Appeal panel agrees to let Nelson Hart have new lawyer, evidence package
He’s fired numerous lawyers, has often been non-responsive and disruptive during court proceedings and has refused to show up several times.
Yet Nelson Hart insists he’s not intentionally trying to delay his appeal.
“Some of you guys think I’m trying to prolong this,” Hart told a Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal panel in St. John’s Monday. “I’m not trying to prolong this.”
Hart is serving a life sentence for two counts of first-degree murder for the 2002 drownings of his twin three-year-old daughters.
He was convicted in 2007.
After five years of legal wrangling trying to get the appeal underway, arguments were supposed to be heard Monday.
However, Hart — appearing via videolink from the Atlantic Institutition in Renous, N.B., — told the three judges that before his appeal can go ahead, he wants a new lawyer, as well as the entire court information package of his case delivered to him.
“I’ve been locked up for six years and not given disclosure,” Hart said.
“It’s frustrating. I just want to get on with this case and have it done and over.”
When the case was called last week, Hart’s latest lawyer, Rosellen Sullivan, was relieved of her duties after he requested in April that she be taken off his case.
Hart didn’t show up for those proceedings.
He got to have his say on Monday.
And he had plenty to say about what he believes are injustices done to him since the case started.
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While Hart talked briefly about the RCMP sting that ultimately led to his arrest, and about being in segregation in prison, his biggest beef was the fact that neither of his lawyers had given him the information on his case.
He told the panel that if he had all the information — including the transcript from the trial, the Crown’s evidence, police interviews and appeal packages — he would be better informed and could help his lawyer.
“I’m to the point where it’s a guessing game for me now. … I don’t know what’s going on …,” said Hart, sounding calm and collected.
“This is why the case is so complicated for me. I didn’t receive any of that (disclosure).
“I’m left out in the cold. I would definitely love to be working at my appeal.”
St. John’s lawyer Randy Piercey — the court-appointed amicus, or mediator, in the case — agreed that Hart should have all the material.
“He’s indicated he wants to participate, but I feel he can’t participate if he hasn’t seen the transcript of the trial. … To participate, he needs all the material,” Piercey said.
“It’s best if he is properly prepared, so I suggest we give him time to get counsel and see the transcript.”
Crown prosecutor Steve Dawson pointed out that Hart had every opportunity to get the material himself, but agreed that Hart should have the information.
“This is coming a bit late in the day,” Dawson said, “but if the court feels he should have it, I will go along with it.”
Members of the panel — which included Chief Justice Derek Green, Justice Leo Barry and Justice Michael Harrington — asked Hart questions and made comments throughout the two-hour proceedings.
Barry pointed to Hart’s past conduct.
“The court has to make sure the person (making the appeal) is not deliberately delaying the process. I’m not saying you are, but at times people want to drag things out,” Barry said.
“I’m certainly not,” Hart replied.
“But you haven’t been as co-operative as you could have been,” Barry replied.
“For example, we didn’t even know this morning if you’d be at the other end of the camera. Last week, you didn’t even appear. That’s water under the bridge, but for the future, we have to move things along.”
Green agreed that delays should try to be avoided in the future.
“We want to make sure you’re dealt with fairly and properly,” Green said.
“But you can’t frustrate the process and put up road blocks. Then they would just say you’re being an obstructionist.”
The panel then adjourned to consider Hart’s requests.
During the break, Hart’s mother, Pearl, addressed her son, pleading with him to be more co-operative.
“My biggest frustration here is I know you’re an innocent man … You’re spending time in prison and I know you should not be there …,” she said.
“But listen, my love. If you get another lawyer, I have one question: Will you stop refusing to talk with that lawyer when they want to talk with you, coming to the prison when they want to visit you, answering any mail from the courts, coming on a conference when they want you to? Will you do all that and get this out of your mind that the courts are doing the same to you as the undercover sting done?
“Some of you guys think I’m trying to prolong this. I’m not trying prolong this.” Nelson Hart
“That’s not the way the justice system works. They did you wrong big time. They scarred you for life. Now, you have to trust us — me as your mother, Jennifer as your wife — but most of all, you have to trust the courts and your lawyer.”
She was interrupted by the court clerk, who informed her the judges were ready to make a ruling.
When they returned, Green told the court that the panel has ruled that Hart be given all information, including the CD of the RCMP interview with undercover police officers involved in the sting. However, the panel ruled that no one else in the prison be allowed access to it in order to protect the undercover officers’ identities.
They agreed to adjourn the case until June 28 to allow Hart time to find a new lawyer, whose fee would be paid by the Attorney General. If there is no lawyer present at that time, Green said, the panel will entertain the motion to have Hart argue the appeal himself.
This article has been edited to correct an error.