Romeo Phillion, 73, who spent more than 31 years locked up for a crime he says he did not commit, is suing for damages, alleging authorities suppressed evidence of his alibi that could have resulted in an acquittal.
Yesterday, the Windsor, Ontario law firm, Sutts Strosberg LLP, issued a press release advising of the lawsuit seeking damages for Phillion's wrongful conviction. On Nov. 7, 1972, Phillion was convicted on non-capital murder in the death of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Phillion is suing the Attorney General of Ontario, the Ottawa Police Services Board, and John McCombie and Stephen Nadori, two former Ottawa detectives.
On March 5, 2009, after the federal Minister of Justice ordered a review of the case, the Ontario Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and ordered a new trial. A little over a year later, the Crown withdrew the charge, paving the way for Phillion to bring the lawsuit.
The statement of claim alleges Phillion was in Trenton, Ontario prior to the murder and did not have time to go back to Ottawa and kill Roy. It is further alleged that in a police report, police accepted the fact Phillion could not have done the crime and rejected him as a suspect. However, it is alleged that the police and prosecutor suppressed this evidence, did not disclose the report to Phillion's trial lawyer, and "orchestrated" the evidence that supported the conclusion Phillion murdered Roy.
As set out by the Court of Appeal in their 2009 decision, Roy was stabbed to death in an Ottawa apartment building on Aug. 9, 1967. A few days later, Phillion was picked up on another matter and was suspected of the firefighter's murder. Roy's wife had obtained a brief glimpse of the killer and viewed a lineup. She said the man who stabbed her husband looked like Phillion but she wasn't sure. As a result, Phillion was released from custody.
On Jan. 11, 1972, Phillion was arrested by police for the armed robbery of an Ottawa taxi driver. While in the police station, he confessed to killing Roy and signed a confession. About two hours later, he renounced his confession and said he didn't do it. He was charged with murder and convicted 10 months later.
In 1998, while in the penitentiary, Roy was given some documents by his parole officer. One of these was a police report dated April 12, 1968, after Phillion was questioned about the murder the first time, but almost four years before he was charged. The report said that a gas station operator in Trenton had verified Phillion had been there shortly before Roy's murder. The officer who prepared the report concluded Phillion could not have returned to Ottawa in time to kill the firefighter and is not considered a suspect.
After receiving the report, Phillion contacted the Association in the Defense of the Wrongly Convicted who then proceeded to seek a review of the conviction by the Minister of Justice. On June 26, 2003, after the minister ordered a review, Phillion was released on bail pending the Ontario Court of Appeal proceedings.
Not withstanding the alibi, there were witnesses called at trial who placed Phillion in Ottawa at the time of the killing.
The appellate court had three options; dismiss the appeal, quash the conviction and enter a verdict of acquittal, or quash the conviction and order a new trial. The court ordered a new trial because there was evidence that Phillion was in Ottawa at the time, that, if accepted by a jury, could lead to a conviction.
The Crown told the appeal court that due to deaths and the passage of time, they would not proceed with a new trial. The prosecution had three options; stay the proceedings, begin a trial but call no evidence, or withdraw the charge.
The Crown decided to withdraw the charge, the least favourable option to Phillion. He was never acquitted of the murder charge and unlike some other wrongfully convicted persons, he was never exonerated of the crime he spent more than three decades behind bars for.
The allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven.