Romeo Phillion timeline

Timeline of Romeo Phillion's conviction and release from prison
Romeo Phillion, pictured here in 2009, spent 31 years in prison for a murder he confessed to and then immediately recanted. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Aug. 9, 1967

Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy is stabbed to death.


Romeo Phillion is convicted of Roy's murder. Though he confessed to the murder while in custody on a robbery charge, Phillion immediately recanted and has maintained his innocence ever since.

Phillion appealed the conviction but to no avail. He has refused to apply for parole, saying it would be an admission of guilt.

When he was later asked why he confessed, Phillion would only say it was all a bad joke that cost him his life.

May 15, 2003

Phillion files an application asking Ottawa to set aside his conviction and order a new trial.

A police report not shown to the defence at the original trial confirms Phillion was stuck at a service station 200 kilometres from Ottawa, in Trenton, Ont., when the crime took place, according to Phillion's lawyer and a group of law students from York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. The group, called "The Innocence Project," also says there's evidence that four Crown witnesses all changed their testimony about when they saw Phillion in Ottawa.

June 2003

Ontario Superior Court Justice David Watt says he is satisfied that he has jurisdiction to rule on Phillion's bail application. However, he says he does not have the power to determine whether the 1972 conviction was justified.

July 21, 2003

The Ontario Superior Court releases 64-year-old Romeo Phillion on $50,000 bail while the federal justice minister investigates whether he was wrongfully convicted. Phillion had been in jail for 31 years. He will live at his sister's home in Mississauga, Ont., while his case is being reviewed.

As a condition of his bail, Justice Watt said Phillion should receive support from the John Howard Society, a prisoners' rights group, and St. Leonard's House, which provides assistance for the reintegration of prisoners into society. "It would be unfair in my mind, unthinkable, to turn loose a person who has been in prison for three decades" without some sort of support, he said.

The review of the case could take as long as a year, according to Phillion's lawyer, James Lockyer. If Phillion's innocence is proven in court, his jail time would make him the longest-serving wrongfully convicted prisoner in Canadian history, says Lockyer.

August 23, 2006

Federal Justice Minister Vic Toews asks the Ontario Court of Appeal for help in determining whether to order a review of Phillion's conviction. Toews requests a ruling on whether expert reports on Phillion's confession and fresh evidence alleging information was suppressed at trial would be admissible if the case were reviewed in an appeal.

January 2008

The Ontario Court of Appeal reopens Phillion's case, seeking testimony from police and lawyers involved in the case. Retired police superintendent John McCombie tells the court he never mentioned Phillion's alibi during the course of Phillion's trial because he was "never asked." McCombie also says he couldn't remember all of the details of Phillion's case.

The Crown prosecutor in the 1972 murder trial, Malcolm Lindsay, denies that he misled Phillion's defence lawyer or suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Phillion. Phillion's former defence lawyer, Arthur Cogan, says he is "saddened and disturbed" that evidence of his former client's innocence may have been withheld.

Cogan says that Phillion's original confession to the crime, which he later recanted, was a desperate bid to protect his gay lover from other charges.

March 5, 2009

The Ontario Court of Appeal orders a new trial for Phillion as the province's top court strikes down his murder conviction. However, the court says in its 2-1 decision that it can not grant the acquittal Phillion seeks.

After the ruling, Ontario's attorney general moves to withdraw the charge instead of seeking the new trial.

Feb. 1, 2010

Phillion is scheduled to ask an Ottawa court to exonerate him instead of having the charges withdrawn.

Lockyer, his lawyer, will argue the court should order Phillion be arraigned so he can plead not guilty and be acquitted.

April 29, 2010

Crown prosecutors withdraw the murder charge, saying there was no longer any reasonable prospect of conviction.

Outside the Ottawa courtroom, Phillion said the presiding judge, in a statement following the Crown's withdrawal of charges, gave him a good birthday present.

"I got an apology from the judge, which was a gift today. I was not expecting that," he said.