Shocked members of a dead Lethbridge woman’s family say they have lost faith in the justice system after the man convicted in her death was granted a new trial by the Alberta Court of Appeals Monday.
The accused, 40, was sentenced to four years in prison in May 1995 for impaired driving causing the death of the victim. He has been free pending the appeal.
The victim, 28 and five months pregnant, was killed Aug. 28, 1993 at the intersection of 5 Avenue North and 23 Street when the vehicle she was driving was in collision with a truck.
At the trial, the accused was deemed to have been the driver. He was also convicted of criminal negligence causing death and impaired driving.
But three justices of the Alberta Court of Appeals granted the accused a new trial based on what they cited as an error at the original Queen’s Bench trial by Mr. Justice Vaughn Hembroff.
The justices said Hembroff “erred in refusing to permit defence counsel to cross-examine a witness,” according to defence lawyer Patrick Fagan of Calgary.
Fagan said the decision means the convictions against the accused are vacated and he is presumed innocent.
Family members said Monday they are left with a prolonged sense of loss and a belief the justice system is seriously flawed.
“When two people can get in a truck that drunk and do what they did and kill someone and then just walk around like nothing happened, scot free, something’s wrong,” said the victim’s husband Sean. “The truck wasn’t driving itself.
“Now I know why they call it criminal justice because the only justice is for the criminal.”
Gerry Bjerke, the victim’s father is equally disappointed with the decision.
“It’s been just about three years now, there have been three Christmases without her and not knowing and now we have to suffer through this again.”
Goran Tomljanovic of the Attorney General’s appeal branch said the case has been ordered back to Lethbridge for a new trial. The decision to pursue the case is ultimately left to Lethbridge prosecutors.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow – but they will take the steps to get the trial on again.”
Crown prosecutor Bob Coleman, who handled the original case, was not available for comment.
The appeal decision centered on witness Antonio Long Time Squirrel who – admitted he was in the accused vehicle at the time of the accident.
Evidence presented in a voir dire – a trial within a trial in which a judge must determine the admissibility of evidence – showed Long Time Squirrel had initially made a statement to police indicating he was the driver at the time of the accident.
But at the trial, he testified he was drunk and didn’t recall much of the evening’s events until he awoke in hospital.
Hembroff ruled statements made by Long Time Squirrel the night of the accident were inconsistent with statements made at trial and did not allow them into evidence.