Evidence cannot support Alberta man’s robbery convictions: Supreme Court of Canada

The flag of the Supreme Court of Canada flies on the east flag pole in Ottawa, on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court of Canada says it tossed out an Alberta man’s robbery-related convictions because the verdicts were unreasonable and cannot be supported by the evidence.

Shawn Metzger had been convicted of offences stemming from a home invasion burglary that took place in Morningside, Alta., in June 2017.

Late that evening a man was hit on the forehead with a baseball bat after he awoke to find three or four intruders in his home.

He testified that the burglars were wearing black face masks and gloves, and that he could not see clearly due to the blood pouring from his wound into his eyes.

The man said the intruders stole a shotgun, then demanded that he open a safe where he usually kept cash and other possessions. He was then forced to lie face down and was bound and blindfolded. The intruders drove off in his Dodge truck.

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The truck was found about 11 hours later outside a bar in Red Deer, and a cigarette butt discovered by police under the driver’s seat underwent DNA testing.

The test yielded a single profile matching Metzger. In addition, the victim testified that he may have heard the accused’s last name spoken by one of the intruders during the robbery.

Metzger did not testify at trial. Defence counsel put forward various scenarios as to why his DNA would be found in the man’s stolen truck, but the trial judge rejected the arguments.

Metzger was convicted of offences including breaking and entering to steal a firearm and two counts of robbery.

He unsuccessfully challenged the outcome in the Alberta Court of Appeal. However, following a hearing last month the Supreme Court set aside his convictions and substituted verdicts of acquittal, saying written reasons would follow.

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In reasons released Friday, a majority of the top court in the 3-2 decision said the DNA evidence alone was not sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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At best, it permitted an inference that Metzger was in the vehicle at some point before it was found, but there was no evidence indicating when and why he may have been in the vehicle, the court said.

The victim’s testimony that he heard the accused’s last name during the robbery was “fraught with frailties,” Justice Malcolm Rowe wrote on behalf of the majority.

Rowe said the trial judge misapprehended an aspect of the victim’s testimony and failed to meaningfully address many of the concerns surrounding his physical or mental state.

“Considering the totality of the evidence, no trier of fact could reasonably be satisfied that a finding of guilt was the only sensible conclusion available,” Rowe added. “The verdicts were therefore unreasonable.”

In a dissenting opinion, two members of the court said it was open to the trial judge to consider the total absence of any reasonable explanation for the presence of the accused’s DNA in the stolen vehicle.

Writing for the minority, Justice Suzanne Cote said the trial judge did not consider the DNA evidence in a vacuum but relied on additional evidence to eliminate the possibility that the cigarette butt could have got into the stolen vehicle before or outside of the robbery.

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“In my view, the trial judge could reasonably be satisfied that the appellant’s guilt was the only reasonable conclusion available on the totality of the evidence,” she wrote.

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