rejected that idea.

Calnen was found guilty of second-degree murder on Nov. 22, 2015 — a conviction that carries an automatic life sentence.

Appeal Court judges divided

Calnen appealed.

His lawyer argued the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jurors on how they were to deal with evidence of Calnen's behaviour after Jordan died. Planetta argued that the fact Calnen burned Jordan's body and disposed of her remains is not proof that he killed her.

Last June, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal released its decision. Two of the three judges who heard the case sided with Calnen. They ruled the trial judge should have directed the jurors to only consider manslaughter in their deliberations and ordered a new trial on a manslaughter charge.

Jordan's father Warren wore a T-shirt with his daughter's face on it during one of Calnen's many court appearances. (CBC)

But there was a catch. Chief Justice Michael MacDonald disagreed with the other two judges on the panel.

He felt the trial judge's decision was correct. That split decision gave the Crown an automatic right to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Crown has asked the country's highest court to overturn the Court of Appeal decision or, failing that, order a new trial on the murder charge.

Planetta's response was to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to order a new trial only on a charge of manslaughter.

About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 34 years, the last 25 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety.