Father will not face new trial in daughters’ deaths

Sue Bailey/The Canadian Press
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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.

Nelson Hart

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.

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.


Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Gander, Gander Lake

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Recent comments

  • someone
    August 05, 2014 - 20:38

    whats wrong with the world

  • Corporate Psycho
    August 05, 2014 - 19:32

    There is no justice.

  • Review?
    August 05, 2014 - 14:59

    This was a painful case to listen to for many reasons. However the sacrifices and efforts of all involved may not be wasted. Many questions are raised. Some might be: (A) What are the stats of fatal drowning scenes? How many are present to witness? Who attempts a rescue? How many times does the attempted rescuer also become a victim? Are the stas different when parents are present for their child’s drowning? Many people drown each year. I had two uncles drown as teenagers. One from a swamped boat - no one in the boat or on the nearby shore could swim. The other a swimming fatality - the water was deeper than estimated. An attempt by my aunt to save her younger brother almost made her a victim. Exactly how unusual was this case? (B) The second thing was that the motive was never clear to me. In many social distress cases in "blended" or temporary relationships or even conventional marriages the paternity of the child is questioned by the father with or without any basis. The latest series of Novels by Jeffery Archer starts with such a predicament leading to assaults, murders, accidental killings and it is only up to vol 3! The timeline is only up 1960, so paternity is based on witnesses appearances and colour blindness. On a lighter side (if there is one) The Jackie Gleason character in “Smokey and the Bandit” trailer says to his stereotypical not so smart “Jethro Bodine” son “….ain’t NO WAY, boy, that YOU came from MY loins…”. The irony was that it may have been the most identifying trait! With modern science a named father should be obliged to either accept a paternity test and the mother or her family taking no offence OR sign document of unconditional acceptance of the child with an escape clause (on responsibility) if the child is later discovered not to be theirs. (C) The third thing is the Mr. Big concept. Unless the suspect has a significant a criminal record what is the point in “corrupting” the victim of the sting? Then they lowered the suspect in this case to “poor”, uneducated probably low IQ (although never? Tested) yet it took a major “Mr. Big” operation to take him down. Then he managed to endure prison, negotiate with lawyers and three levels of court! Whatever is or is not in this case in the summer water is not just dangerous but often outright lethal and has taken many victims with that same pond, river ocean being the only suspect. Fact.

  • Virginia Waters
    August 05, 2014 - 14:25

    To put things in perspective, Mr. Hart has been found not guilty of the murder of his children; that does not mean he has been found innocent. The courts have decided - correctly no doubt - that the methods used to extract a confession from Hart were not acceptable and/or that the confession itself might not have been genuine. Absent the convictions for murder, Hart could easily have been convicted of negligence causing death, failure to provide the necessities of life, or some other relevant charge under the criminal code of Canada. So any miscarriage of justice here is, at best, one of degree. We needn't be concerned, as some have suggested, that Hart would be awarded any appreciable sum were he to sue the crown. Hopefully Hart can be successfully re-integrated into society and resume a normal life - as normal as it can be under the circumstances. But there is a potential conundrum from a public policy perspective should Hart once again find himself a father. Notwithstanding that the murder convictions were vacated, would our child protection services division of government be satisfied to have children remain in his personal care? Interesting question.

    • Sally
      August 07, 2014 - 17:59

      Virginia Waters has summed up my sentiments far more eloquently than I am able. One of my biggest unanswered questions is similar...where was CYFS when those darling baby girls were left in his "care?" Same old, same old story. They have to work within their jurisdiction..."emotional abuse" is very difficult to prove...apparently so must physical...their jurisdiction needs dramatic changes...not a simple department shake-up. A Minister is not appointed to that position long enough to accomplish anything. Clyde Jackman, Paul Davis, Charlene Johnson--she was responsible for the creation & delivery of a pamphlet to thousands of NL parents explaining ways to "play" with their children. From personal frustration with CYFS, I would argue that those resources could have been much better spent elsewhere? The recent "atrocities " in Harbour Grace might be one example...