Blair's wife asks Bermudian court to reopen case of slain Canadian

The wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged a Bermudian court Monday to reopen the investigation into the 1996 slaying of a Canadian teenager, arguing that authorities bungled prosecutions of two suspects.

The wife of BritishPrime Minister Tony Blair urged a Bermudian court Monday to reopen the investigation into the 1996 slaying of a Canadian teenager, arguing that authorities bungled prosecutions of two suspects.

Cherie Booth, the lead lawyer for the girl's family at a judicial review, added star power to a case that has generated international criticism of courts in the British territory for failing to convict someone of killing Rebecca Middleton.

The 17-year-old from Belleville, Ont., was vacationing in the wealthy island enclave in July 1996 when she was raped, stabbed and had her throat slit.

At the start of a two-day Supreme Court hearing, Booth argued that the murder charge against one suspect was wrongly dismissed and that another suspect, who received a five-year prison sentence as an accessory to the crime, should have faced a more serious charge.

"Astonishingly, this is the only sentence either man has served for this hideous crime," said Booth, a human rights specialist. "They've expressed no remorse for the fact that Rebecca was abused, dehumanized and killed."

James Guthrie, a lawyer for the prosecutor's office, said Middleton's family suffered "great injustice," but it would be illegal to reopen the case against the two men.

New evidence

The family pressed for the case to be renewed after Bermuda's top prosecutor, Vinette Graham-Allen, decided last year not to consider new charges against two suspects despite the emergence of new forensic evidence.

According to an autopsy, Middleton had been raped and stabbed more than 30 times. Shehad beenon vacation in the island country with a friend to celebrate her birthday.

David Middleton, her father, told CBC News the criminal case was bungled and he hopes the review will lead to a reopening of the case. But he said he would like it examined from a human rights point of view.

"We would like to have the director of public prosecution revisit the case and look at it from a different point of view. The criminal prosecution part failed," he said from Hamilton, Bermuda, Monday.

"Becky's human rights were violated and we think it should be looked at and appropriate charges laid."

Middleton said the human rights violations against his daughter include kidnapping, rape and assault. "Those are serious charges and carry substantial penalties," he said.

Police arrested two men in connection with the killing. One, Kirk Mundy, made a deal with the attorney general at the time and testified against the other, Justis Smith, in exchange for pleading guilty to being an accessory to the crime and receiving a five-year sentence.

Police charged Smith in the killing. DNA evidence could only put him at the scene of the crime and he was acquitted of murder in 1998. A judge dismissed the case because of a lack of evidence.

Britain's Privy Council ruled that Smith could not be retried for murder because it said he could not be put on trial twice for the same crime.

Bermuda'sdirectorof public prosecutionsdecided not to reinvestigate the death, but the Middletons sought a judicial review of the decision and asked that the evidence be revisited to lay new charges.

'Work within the system'

Last November, Bermuda's chief justice decided to allow a review of the decision.

Middleton said it is important for Bermuda, not just for his family, that justice is seen to be done in the case.

"We want to work within the system and to show that the legal system here works. We have already seen quite clearly that it failed. Now, what we would like to do is say, well, they can do better and make it work," he said.

"If it's done right, it will be good for the future of the island and for others. The potential could be headed off so it doesn't happen again."

Middleton saidjustice would help to bring closure for the family.

He added Booth, who has expertise in the area of human rights law,has drawn international attention to the review.

A decisionis expected in May.

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press