New trial in teen's death to be contested
WINNIPEG - Canada's highest court will hear arguments over a new trial that was ordered for a man convicted of tying up a Manitoba teenager and leaving her to freeze to death in a storage shed 30 years ago.
In October, the Manitoba Court of Appeal ordered the trial for Mark Grant in the 1984 death of Candace Derksen. The court said the original judge didn't consider some evidence in the 2011 trial that could cast doubt on Grant's guilt.
The Supreme Court of Canada has now granted Manitoba prosecutors leave to appeal that decision.
"Guess What? My prediction was correct," Cliff Derksen, the teen's father, wrote on Twitter shortly after the ruling was released Thursday. "Our case is going to the Supreme Court! Wow."
The news was bittersweet for Wilma Derksen, the victim's mother.
The Supreme Court hearing is an opportunity to explore some issues of national significance around DNA that arose at the trial and is better than immediately going to a new trial, she said.
"We're feeling a relief because the thought of it going to a retrial is just very disappointing," Derksen said. "It had been a good trial and to have it overturned was just a shock and didn't do it justice."
But the hearing also means the continuation of a nightmare that began three decades ago with their daughter's death.
Derksen was 13 when she disappeared on her way home from school in November 1984. Her body was found six weeks later, bound and frozen, in a storage shed not far from her Winnipeg home. Grant wasn't charged until 2007 after numerous tests on a piece of twine used to bind the teen.
Those details are hard to revisit once again, Derksen said.
"We go through the sadness again that it isn't over," she said. "We as a family remain in kind of a public conversation, which is tough sometimes. We are looking at the positive that ... something good might come out of all of this. That's been our wish from the beginning."
Grant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in 2011 to life with no parole eligibility for at least 25 years. He has repeatedly denied killing Derksen.
His lawyer Saul Simmonds said he will continue to "vigorously defend" Grant who "maintains his innocence."
"In light of the new DNA evidence in the hands of the Crown, which we feel exonerates him, in conjunction with the evidence that is (the) subject of this appeal, the continuation of this prosecution is disturbing," Simmonds said in an emailed statement.
The Crown declined to comment since the case is an "ongoing matter."
Simmonds appealed Grant's 2011 conviction by arguing that the trial judge was wrong to deny the lawyer right to present evidence that Derksen might have been killed by someone else. Another girl had been abducted in a similar fashion nine months after Derksen's death when Grant was in custody.
Two experts also came forward during the appeal and threw doubt on the reliability of the DNA evidence which helped convict Grant.
"It seems to me that this evidence, which I view as very relevant, could provide the basis upon which a reasonable, properly instructed jury could acquit," Justice Michel Monnin wrote on behalf of the three-member Appeal Court panel last fall.
"The exclusion of the evidence denied the accused the opportunity of placing before the jury the full answer he wanted to make."
After the ruling, the Crown had the choice to ask leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, go ahead with a new trial or drop the case. Manitoba filed a notice of appeal in December saying prosecutors would argue that the move to overturn Grant's conviction and order a retrial was a legal error.