Canada’s top court to hear appeal in Hart case

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Rosie Gillingham
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Crown to fight N.L. court’s decision to overturn his conviction, grant new trial

Nelson Hart — Telegram file photo

The country’s highest court has agreed to hear a Crown appeal in the case of a Gander man convicted of drowning his twin daughters.

In a decision that was made public Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada gave the prosecution the go-ahead to appeal a court ruling that ordered a new trial for Nelson Hart.

Hart was found guilty in 2007 of first-degree murder in the deaths of three-year-old twins, Karen and Krista, on Aug. 4, 2002 at Gander Lake in central Newfoundland.

Hart appealed the verdict and sentence shortly afterwards, and the case was in legal limbo for years.

The appeal had been scheduled and rescheduled several times, but was halted by various issues Hart had with the process.

The 44-year-old fired several lawyers and was often absent from proceedings, refusing to come out of his cell at the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B.

Arguments in the case were finally heard in October 2011.

Last fall, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 to overturn the conviction.

The judges concluded that a confession Hart gave during an elaborate undercover RCMP operation should not have been entered as evidence.

They were divided on the key question of whether Hart’s confession, obtained during a so-called “Mr. Big” sting, was the result of improper conduct that violated his rights.

As usual in applications for leave, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for agreeing to hear the case.

While senior Crown Francis Knickle opted not to comment specifically on the case, she told The Telegram the court’s decision to hear the appeal was made based on written material the Crown had provided.

The next step, she said, is to file a formal notice of appeal, after which written material will be filed.

She expects that will take a few months. Once that’s done, the Supreme Court of Canada will set a date for the Crown to argue the appeal in Ottawa in front of  a panel of three judges.

Back in court

Meanwhile, Hart was led into  provincial court in handcuffs Thursday after he was charged in connection with an incident that reportedly happened in jail last month.

On Jan. 30, Hart was said to have assaulted three correctional officers and uttered threats to one of them — weeks after he complained to an appeals judge that he had been mistreated by the guards at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.

Duty counsel Jane Fitzpatrick originally told Judge Greg Brown that Hart had agreed to plead guilty to uttering threats if the Crown would withdraw the assault charge.

They took a break so she and Crown prosecutor Danny Vavasour could discuss the facts of the case.

When proceedings resumed, Fitzpatrick said she and Vavasour would need more time to sort things out. The case will be back in court March 25.

Hart is not in jail because of these latest charges.

Since his murder conviction was overturned, he could have been freed from jail, but is still behind bars because he has not applied for bail, even though the Crown has said it would be willing to work something out with regard to bail if he applied.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

With files from The Canadian Press

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada, Atlantic Institution, Newfoundland and Labrador Court RCMP Canadian Press

Geographic location: Canada, Gander, Gander Lake Renous

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