A Newfoundland man convicted of drowning his twin daughters after a so-called Mr. Big sting will not face a new trial after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled what he told police officers is inadmissible.
Donovan Molloy, director of public prosecutions, also confirmed in provincial Supreme Court on Tuesday in Gander, N.L., that with the withdrawal of the two first-degree murder charges, Nelson Hart will be released from prison.
“This brings the matter to a close,” said Judge David Peddle.
Hart’s conviction by a jury of first-degree murder in the 2002 drowning deaths of his three-year-old twin daughters was initially overturned on appeal in 2012.
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld that decision last week and ruled that a confession Hart gave to police posing as mobsters cannot be used against him.
Hart was not in court on Tuesday, but his ex wife Jennifer Hicks did attend the hearing and showed no emotion as the decision to free her former husband was confirmed. She declined to speak outside court.
Lawyers for Hart say there is no evidence of a crime without the confession given during an elaborate police sting.
The high court cast doubt on the reliability of Mr. Big stings and said the operation may have violated Hart’s Charter rights.
Hart, now 45, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 drowning deaths of his daughters at Gander Lake.
Hart has maintained that the deaths of his daughters, Karen and Krista, were accidental but changed his story about what happened.
He initially told detectives that Krista fell in the water on Aug. 4, 2002, at a recreation area called Little Harbour. He said he didn’t jump in to help because he couldn’t swim.
His trial heard that Hart had a cellphone but left his other daughter behind as he drove about 11 kilometres to his home, passing a hospital, to get his wife who also couldn’t swim.
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Karen was dead and Krista was floating unconscious on the water by the time police arrived. She was declared brain dead in hospital and removed from a ventilator.
Hart later told police that he’d had an epileptic seizure and couldn’t remember how his girls got into the lake. He said he didn’t mention it earlier for fear he’d lose his driver’s licence.
The case stalled until the RCMP launched the Mr. Big sting in February 2005.
They spent about $413,000 over four months while officers posing as gangsters recruited Hart to join their crime network. He was wined and dined across the country as he met other fake mobsters at restaurants, casinos and strip clubs, moving what he thought was stolen goods.
Lawyers for Hart at his appeal stressed that he had a Grade 5 education, was on social assistance and was easily led.
They argued that he was especially vulnerable to the Mr. Big tactic used by police across Canada to extract confessions of prior crimes.
In a secretly videotaped exchange in June 2005, an officer posing as a gang leader asked Hart about the deaths of his daughters in a concocted test of Hart’s loyalty.
Hart began to talk about his seizure but was told not to lie.
He then described how he could not accept that social workers planned to give his brother custody of his children. Hart is shown on another tape re-enacting on a Gander Lake wharf how he used his shoulder to shove the girls off.
Hart’s defence lawyer argued that his client’s confession was unreliable. He said Hart needed money, was paid more than $15,000 during the Mr. Big operation and was intimidated.