On the day the federal government released its long-awaited action plan on MMIWG, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ordered a new trial Thursday in the homicide of a Cree woman 10 years ago in Ottawa.
And the daughter of the late Jennifer Leigh Stewart, 36, couldn’t be more upset and also disgusted by the timing.
“It is a shame to me that this falls on no other day than when the MMIWG national action plan was released. This proves to me how many Indigenous women continue to fail to receive justice,” said Bethany Leigh Stewart, 23.
Adrian Daou was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015, but appealed the conviction with the help of lawyer Howard L. Krongold.
Krongold argued several confessions Daou made to police in 2013 were mishandled by the trial judge.
The appellate court agreed.
“The case against the appellant hinged on statements he gave to the police while he was incarcerated on unrelated charges. The appellant said he killed Ms. Stewart so he would become ‘a billionaire rap superstar,'” wrote Justice Gary Trotter, on behalf of the three-member panel that unanimously set aside the conviction.
“He gave his confessions as a means of getting out of custodial segregation and while apparently suffering from schizophrenia.”
Daou claimed the confessions were false at trial and also said he wasn’t criminally responsible “on account of mental disorder in the event the jury accepted he killed Ms. Stewart.”
It wasn’t that the jury heard the confessions but what lead detective John Monette of Ottawa police – now retired – thought of the confessions.
Monette testified he believed one of the confessions to be true and gave “detailed” reasons why he did.
One problem with that: Monette’s opinion was inadmissible said Trotter.
“It amounted to an opinion that the appellant was guilty. The jury should have been cautioned to completely disregard this dangerous testimony. But there was no caution. Instead, the significance of the confession was underscored in the trial judge’s final instructions, and the officer’s opinion repeated,” said Trotter.
The Crown acknowledged the trial judge erred when the appeal was heard last February.
“Without a proper limiting instruction, the detailed opinion of this senior police officer seriously risked dominating the jury’s consideration of the veracity of the confession and, ultimately, the appellant’s guilt. It cannot be safely concluded that this evidence, and the lack of a warning, had no impact on the verdict,” said Trotter.
“Accordingly, I would allow the appeal and order a new trial.”
Jennifer Stewart’s body was found in a parking lot in the Ottawa community of Vanier one early morning in August, 2010. Her homicide was gruesome and went unsolved until Daou made his jailhouse confessions.
For her daughter, Bethany, news of the conviction being set aside brought her back to the day she learned of her mother’s death.
It also reminded her of what she read of her mother’s homicide in the local newspapers as a young child.
“Ever since I was 12 years old, I have had to read about her portrayed like this in the newspaper,” said Bethany.
“Today – that ends. This is why I came to the media. My mom is someone that loved her family dearly and cared greatly about her Indigenous culture.”
Jennifer was from the Cree Nation of Wemindji Eeyou Istchee and Bethany has a painting hanging in her living room her mom and father bought.
“Every day I look at this painting … of two eagles flying, my moms favourite animal. My mom was a loving, caring individual. She should have always been presented in such a way,” she said.
A new trial date hasn’t been set.