Hearing set for two New Brunswick men whose murder convictions were overturned

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Global News at 6 New Brunswick: Dec. 22
Global News at 6 New Brunswick from Dec. 22, 2023. – Dec 22, 2023

Two New Brunswick men whose murder convictions in 1984 were quashed Friday by the federal justice minister will appear before a court next month to see if a new trial will proceed, a director with Innocence Canada said.

Ron Dalton said a hearing has been set for Robert Mailman and Walter Gillespie on Jan. 4, where the Crown is expected to reveal if it intends to launch a new trial. Dalton said the men will be represented at the hearing by lawyers from Innocence Canada, an organization that works with the wrongfully convicted.

He said he hopes the hearing will be the final end to an agonizing ordeal for the men that has carried on for more than four decades.

“Our hope is that the matter will be called on Jan 4., the charges will be read for the retrial, the two individuals will plead not guilty, the Crown will do the honorable thing, and stand up and say they have no evidence to offer, and they will join the defense in a motion to have the charges dismissed,” Dalton said in an interview Saturday.

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Arif Virani announced Friday that he was ordering a new trial for Mailman and Gillespie, who were convicted of second-degree murder in the Nov. 30, 1983 slaying of George Gilman Leeman. The justice minister said he had found a reasonable basis to conclude a miscarriage of justice occurred in the men’s convictions.

Virani said his decision is the result of new information that was not submitted to the courts at the time of the men’s initial trials and appeals and that calls into question “the overall fairness of the process.”

Mailman and Gillespie issued a joint statement Friday saying they were “happy that justice is being done for us.”

“Neither of us had anything to do with Mr. Leeman’s murder,” they said. “We have always been innocent, and we thank the minister for what he has done.”

The two men fought their convictions in the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, but their appeal was dismissed in 1988. They were sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for 18 years.

Gillespie served 21 years of his life sentence in prison and is now in his 80s, and living in a halfway house in Saint John, Innocence Canada has said. Mailman served 18 years and is now 76 and living in Saint John, the group said.

Mailman is terminally ill, and Dalton said he suspects the Jan. 4 hearing was scheduled so quickly because of his health.

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“I really don’t think there is anything there for the Crown to proceed on,” Dalton said in an interview. “No one anticipates them going ahead with a trial 40 years after the fact for an individual who has a terminal diagnosis.”

Dalton said he spoke with Mailman on Saturday and though he is in poor health, his spirits were considerably higher since Virani’s announcement.

“It’s the first time in 40 years that he went to bed and he’s not a convicted murderer,” Dalton said of Mailman’s night on Friday. “He’s already working on comments he would like to make on the courthouse steps when this is over.”

Innocence Canada says Leeman’s badly beaten and partially burned body was found by a jogger in a wooded area in the Saint John neighbourhood of Rockwood Park. It says Gillespie and Mailman “both had strong alibis with multiple witnesses placing them far from the crime scene on the day of the murder.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2023.

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