Nunavut Court Justice Susan Cooper issued her verdict Friday morning, pointing to shaky witness testimony and a lack of tangible evidence in her decision to acquit him.
The boy went missing in July 2017. His body was later found in a sea can, with evidence showing he had been hit numerous times and killed with a blunt object. There were also stab wounds to his body.
The case hinged on two pieces of evidence: traces of the man’s DNA found on the boy’s pants, and the testimony of someone who claimed the man had confessed at a party to killing him.
In her decision, Cooper said the DNA evidence was concerning, but wasn’t enough by itself to convict him. She noted the boy hung out with the accused despite their age difference, and they would play ball and roughhouse.
“This is not the case of the DNA of a complete stranger. This is DNA of someone under circumstances where there were many opportunities for transference,” she said, though she acknowledged the location of the DNA was “unusual”.
As for the witness, Cooper pointed to inconsistencies in his testimony, including information he attributed to the accused that would have actually instead come from rumours or searchers who found the boy’s body.
“In other circumstances, these mistakes might be of little concern. However, the concerns are heightened when the confession is the most compelling evidence against the accused,” she said.
She noted the witness agreed he was “drunk and high” at the party where he said the man confessed to him. When the witness spoke with police — 14 months after the murder — he wasn’t clear on what information he’d gotten from the accused, versus other sources.
“Years later, when he is testifying in court, one must be even more cautious,” Cooper said.
She also discarded the Crown’s argument that those issues could be overcome by the witness’s knowledge of “holdback information” allegedly told to him by the accused — that is, information the police had not made public, that only the killer could have known.
Some of that information included the fact the boy had been stabbed, but Cooper pointed out that when police interviewed a suspect, they showed him a photograph of a knife.
“From that point onward, this information was no longer holdback information,” she said.
Cooper said in order to accept the reliability of the alleged confession, she would have to find that the accused had intentionally included information that wasn’t true, given how much of the confession didn’t line up with forensic evidence.
“I am not persuaded,” she said.
“While some of the evidence in this case is very concerning, it is not sufficiently persuasive to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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