A newly released federal report reveals the RCMP deleted documents that linked other suspects — including a serial killer — to the killing at the centre of a high-profile wrongful conviction case.
The bundle of documents released by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge Friday were instrumental in overturning the murder conviction of Glen Assoun, who spent nearly 17 years behind bars.
They were unsealed following an application by CBC News, The Canadian Press and the Halifax Examiner.
A preliminary assessment compiled by Justice Department investigator Mark Green said former RCMP Const. David Moore told him during an interview that he uncovered three other “strong suspects” in the 1995 killing of Brenda Way in Dartmouth, N.S.
The suspects included notorious serial killer Michael Wayne McGray and another man named Avery Greenough, who has a history of committing vicious sexual assaults.
Moore was part of a special analysis division called ViCLAS in the early 2000s, and said he attempted to share the information he uncovered about the Way case to others, including Assoun’s defence lawyers.
Moore told the federal investigator that the unit’s findings were not routinely shared with the court. The RCMP’s policy was that it was not necessary to share such work “since all of the information that the analysis was based on was otherwise available from other sources.”
“Moore says his superiors … told him he was wasting his time. They told Moore that the matter had been decided by the Supreme Court and it was not worth pursuing,” the report said.
“Despite being told to stop working on the Way murder, Moore felt compelled to carry on as he believed there was a strong possibility that [Assoun] had been wrongfully convicted.”
He then took his concerns to the head of the RCMP’s major crimes section and was asked to put together more information.
Moore was heading on vacation, but intended to do so when he returned. When he came back from his holiday, he had been transferred out of the unit. He wasn’t given a reason why.
Then his work on the Way murder disappeared. He alleged it was intentionally destroyed.
Assoun’s appeal lawyer, Jerome Kennedy, told the federal investigator that he had requested any information about other suspects in the case, including McGray.
“Kennedy maintains that the only response he received was [a memo] that clearly indicated McGray was not considered a suspect,” the report said.
On Friday, the RCMP admitted that pages went missing from RCMP booklets that related to the killing.
The Mounties said they conducted an investigation in 2014 and found that worksheets had been deleted in 2004.
RCMP Insp. Lynn Young said Friday the files were erased against policy, but maintained it was not done with malicious intent.
“If anything has been done, it has not been intentional, or it was a mistake,” Young said during a news conference in Halifax.
“But there has been no intention for the RCMP in any way to try and do a coverup.”
Asked about Moore’s claim that he brought his findings to his superiors at the RCMP, Young said: “We have not been able to confirm or deny that.”
In a statement, Moore apologized to Assoun and said the system has too few “checks and balances.”
“The [Justice Department], instead of assisting in full disclosure, did everything in its power to destroy, hide and conceal the truth,” Moore, who is no longer a member of the RCMP, told CBC News in an email.
“The cruelty, dishonesty, corruption and continued coverup makes me want to vomit.”
The provincial Justice Department declined to comment Friday.
The report also revealed that a man named Michael Hebert and McGray were in prison together when McGray slipped Hebert a note that told him details about crimes he committed.
A host of new information
It said Hebert told investigators that McGray said he “murdered a prostitute that lived close to him in Dartmouth and that he slit her throat.”
“He said he dropped her body at the back of his building and that the police found the body in a dumpster,” the document said.
McGray is currently in prison in Quebec, where he is serving seven life sentences for multiple murders. He is not eligible to apply for parole for another 18 years.
In his conclusion, Green said there was “a host of new information suggesting links between Michael McGray as well as other suspects, and the murder of Brenda Way.”
“I am of the view that on the basis of all this new and significant information… there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in your case,” he wrote.
Way’s body was discovered behind an apartment building on Albro Lake Road in Dartmouth, N.S., on Nov. 12, 1995. The 28-year-old had been stabbed multiple times and her throat slashed.
Suspicion immediately fell on her former boyfriend, Assoun, now 63. He was charged, convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
‘She was a kind person’
His appeal was rejected by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his case.
Assoun maintained his innocence during his nearly 17 years behind bars. He managed to persuade lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted — a group later renamed Innocence Canada — to get involved.
That group then persuaded the federal Justice Department to take another look at the case. What investigators for the department found prompted Justice Minister David Lametti to overturn Assoun’s conviction earlier this year.
Brenda Way’s son, Robert Renner, said he doesn’t remember a lot about his mom because he was seven when she was killed. He said his mom had a tough life.
“I didn’t get to know her,” said Renner, 30, in an interview from his home Friday. “But I remember that she was a kind person and she loved her kids.”
‘It’s destroyed my life’
Outside court on Friday, Assoun said he remains angry, but is trying to move beyond those feelings.
“It’s been 21 years and it’s destroyed my life. The time gone is time I’ll never get back,” he said.
Assoun has called for a public inquiry into his case.
In handing down his decision, Justice James Chipman said the public deserved to know the information in the documents.
“Mr. Assoun must be able to tell a story,” said Chipman. “The media must be able to report on why the minister made his decision.”
Timeline: The murder of Brenda LeAnne Way
Nov. 12, 1995: Brenda LeAnne Way’s body is found at an apartment building at 109 Albro Lake Rd. in Dartmouth, N.S. She had been stabbed several times and her throat was cut.
March 25, 1998: Glen Eugene Assoun is charged with first-degree murder.
June 1, 1999: Assoun’s trial begins. Three days later, he fires his lawyer, Don Murray.
June 7, 1999: Assoun requests mistrial. Request denied. The trial is subsequently adjourned to Aug. 23, 1999. On that date, Assoun tells judge he will represent himself.
Sept. 17, 1999: Assoun is convicted of second-degree murder.
Oct. 13, 1999: Assoun files a notice of appeal.
Jan. 17, 2006: Nova Scotia Court of Appeal hears Assoun appeal. On April 20, the Court of Appeal rejects his appeal.
June 19, 2006: Assoun applies to the Supreme Court of Canada. Later that year, the Supreme Court of Canada says it will not hear Assoun’s appeal.
Sept. 23, 2010: Lawyers with Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (later renamed Innocence Canada) agree to take on Assoun’s case.
April 18, 2013: Innocence Canada applies for a ministerial review of the Assoun case through the Criminal Conviction Review Group (CCRG) within the federal Justice Department.
Aug. 19, 2014: CCRG releases preliminary report to Assoun and N.S. Public Prosecution Service on condition information is not released.
Sept. 26, 2014: Attorney General of Canada applies for sealing order and publication ban on material gathered by CCRG.
Sept. 29, 2014: Media informed of application for publication ban. CBC seeks intervenor status to oppose ban and request for sealing order.
Oct. 14, 2014: Judge grants ban and sealing order.
Nov. 24, 2014: Assoun applies for bail while his case is reviewed. Bail granted. Assoun required to live in B.C.
Nov 24, 2017: Assoun applies for permission to alter bail conditions to allow him to return to live in Nova Scotia. Permission granted.
Feb. 28, 2019: Newly appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti overturns Assoun’s conviction, orders a new trial.
Mar. 1, 2019: N.S. Prosecution Service opts not to pursue second trial and the charges are dropped. Assoun is a free man.
Mar. 7. 2019: CBC begins process to request that sealing order and publication ban be lifted. The Halifax Examiner and The Canadian Press join in this action.
July 2, 2019: Justice James Chipman agrees to media request, sets July 12 for release of documents.