VANCOUVER — A prisoner who has proclaimed his innocence in the 1994 murder of his common-law wife in British Columbia should be released on bail while the federal government reviews his case as a potential miscarriage of justice, a defence lawyer says.
Wade Skiffington was convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 and sentenced to life without parole eligibility for 13 years.
Philip Campbell told a B.C. Supreme Court judge Thursday that parole was denied to his client primarily because he refused to take prison programs that could be seen as an admission of guilt.
"For at least the past four years his claim of innocence has cost him dearly," Campbell said, adding his client is not a danger to the public.
"Should this man be held in penitentiary during the review or allowed to live with his family on conditions," said Campbell, who is with the group Innocence Canada, which works to exonerate people believed to have been wrongfully convicted.
He noted Crown counsel Hank Reiner said during submissions earlier Thursday that Skiffington's case is not frivolous.
"Accordingly, if you find these arguments to be non-frivolous, as the law defines that term, I say you should grant bail to Mr. Skiffington," Campbell told Justice Michael Tammen.
Skiffington was found guilty based on his confession to undercover police as part of a so-called Mr. Big operation that began five years after Wanda Martin was shot six times.
The federal justice minister is reviewing the conviction after an appeal by defence lawyers with Innocence Canada, which is also challenging the credibility of the undercover sting, saying police extracted a false confession.
Tamara Duncan, a lawyer with Innocence Canada, said outside the court that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has a number of options if she concludes a miscarriage of justice occurred, including ordering a new trial or sending the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The court has heard Martin was shot while she was visiting a friend in Richmond with the couple's 18-month-old son, who was left with his mother's body.
Skiffington frequently turned to smile at his son Ian, who sat near the prisoner's box, during the bail hearing.
Skiffington's father, who was also in court, has agreed to be a surety by putting up $100,000 in cash and his home, where court heard Skiffington would be living if he is released on bail.
Reiner argued against Skiffington's release, saying he knew his common-law wife would be alone for at least 20 minutes while visiting her friend, providing him an opportunity to kill her on Sept. 6, 1994.
Reiner said Skiffington's anger motivated him to kill Martin because he'd run into a man he believed was having an affair with her shortly before the murder and he also didn't want her returning to their home province of Newfoundland and Labrador with their son.
It's unlikely that a burglar would wander into the third-floor apartment just when Martin was alone without an adult or that the security-conscious woman would have opened the door to a stranger, he said.
"How many people in the world at that time knew that she was going to be alone? How many people in the world had a motive to kill? Who was so enraged at Ms. Martin that he or she would shoot her six times, including twice in the head?"
Court has heard Skiffington told the boss of a fictitious crime group he shot Martin four, five or six times, emptying the cartridge, and that he changed his clothes in case any gunshot residue ended up on them.
"It shows he is no naive dummy," Reiner said, adding Skiffington's behaviour indicates he had some knowledge of forensics.
Reiner said Skiffington had time to kill Martin between his appointments as a carpet cleaner but Campbell has said the evidence suggests he was working until he was summoned to the murder scene.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Skiffington.