BRIDGEWATER, N.S. — The Crown's case against a young Nova Scotia man accused of killing his mother in 2012 collapsed in court Monday after a judge decided evidence obtained by the RCMP through a so-called Mr. Big sting operation was not admissible.
John Buckley had pleaded not guilty to the crime and was supposed to face a jury trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. But a charge of first-degree murder was dismissed Monday in a Bridgewater, N.S., courtroom after the Crown decided not to call any evidence, saying there was no realistic prospect for conviction.
The Mr. Big technique typically involves undercover officers posing as criminals. Over time, the officers introduce the suspect to a fictitious criminal underworld, but at some point the suspect must cement their loyalty by sharing information about past misdeeds with a crime boss: Mr. Big.
Buckley's lawyer, Patrick MacEwen, said the RCMP adopted a similar approach with his client in 2015 and early 2016.
"It wasn't as much a ploy to reveal a deep, dark secret — it was a situation where police, posing as criminals, told Mr. Buckley that they had information that he was about to be charged ... with his mother's death, and if he confessed to them, they could ensure he would not be charged," MacEwen said in an interview.
"Mr. Buckley had told them all along that he was not involved in his mother's death, but they had indicated that they could only help him if he confessed to his involvement."
The Mr. Big technique has come under intense scrutiny since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2014 that confessions extracted through this type of ruse tends to produce unreliable confessions and must be presumed inadmissible in court unless the Crown can prove certain things.
In a majority decision, the court ruled that prosecutors must prove a Mr. Big confession is admissible by showing it's reliable, and that it won't unfairly prejudice a suspect in court. The Crown must also prove the confession was not obtained through coercion, or was facilitated due to a suspect's mental health or addiction issues.
The decision by the country's highest court prompted the Mounties to review their policies, although they continue to use the technique.
"The courts have found that these types of techniques should be monitored closely, and the Crown has to establish that these confessions are reliable," MacEwen said. "It appears the Crown was unable to do that."
Last Friday, Justice Josh Arnold decided against allowing the jury to hear the results of the RCMP's undercover operation. He did not issue a written decision.
"There was a so-called statement that came from that, which was excluded, as well as a related statement given to the police at the police department," MacEwen said. "There was no other physical evidence connecting Mr. Buckley to the death of his mother."
Buckley was released from custody on Friday.
It was the second time the Crown's case has collapsed in court.
Buckley was initially charged with second-degree murder a week after the body of Victoria Brauns-Buckley was found in her home in Chester Basin, N.S., on March 2, 2012. That case was dropped in December 2012 after the Crown said there wasn't enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
It was never revealed how the 57-year-old woman died.
In April 2016, more than four years after the crime was reported, Buckley was charged with first-degree murder after the RCMP said they had new evidence to present in court.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax