It certainly came as no shock Tuesday afternoon when prosecutors announced they had zero choice but to drop murder charges against Nelson Hart and allow him to walk out of a jail cell in Bishop’s Falls a free man.
Once the Supreme Court of Canada had thrown out Hart’s confession, and condemned in unambiguous terminology the RCMP and the sting it had conducted to provoke the admission of guilt (a well-deserved vilification of the “Mr. Big” operation, if you ask me), the decision by the Crown to drop the case was predictable and anti-climactic.
Just about 12 years to the day of that mysterious and disturbing incident in which his three-year-old twin daughters, Krista and Karen, drowned in Gander Lake, Hart — thanks to over-zealous Mounties — was released from jail and free to do just about anything he felt like doing, even suing the province for a wrongful conviction, if that’s what he and his lawyers decide is a worthwhile and lucrative pursuit.
But the Supreme Court, the prosecutors, the cops and Hart himself have left the province stunned, shaking a collective head. Most right-thinking people jaw-dropped and would, naturally enough, have wanted the cops to have carried out their investigation into Nelson Hart’s role in the death of his twin girls in an above-board, ethical and fair-minded manner, and, at the same time, to have ensured justice was served, that someone was held responsible for the drownings of Krista and Karen.
Instead, we’re left forever with that haunting image of those two little girls staring out at us from a television screen or a page of The Telegram, unable to tell anyone what happened on that summer day when they wandered unsuspecting onto a dock with their father, anxious to use nearby swings.
They can’t tell us how they eventually wound up in the lake, struggling for at least a few seconds to stay afloat, unable, in all probability, to grasp exactly what was happening, but frightened beyond words.
Hart had a far-fetched version of what took place, so unbelievable that it was rejected in 2007 by the jury that convicted him of murder: it was all an accident; Krista fell in the lake and he took off for Gander in his vehicle to get help, leaving Karen alone on the dock.
He didn’t use his cellphone to call for help; he drove 11 kilometres to his home to get his wife, and passed a hospital.
When rescue personnel ultimately arrived at the scene, Karen had drowned and Krista was floating unconscious in the water; she eventually died in hospital.
An epileptic seizure, Hart claimed, affected his judgment, and has clouded his memory of what occurred.
Believe all that? Apparently his lawyers did. I’d say most of the province still doesn’t. It’s mighty hard to swallow.
What father would leave a young daughter in the water, fighting for her life, and desert the other on a dock in a precarious, deadly situation?
Any loving father would have tried desperately to rescue his child, even if he couldn’t swim. He’d risk his own life. And he certainly wouldn’t have abandoned the other.
Enter the RCMP, eagerly in search of a conviction, and deciding to stretch the law as far as it could be stretched — too far, according to the Supreme Court.
The sting, the so-called “Mr. Big” sting, came across in court like the script of an implausible B-Movie from the ’50s: four months of wining, dining, manipulating and twisting Hart inside-out until he finally told the undercover cops how he had carried out the horrifying crime.
I only have a layman’s knowledge of the law, but common sense would dictate that someone in authority, a superior officer, or perhaps a Crown prosecutor, would have come to the conclusion that this particular sting operation was ridiculous in nature, that it was the ultimate in counter-productivity, that it would surely be used against the investigators and the prosecutors in the courts.
There had to have been a legal mind on the investigative side of this story who had to know this was a textbook example of entrapment.
Talk about a screw-up. A snafu —situation normal, all effed up.
The lawyers for Hart, of course, were delighted the Mounties and their bosses went to such extremes to get their man. It made their case.
His lawyers could ostensibly take the high road and pontificate in interviews about justice having been served, but, of course, they were gloating about their win. It’s nearly always about the win. I had the sense they wanted us all to feel sorry for Hart.
Nice try, boys and girls.
There’s a disgusting bottom line here: two children died in a most grievous fashion, and no one has been held accountable.
Negligence of some sort occurred on that Gander Lake dock 12 years ago. There’s no doubt about that. And Nelson Hart was there.
Maybe the wrong charges were laid to begin with.
Maybe there’s a way to get Hart back into a courtroom.
Surely, someone is going to eventually pay.
That’s the least society can do for Krista and Karen Hart.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email