POLITICS

'Long journey,' says man freed in possible case of wrongful murder conviction

11/24/2014 04:15 EST | Updated 01/23/2015 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia man who was serving a life sentence for stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death walked from court on bail Monday, calling his release "surreal" and his time in the criminal justice system a nightmare.

"It's been a long, terrible journey for me," said Glen Eugene Assoun, who was granted bail after a preliminary review of his case said he may have been wrongfully convicted.

"I am an innocent man. I've always been innocent and I always will be innocent."

Assoun was greeted by applause from his supporters as he left court after 16 years in prison, thanking his lawyers and the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted for pursuing his case.

Walking away from the same building where he was convicted and sentenced was a moment that Assoun reflected on.

"I went through a murder trial by myself. I have a Grade 6 education and I had to defend myself. And it was a nightmare," he said.

"I lost my freedom and my liberty in this building for something I didn't do. And I come here today and I had my liberty restored. It's a great day for me and I'm really overwhelmed right now, to tell you the truth."

Assoun was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in September 1999 for the slaying of Brenda Lee Anne Way.

The federal Justice Department said recently that a preliminary assessment shows there may have been a miscarriage of justice and a more in-depth investigation has been launched into his case. The preliminary assessment has been sealed by the court.

Assoun's lawyer began reviewing the case eight years ago and persuaded the association for the wrongfully convicted to take it on in 2010.

Judge James Chipman of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled Monday that Assoun should be released on a number of conditions including one that requires him to stay with family in an undisclosed province and another that will see him electronically monitored.

Assoun, 59, also has to relinquish his passport, meet with a parole officer weekly, report any intimate relationships he has with women and not contact Way's family.

The Crown agreed with a submission from Assoun's lawyers that he should be released on bail.

In his decision, Chipman said it is apparent that the Crown and defence put a lot of work into crafting a release order for Assoun.

"The court takes comfort in this," Chipman said, adding that he is confident Assoun would surrender himself to authorities if asked to because he has "a significant stake" in the outcome of his proceedings.

Way's partly clothed body was found behind an apartment building in the Halifax area on Nov. 12, 1995. The 28-year-old woman was stabbed six times and her throat was slashed.

Assoun, who was living in British Columbia when he was arrested more than two years later, has always said he was wrongfully convicted of the crime.

"He has not deviated from his assertion of innocence by a hair," Philip Campbell, Assoun's lawyer, said Monday.

Outside court, Campbell said he was struck by the scene that played out in court as Assoun listened to the judge tell him he would be allowed out on bail.

"He was, as you saw, very stoical in court but actually kind of trembling a bit and on the brink of tears. And as I read it at least, extremely grateful when the judge announced that he was going to get out and he was standing there and being addressed directly," he said. "It was quite a moment for me."

In addressing Assoun, Chipman said: "You have steadfastly maintained your innocence in the killing of Brenda Way. I wish you every opportunity as you continue in your quest to clear your name."

Assoun represented himself at his trial after firing his lawyer three days into the court proceedings.

His sentence included a provision that he couldn't apply for parole until he served 18 1/2 years in prison, which meant he would have been eligible to do so in 2016. But Campbell said it was far from certain that he would have been granted parole, given that he has not admitted to the crime.

Crown lawyer Marian Fortune-Stone stressed that the preliminary assessment that indicates there may have been a miscarriage of justice has not been tested in court, but she agreed that Assoun's application for release had merit.

"He has a supportive family, two of whom have invited him to live in their home," Fortune-Stone said. "Mr. Assoun is not a risk to himself or others."

Campbell said it was important for the court to know that the investigation launched by the federal justice minister after it received the preliminary assessment of his case could take years to complete.

When it is complete, federal Justice officials will make a recommendation to the minister, who will then have the option of ordering a new trial or referring the case back to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal if he agrees there has been a miscarriage of justice. In such cases, Kerry Scullion of the Justice Department's Criminal Conviction Review Group has said provincial Crowns rarely go ahead with a new trial if one is ordered, which means the convictions are typically quashed and the accused is presumed innocent.

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