Federal Justice Minister David Lametti has decided a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in the case of a man convicted of murdering his fiancée in Richmond, B.C., in 1994 and has referred the matter to the province’s Court of Appeal.
Wade Skiffington was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of Wanda Martin in 2001 and spent more than 17 years in prison before he was granted bail in 2019, pending the outcome of the conviction review.
A statement from Lametti on Monday said after an extensive investigation, “there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”
Innocence Canada said its lawyers represent Skiffington, who was convicted on the basis of what the advocacy group calls a “dubious Mr. Big confession” in which undercover RCMP officers posed as gangsters to get him to admit to the killing.
Skiffington was given “lavish financial incentives” and subjected to episodes of simulated violence in the 1999 police sting, the group said in a news release.
James Lockyer, Skiffington’s Toronto-based lawyer who co-founded Innocence Canada, said police employ such tactics so the people “they’re trying to get confessions from, who are usually pretty vulnerable … will confess the crimes they didn’t commit out of a combination of fear and promises of money.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has since acknowledged the risk of false confessions arising from such operations, and it’s on that basis that Skiffington and his lawyers convinced the minister the case likely constituted a miscarriage of justice, Lockyer said in an interview.
Skiffington is “very grateful” for the minister’s decision and the chance to convince the court that he was wrongfully convicted, Lockyer said.
Skiffington was denied parole four years before his eventual release because he refused to admit guilt for a crime he maintains he did not commit, consistently proclaiming his innocence before and since the so-called Mr. Big confession, the statement from Innocence Canada said.
“His family and friends have never wavered in their support for him,” it said.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in 2019 that Skiffington should be allowed to live with his family in Newfoundland and Labrador while the minister’s investigation into the integrity of his conviction was underway, Innocence Canada said.
Skiffington was co-operative with police after Martin was killed, it added.
“Despite reports of a break and enter, and a suspicious man hiding in bushes, in the immediate vicinity of the crime scene in the afternoon Wanda was killed, police remained focused on Mr. Skiffington,” the statement said.
The Department of Justice said Lametti’s decision was the result of new information that was not before the courts at the time of Skiffington’s trial or original appeal.
Lockyer said he would not comment on that new information as the appeal is not yet underway in B.C.