Winnipeg Free Press


Ex-prosecutor's cases questioned
Judge to review whether several of George Dangerfield's most famous cases were actually miscarriages of justice

Thu Jun 21 2007

By Dan Lett

AN experienced Ontario judge who is one of Canada's most respected legal scholars has been retained to review the cases of former top Manitoba prosecutor George Dangerfield.

The Hon. Roger Salhany, former justice of the Ontario Court (general division), is expected to begin work this summer reviewing a number of Dangerfield's cases where the person convicted has continued to claim innocence.

Salhany has written many of the most popular legal textbooks now in use in law schools across Canada, and is considered an expert on most aspects of criminal justice including cross examination, evidence and police interrogations.

There has been intense scrutiny of cases handled by Dangerfield, who until his retirement was considered the most formidable prosecutor toiling for Manitoba Justice.

Since his retirement, however, he has been dogged by allegations that some of his most famous cases were miscarriages of justice. He was at the helm of two confirmed wrongful convictions: James Driskell and Thomas Sophonow. In both cases, judicial inquiries determined that Dangerfield committed errors, and failed in his duty to disclose relevant evidence to the defence.

In its response to the inquiry report on the Driskell wrongful conviction, which was released in February, the province agreed to an external review of any other of Dangerfield's cases where the person convicted continued to claim innocence.

The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) strongly recommended such a review, suggesting there could be as many as 12 more of Dangerfield's cases that required a second look. Sources within Manitoba Justice indicate AIDWYC will be involved in the review of Dangerfield's other cases.

What is not clear at this point is what will come of Salhany's review. Manitoba Justice has been rigorous in insisting any convict claiming innocence appeal his or her case to the federal justice minister under Sec. 696 of the Criminal Code. It is unknown whether the province will act immediately to review a case flagged by Salhany, or just continue to refer the person claiming innocence to Ottawa.

The Driskell inquiry report, written by commissioner Patrick LeSage, found that the work of a number of prosecutors, including Dangerfield, "fell below then existing professional standards expected of lawyers and agents of the attorney general."

LeSage found that Dangerfield failed to fully inform himself about compensation negotiations with a key Crown witness, and that Dangerfield had enough information to know that the witness committed perjury when he denied receiving anything in exchange for his testimony.

In the Sophonow case, the inquiry found similar issues with Dangerfield's conduct. Inquiry Commissioner Peter Cory, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, found that Dangerfield and his co-counsel Greg Lawlor failed to disclose evidence that would have shaken testimony from a Crown witness.

"This was a serious error on the part of the Crown," Cory wrote in 2001. "The error contributed significantly to the wrongful conviction of (Sophonow)."

Cases prosecuted by George Dangerfield that have been overturned or are being reviewed as possible wrongful convictions.

Thomas Sophonow was convicted and imprisoned for the 1981 murder of store clerk Barbara Stoppel. He was acquitted on appeal in 1985 but not exonerated until 2000, when DNA tests excluded him as the killer.

A 2001 judicial inquiry concluded that police and prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have affected the outcome of the trial. Sophonow was later awarded $2.3 million in compensation from the province and city.

James Driskell was convicted in the 1991 murder of his friend Perry Dean Harder. DNA tests eliminated hair evidence used to convict Driskell. As well, police and prosecutors failed to disclose that a key Crown witness received compensation in exchange for his testimony.

A judicial inquiry released this year concluded Driskell was a victim of wrongful conviction. He is expected to receive financial compensation.

Kyle Unger, along with co-accused Timothy Houlahan, was convicted of the brutal 1990 murder of Brigitte Grenier. Post-conviction DNA tests eliminated hair evidence used at his original trial and his lawyers are arguing that police tactics produced a false confession.

Unger is currently free on bail awaiting the results of a review of his case by the federal Justice Department.

Frank Ostrowski was convicted of killing a police informant in 1986. AIDWYC has uncovered new evidence suggesting he did not get a fair trial. He is currently still in custody while preparing an application to have his case reviewed by the federal Justice Department.

John Waluk was convicted of the brutal 1987 murders of a Winnipeg mother and her two children, but has always maintained his innocence. Waluk believes he was wrongly convicted by a Crown witness who received a break on drug charges in exchange for perjured testimony.

Robert Sanderson was one of three men charged with beating and stabbing to death three men in 1996. Post-conviction DNA tests eliminated hair evidence used to convict Sanderson. Another co-accused in the case, Roger Sanderson (no relation) was acquitted last year at a third trial.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca


Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice