Editor’s note: the DEAD WRONG homepage has links to previous articles, the cast of characters, extras, and commentary.

Part 2: Trial and Error

This article contains graphic accounts of violence and sexual violence that will disturb some readers.

Robin Hartrick was found by a group of young schoolchildren walking along a path through the woods behind Harbour View School on their way to class. With froth at her mouth and suffering from numerous injuries to the head, Robin was taken to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in a coma. For eight agonizing days her mother, Pauline, waited helplessly for Robin to awaken, but she never did.

“I just hope she never suffered too much,” said Pauline. “It was an awful death. It was an awful death.”

Robin Hartrick was found beaten, bloodied, and dying in the woods behind Harbour View School.

Pauline is convinced Robin was killed because she was the main witness against Glen Assoun.[1]“[Robin] was going to clean up her act after her girlfriend [Brenda] got murdered,” said Pauline. “She made a tape of him and you can’t deny a tape, and he [Glen] didn’t know she made the … Continue reading

But there’s no chance that Glen personally killed Robin — he was in jail when Robin was beaten to death.

Could someone related to Glen have killed Robin to prevent her from testifying against him?

We know that Glen’s sons appeared ready to commit violence on behalf of their father. The night after Brenda charged Glen with assaulting her — on October 8, 1995 — Glen Junior and Jamie went to Glen’s room at the Four Star. They drank at the motel for a few hours, then the brothers went looking for Brenda “because she had been causing problems for their family.”[2]R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, Summary for the Trial Judge, page 12.

At about 2:45am, someone called 911 and reported two men threatening a woman outside Rocco’s Restaurant on Wyse Road. When police arrived they found Glen Junior, Jamie, and Brenda. Jamie had a gun stuck down his sweat pants; he ran, and the gun accidentally fired. The cops caught him. He later pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited weapon, and was sentenced to four months in jail and two years probation.

But Glen Junior and Jamie were never considered suspects in Brenda’s murder.[3]In an affidavit filed with the court as part of Glen’s 2006 appeal, private investigator Fred Fitzsimmons reviewed all the suspects police had listed in their notes; neither Glen Junior nor Jamie … Continue reading I can’t determine if police ever considered them suspects in Robin’s murder, but it appears unlikely.[4]Both Glen Junior and Jamie were prepared to testify about the incident in front of Rocco’s Restaurant at Glen’s murder trial. When it came time for the trial, however, neither man was called as a … Continue reading

Margaret “Robin” Hartrick
Margaret “Robin” Hartrick

As horrible as the reality is, a better explanation for Robin’s murder might be simply that violence was a regular part of life on the streets. When researcher Cynthia Manderson interviewed most of the sex workers on the Halifax strolls in 1988, she found that every woman and girl she talked to had experienced violence from johns. And in the months before she gave her KGB interview, Robin herself was assaulted so viciously as to require hospitalization; however, Robin refused to tell police who had attacked her.

Robin was at least the 20th woman or girl to be murdered or to have disappeared in the Halifax area between 1985 and 1999. Most of the victims had been sex workers. Most of the cases — including Robin’s — remain unsolved. Those that have been solved led to the convictions of a varied lot of men and two women: boyfriends, johns, pimps, a girlfriend of a john. There have been still more missing and murdered women since Robin was killed. Future articles in the DEAD WRONG series will explore some of those cases.

So the timing of Robin’s murder — just before she was to testify against Glen — may have just been coincidence, entirely unrelated to the trial.

Judge and lawyers

Justice Suzanne Hood was the presiding judge in Her Majesty the Queen v Glen Eugene Assoun. Hood was appointed to the bench in 1995. She was one of only four women on the 28-judge court, and her appointment was understood[5]See comments from Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay in Lambie, Chris, “City-hall lawyer named to N.S. Supreme Court,” Daily News, December 21, 1995. to have been in reaction to comments from a male judge that downplayed domestic violence.[6]On November 22, 1995, Justice Lewis Matheson had sentenced a man named Colin Boutilier to probation and no jail time for forcible entry into his estranged wife’s home. “It’s unfortunate … Continue reading Before becoming a judge, Hood was the city solicitor for the City of Dartmouth.[7]Hood provided legal advice to the city of Dartmouth “for years” through the law firm Huestis Holm, and was then hired outright as city solicitor in 1993. She was appointed to the bench on … Continue reading Interestingly, as city solicitor, she issued several opinions regarding prostitution, including one that advised against setting up a red-light district in Burnside as a tactic for reducing street-level prostitution in North Dartmouth.[8]See McLaughlin, Peter, “Area left to hookers, north enders say,” Daily News, June 5, 1994. “Northend residents have been fighting the sex trade in their neighborhood for almost a year. Two … Continue reading

Prosecutorial duties in Her Majesty the Queen v Glen Eugene Assoun were assigned to crown prosecutor Dennis Theman.[9]At the time, Theman was president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorney’s Association; his efforts to improve the working conditions of prosecutors have resulted in a national award in his name issued … Continue reading

Don Murray

Representing Glen was Don Murray. Murray started his career working with the large Halifax law firm Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales, but in 1992 Murray and prominent defence lawyer Joel Pink started their own “boutique” firm, Pink Murray, which focused exclusively on criminal defence. Murray quickly earned a reputation as a dogged defence lawyer willing to take on the most difficult cases. Glen hired Murray through Legal Aid, the agency that provides legal help to people who can’t afford their own lawyer.

Before the trial could begin, there were three evidence hearings. The first, from April 12 through April 15, 1999, determined what police testimony would be allowed. There was nothing terribly controversial during the hearing, and Hood made her rulings on April 15.

Dan MacRury

Then, for some reason not explained in court documents, Theman was abruptly taken off the case and replaced with a pair of crown prosecutors, Ron Fetterly[10]Fetterly was later co-prosecutor of William Chandler Shrubsall, a case that brought him some fame. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/final-arguments-heard-in-shrubsall-case-1.246161. Fetterly is now … Continue reading and Dan MacRury.[11]MacRury was appointed as a provincial and family court judge in 2014. See: http://www.capebretonpost.com/News/Local/2014-07-30/article-3818544/Cape-Bretons-Dan-MacRury-appointed-to-bench/1

Theman had been prepared for the case. Fetterly and MacRury were not. They needed time to review the evidence and re-interview the crown witnesses themselves. Court proceedings were delayed more than a month to allow the new prosecutors to get up to speed, but even then Fetterly complained he didn’t have much time to prepare for the trial.[12]“My friend, Mr. MacRury, and I were thrown into this at the last minute,” Fetterly told Hood. “It’s difficult.” Page 1270, R. v Glen Eugene Assoun.

Court proceedings resumed on May 20 with the second pre-trial hearing, which concerned the three statements Robin had given before she was killed — the November 14, 1996 statement she gave to Constables Blencowe and Gallant soon after the man died under the bridge (Version 1), the KGB statement she gave to Maxwell on January 22, 1998 (Version 2), and the testimony she gave at the preliminary hearing on August 18 and 19, 1998 (Version 3).

The problems with Robin’s statements

Robin came to claim she had important evidence about Brenda’s murder implicating Glen. Robin said that she ran into Glen the morning Brenda was murdered, not far from the murder scene, and that he already knew of Brenda’s death. Although Robin and Brenda had been close friends, Robin did nothing with that information for a year. At the time of Brenda’s death, Robin didn’t go to the police with the information, and there’s no evidence she told anyone else about it either. She was stopped by the police for prostitution a few times in the months after Brenda’s murder, but Robin still didn’t tell them about running into Glen. Only in the November 14, 1996 statement she gave to Constables Blencowe and Gallant (Version 1), after the man was found dead under the bridge, did Robin provide the information.

Even then, Robin didn’t immediately tell Blencowe and Gallant about the incident. As Glen’s defence lawyer, Don Murray, explained the situation:[13]R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, pages 642 and 643.

[Robin] spent 45 minutes talking about things which she says have to do with the murder of Brenda Way but which end up being nothing more than psychic visions. Cst. Gallant doesn’t make any notes at all. Blencowe doesn’t make notes about the psychic vision stuff and doesn’t record anything on the statement form about this 45-minute waste of police time talking about psychic vision.

[…]

And then it’s only on November 14th, according to Cst. Blencowe, when they communicate to Margaret Hartrick [Robin] that they’ve had enough of her garbage and they’re about to throw her out of the police station that Hartrick becomes, in the words of the police, “upset,” “angry,” and then tosses out a claim in a challenging manner. I believe the words were, “So I guess you don’t want to hear about me meeting Glen Assoun in front of 109 at 4:15am,” or words to that effect…

…this person who is motivated to provide evidence in relation to Brenda Way’s homicide starts with her weakest information, her psychic vision information first, and leads up to her apparently crucial information. Not likely.

Version 1: Robin’s November 1996 statement to Blencowe and Gallant. Click to read the entire document.
Version 1: Robin’s November 1996 statement to Blencowe and Gallant. Click to read the entire document.

Police and crown prosecutors didn’t tell the defence about Robin’s psychic visions until after Robin had been killed, and so Murray had no way to cross-examine her about them at the preliminary hearing.

Another problem with Robin’s statements is that they are often incoherent. Police investigator Dave MacDonald found Robin out on the streets several times and tried to get her in for a KGB interview, but she was so wasted on crack that he passed on the opportunity.

And when Robin was finally judged to be collected enough to sit down for the KGB interview, it took two tries to get the interview right. The first time, on January 21, 1998, Blencowe forgot to press the “record” button on the video recorder.

Versions 2: Robin’s January 1998 KGB statement. Click to read the entire document.
Versions 2: Robin’s January 1998 KGB statement. Click to read the entire document.

That was, perhaps, convenient: Robin hadn’t eaten in three days, and even if, as police testified, they thought she was completely sober and drug-free, anyone who hadn’t eaten in three days would likely not be in the best condition to testify.

Maxwell and Blencowe decided they’d have to try again some other time to get a KGB interview from Robin, so they bought her a chicken dinner, dropped her off on the stroll, and asked her to come back the next day. Robin agreed, and showed up as promised on January 22 to be interviewed by Constables Stephen Maxwell and Derek Williams, but the transcript of the KGB interview (Version 2) reveals that she went on rambling asides and had a hard time telling events in sequence.

Version 3: Robin’s August 1998 testimony at the Preliminary Inquiry. Click to read the entire document.
Version 3: Robin’s August 1998 testimony at the Preliminary Inquiry. Click to read the entire document.

Then, seven months later, just before the preliminary inquiry, MacDonald was so concerned about Robin’s court testimony (Version 3) being intelligible that he put her under 24-hour guard for a day or two. “She was put in a hotel,” said MacDonald, “given an opportunity to dry out, if you will, get some food into her, some nourishment.”

The biggest problems with Robin’s three statements, however, are that they contradict each other and they contradict other evidence.

I’ve created a chart that highlights the problems raised by Robin’s statements and compares the three statements side by side, showing 19 problems with the statements.

[iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WlV0tVTWoUTTAJWV9qFZCsQ9BcqWAyzyz6WB3SmMK6o/pubhtml?gid=1929675098&single=true&widget=true&headers=false” width=“700″ height=”600″ style=”margin:0 auto; width:700px; display:block;”]

Some of the inconsistencies are trivial and could perhaps be explained away, but other problems loom large; the eight problems that stand out include:

1

Robin was addicted to crack. She smoked crack nearly every day. In the 24 hours before Brenda was murdered, Robin smoked an “eight ball” of crack — an eighth of an ounce, 3.5 grams. She admitted to smoking two “blasts” of crack in the hour before she said she ran into Glen in front of 109 Albro Lake Road.

By itself, Robin’s crack use doesn’t necessarily mean she was mistaken or lying about running into Glen, but when considered in the context of other problems with her statements, the crack use raises questions about her reliability as a witness. (And, as we’ll see, the effects of drugs on memory would become an issue with several other witnesses in this case.)

2

Robin contradicted herself about how long she was in Linda Grandy’s apartment at 109 Albro Lake Road. In Version 2 she said she was in Linda’s apartment for “not that long, a couple of minutes.” By Version 3, however, Robin said she was in Linda’s apartment for “an hour.”

3

In Version 1, Robin said she directly left Linda Grandy’s apartment and ran into Glen on the sidewalk. In Version 3, however, Robin said she left Linda’s apartment and went to Mickey Bates’ apartment in the same building, stayed in Mickey’s apartment for “five or 10 minutes” while he was doing crack, and only then left the building and ran into Glen.

4

In Version 1, Robin said Glen did not mention Brenda’s name when she ran into him outside the apartment building at 4:15am, but “I knew he was talking about Brenda.” In Version 2, Robin claimed Glen named Brenda: “I said, ‘What do you mean she’s gone, who’s gone?’ He said, ‘Brenda.’” Robin went on in this version to discuss the thoughts she had on the sidewalk that morning — her shock about Brenda’s death, that she had just missed Brenda earlier in the evening. By Version 3, however, once again Glen didn’t name Brenda — “Glen told me that Brenda Way is finally gone. He didn’t say her name, he said, ‘she is finally gone.’” Robin said she only pieced together later — at 7am, after she learned Brenda was dead — that Glen was speaking about Brenda. 

5

In all three versions, Robin said she was “freaked out” by Glen, but evidently not so freaked out as to then ask him the time, and hold his “shaky” arm or hand so she could read his watch. (In Version 1 Robin grabbed Glen’s arm, but in Versions 2 and 3 she grabbed his hand.) Version 2, however, relates an interesting exchange between Constable Derek Williams (the questioner) and Robin. Williams appeared to be trying to pin down the time of the incident, and so he attempted to get Robin to relate how she asked Glen what time it was and had to hold his hand. First, Williams asked, “Did you do anything with Glen?” but didn’t get the response he was looking for. So he asked twice, “Did you ask him anything?” but likewise didn’t get the conversation about time. Williams then backed up and asked, “Let’s describe,” only to have Robin go on a long rambling description of her feelings. Williams then appeared to have given up and simply asked Robin directly: “What time was this, did you see?” Robin finally responded, “About around 4:15,” but even then Williams had to continue to question Robin and had to ask her straight out, “So you took a hold of his hand?” It’s a textbook example of leading the witness.

6

In Version 3, Robin said she learned of Brenda’s death at 7am on November 12, the same morning Brenda was killed. Robin said that her friend Lloyd States told her that Brenda was dead, and he had learned about the death because “it was on TV.” But Brenda’s body wasn’t discovered until 7:30am.

7

In all three versions, Robin said she was smoking crack at Linda Grandy’s apartment at 109 Albro Lake Road the morning Brenda was killed. In Version 3, Robin additionally said she smoked crack at Mickey Bates’ apartment at 109 Albro Lake that morning. But the very day Brenda was killed, police picked Linda Grandy up at her apartment — at 21 Jackson Road, a block away from 109 Albro Lake Road — to interview her at the police station. Moreover, Grandy later testified she had moved out of 109 Albro Lake Road “a few months” before Brenda was killed, and she didn’t know Robin at all. Mickey Bates would also say he wasn’t doing crack at 109 Albro Lake Road that morning[14]Bates’ testimony was, frankly, incoherent. It would be a mistake to read anything into it one way or the other — for the crown or the defence. And neither the crown nor the defence referred … Continue reading.

8

In Versions 2 and 3, Robin related an odd interaction with Glen “two weeks to a month” after Brenda’s murder. The pair met at the House of Hum restaurant across the street from the Four Star, and then ended up spending the night together at the Stardust Motel in Bedford. Prosecutors entered into evidence a receipt from the motel showing that Glen and a second guest had spent the night in the motel on November 23, 1995, eleven days after Brenda was murdered. Prosecutors argued that the receipt showed Robin’s testimony was reliable.

But while it appears to be true that Robin and Glen spent the night together at the Stardust, that portion of Robin’s testimony raises more questions than it answers. If Robin thought Glen had murdered Brenda, then why would she agree to spend the night with him? And, by her own admission, she used the opportunity to get Glen to buy her crack, and then stole $400 from him — is that likely behaviour for someone who said she was afraid of Glen? Also, in Version 2 Robin said “he [Glen] wanted me” before they went to the motel, but in Version 3 Robin said she never had sex with Glen after Brenda was murdered, so what was the point of spending the night with him at the Stardust?

The evidence — testimony from police officers who collected Robin’s statements — was presented on May 20 and 21, and the lawyers made their arguments the following Friday, May 28.

Glen’s defence lawyer, Don Murray, argued that the judge should not have ruled on the admissibility of Robin’s statements until the trial was well under way and other evidence was presented, so that she could make a ruling “in the context of the whole case”:

And frankly, My Lady, you don’t have that yet. You have no sense of the quality of any of the other evidence that’s being offered against Glen Assoun. You have no stance as to whether there’s going to be any forensic evidence that serves to connect Mr. Assoun with the death of Brenda Way. You have no sense about whether there’s even going to be evidence that Brenda Way was in fact dead or deceased at 4:15 in the morning on November 12, 1995. You have no sense of anything other than the allegation of Robin Hartrick fits anything other than a visit to the Star Dust Motel. And that, with respect, is self-serving.

That argument was typical of Murray’s style. For example, defence lawyers are allowed to give their opening arguments immediately after the prosecution presents its opening argument, but Murray usually waited until after the crown rested its case to make an opening argument to the jury. Likewise, Murray had learned not to make arguments about KGB interviews like Robin’s until well into the trial,[15]This became an issue in 1996, when Murray was defending Doris Eisenhauer, a woman convicted of the 1993 murder of a teenage sex worker named Gisele Peltzman. I’ll discuss that case at length later … Continue reading so he could better frame an argument for why it should be excluded. As Murray saw it, the later in the trial he could make his case, the better.

Murray’s argument for delaying a decision on Robin’s statements also indicated he was prepared to show that there was no forensic evidence linking Glen to Brenda’s murder, and that there were significant doubts as to the time of Brenda’s death.

A strong rebuttal of the other evidence followed by an argument against allowing Robin’s statements to be introduced made sense as a legal strategy.

Glen, however, didn’t see it that way. He wanted Murray to immediately call Linda Grandy and Mickey Bates as witnesses who could rebut Robin’s claims. Both Linda and Mickey could say that they didn’t live at 109 Albro Lake Road when Brenda was killed, and so, as Glen saw it, that would be the end of it — with their testimony, Robin’s statements wouldn’t be allowed in as evidence.

But no, said Murray. His bid was to get Hood to delay making a decision, and even if Robin’s statements were allowed in, he could call Linda and Mickey as witnesses later in the trial, and their testimony would be fresh on jurors’ minds when they went to deliberate.

Murray did not call Linda or Mickey. That decision angered Glen.

The following Monday, May 31, Hood announced that she wasn’t ready to issue a decision about Robin’s statements, but she would the next day. In the meanwhile, said Hood, the third evidence hearing, concerning the testimony other crown witnesses would make, would proceed.[16]The third pre-trial hearing involved witnesses’ testimony about Brenda and Glen’s relationship. Hood allowed almost all of the evidence to be presented to the jury.

Hood considered Robin’s statements in a disturbing context: an important witness in a murder trial was herself murdered before she had the chance to testify. It is perhaps understandable that Hood would want to take the broadest possible application of law in order to allow Robin’s testimony, and that’s exactly what she did. Hood issued her one-minute oral decision on Robin’s statements on Tuesday, June 1, allowing both Robin’s KGB statement (Version 2) and her testimony at the Preliminary hearing (Version 3) to be entered in as evidence.[17]Typically, a murder trial is recorded from beginning to end, and the audio recording is transcribed; the transcription then becomes part of the court record. But for some unexplained reason, Hood’s … Continue reading Since the KGB statement included Robin reading aloud her 1996 statement to police (Version 1), in effect Hood allowed all three versions to be presented to the jury.

Wayne Wise’s phone call

The jury was brought in on Wednesday, June 2, and the trial began in earnest.

The crown’s first witness was Wayne Wise, Glen’s nephew, son of Glen’s brother David. Wise was a career criminal, with repeat convictions for theft, fraud, drunk driving, assault, various drug charges, and other crimes. He also admitted to using false identities to avoid arrest.

Wise testified that in January 1997 he had called Glen in British Columbia. “I asked if there was any work out there and asked him what — first of all, what he was doing there and he said he was hiding,” testified Wise. “I asked why and he said he’s a suspect in a murder investigation…. I asked him if he did it and he said yes.”

On cross-examination, Murray got Wise to admit to being a “crackhead,” and to using crack the day of the supposed phone call — “maybe a gram,” said Wise.

Murray pointed out that when Wise initially gave his statement to police, he said he couldn’t remember the full phone number he had called when he spoke with Glen, but that the area code was 403 — the area code for Alberta, not British Columbia. “I just thought it [403] was the area code out there, the western coast,” explained Wise.

Murray also pointed out that many months before the supposed phone call, Wise had heard both his father and his sister separately speculating that Glen had killed Brenda. That speculation, suggested Murray, was grabbed onto by Wise, as a means to have something to trade for a lighter sentence on fraud charges he was facing. And in fact, Wise was freed from custody immediately after testifying.

Moreover, Wise got favours in return for his testimony — he was allowed “contact visits” with his wife while he was in jail, and prosecutors agreed to fly his family from Ontario to Halifax.

“And then did you threaten to forget or forget your evidence if the Crown didn’t meet other demands?” asked Murray.

“My demands were simple,” replied Wise. “I wanted to come out the third week of June.… and, yes, I did threaten them.”

Wise’s wife was named Carla Jenkinson.

There was a short exchange in Murray’s cross-examination when Murray asked Wise about a woman named Tina Cameron. “I know Tina,” said Wise. “A friend of my wife.” The jury didn’t know it at the time, but Tina Cameron would later testify that she had overheard Glen confessing to murdering Brenda. Murray was clearly laying the groundwork for a broad defence, which would show that many of the primary witnesses against Glen knew each other and, as Murray was prepared to argue, had conspired with each other to frame Glen.

The evolving testimony of Front Desk

The second witness was Corey Tuma. As with Wise, Tuma had a lengthy court record that included convictions on drug charges, theft, assault, and drunk driving.

In 1995, Tuma was the front desk clerk at the Four Star. He said he was “drinking buddies” with Glen, who had given him the nickname “Front Desk.”

The Four Star Motel.

Tuma testified that on November 11, 1995, the night she was murdered, Brenda stopped by the Four Star. “It was probably around ten o’clock,” he said. “She stopped by and asked me for a cigarette. Me and my buddy were watching a hockey game and she just came in and sat down for five or ten minutes and then she left.”

Then, continued Tuma, Glen came by at midnight. “He stopped by for about five or ten minutes.”

“Was that before or after you saw Brenda?” asked crown prosecutor Dan MacRury. “That was after I seen Brenda,” answered Tuma. “He [Glen] just asked me if I seen Brenda around and I said, ‘No’ — or I said, ‘Yes, she was here and she left.”

On cross-examination, however, Murray pointed out that Tuma gave three different versions of the night Brenda died.

In Tuma’s first version, given to police on December 4, 1995 (soon after Brenda was murdered), Brenda came by the Four Star at around 10pm for a half hour to 45 minutes. Tuma made no mention of Glen in that statement.

In Tuma’s second version, given to police on August 10, 1998 (soon after Glen became a suspect), Tuma said Glen had come by the Four Star first, sometime between 8 and 9pm, looking for Brenda, and he stayed for five or 10 minutes. Then, sometime between midnight and 1am Brenda showed up, looking for Glen, and stayed for 30 to 45 minutes.

But in his third version of events, his court testimony, Tuma reversed the order of Glen’s and Brenda’s appearance: now, Brenda came by the Four Star at 10pm for five or 10 minutes, looking for Glen. And at midnight, Glen came by for five or 10 minutes, looking for Brenda.

The court transcript recorded the following exchange:

MURRAY: What caused you to change your mind?

TUMA: I had to think about it for a while and look over some old statements and stuff, and I realized that Brenda stopped in first because we[18]Tuma claimed that he was watching a hockey game with Randy Downey, a man later referred to as Russell Downey. It’s odd that neither the prosecution nor the defence called Downey to either … Continue reading were watching the hockey game when she came by.

MURRAY: Uh hmm. Has anyone indicated to you that the eight o’clock time was no good for Glen Assoun?

TUMA: Pardon?

MURRAY: Has anyone indicated that the eight o’clock time was no good for Glen Assoun showing up at the hotel?

TUMA: What do you mean “is no good”?

MURRAY: Well, not useful to the prosecution?

TUMA: I’m not sure. I — I don’t — I didn’t remember if he came by or not.

That statement — “I didn’t remember if he came by or not” — appears to invalidate all of Tuma’s testimony. If he couldn’t remember whether Glen came by at all that night, how could Tuma possibly say with certainty what time Glen came by?

MacRury knew he had a problem, and so on redirect awkwardly brought the issue back to Tuma: “Now, my friend [Murray] asked you, did anyone at the prosecution suggest that the 8:00 time was a different time than the 8:00 time was bad,” said MacRury. “Did anyone at prosecution suggestion [sic] your answer here today, sir? Anybody from our office?”

“No,” replied Tuma.

But that wasn’t the end of it for MacRury. He asked that the jury be excused and then told Hood he wanted to give Tuma his earlier statements to police, have him re-read them to “refresh his memory,” then re-question him about whether and when he saw Glen the night Brenda was murdered. MacRury went so far as to say that if, after more questioning, Tuma still maintained he wasn’t sure about Glen, then the prosecution would have to treat Tuma as a hostile witness.

MacRury and Murray battled over the issue for the rest of the afternoon, and at the end of the day Hood finally decided for MacRury — she allowed the crown to “refresh” Tuma’s memory. That, however, would have to wait until the next day.

On Thursday, Tuma again took the stand in front of the jury. MacRury handed Tuma the transcripts of his statements to police and asked: “Would it refresh your memory to read this document as to whether or not Glen Assoun visited the hotel the last evening that you saw Brenda Way alive before her death?”

“[I] don’t have to look at the paper to refresh my memory,” answered Tuma. “Because I know that he [Glen] was there at 10 o’clock — or 12 o’clock.”

MacRury was successful in terms of getting Tuma to directly address his statement that “I didn’t remember if [Glen] came by or not,” but Tuma’s answer was so muddled — was it 10pm or midnight? — that the defence had a great new debating point: Tuma couldn’t really say what time Glen came by the Four Star.

Glen, however, appears to have concentrated on the tiny tree of the lost legal battle — the narrow issue over whether Tuma would be allowed to back away from his statement “I didn’t remember if he came by or not” — and not the overall forest of how Tuma’s muddled testimony helped his cause. His anger at Murray grew.[19]Glen would later say he believed that the night of the murder Tuma wasn’t at the Four Star at all, but rather was drinking with women who worked as strippers at Ralph’s Place.

For the rest of the day, the courtroom heard from witnesses who had discovered Brenda’s body and police who had responded to the scene.

During the course of this testimony, pictures of the crime scene were introduced as evidence, and those pictures were so gruesome that one juror got sick. The lawyers and the judge agreed that they would try to limit the introduction of disturbing photos and would leave out a video of the autopsy entirely.

One woman on the witness list couldn’t appear because she was in labour. The crown said she would testify after the baby was born.

Through it all, Glen sat at the defence table, seething at his lawyer.

“My life depends on getting to the truth”

When court resumed Friday, June 4, Murray told Hood that Glen wanted to address the court. The trial transcript relates what Glen said:

Your Honour, I’ve been — I have done 14 months of time since I’ve been incarcerated … and I know if I continue with Don Murray, I have no chance at trial of getting the truth. The Crown witnesses, some of them are professional criminals [who] may have dealt with Crown attorneys before.

They’ve dealt with lawyers that are much more aggressive than Don Murray and they are trained to answer questions. They have no fear. And there’s not much I can do about that. But I’m here in this courtroom. I’m going to be here for a month. My life depends on this.

My life depends on getting to the truth. And I will not get to the truth with Don Murray as my counsel and I see that. I see it in the way he cross-examines witnesses. There’s so much I see that I really can’t explain. I’m standing here right now talking to you shaking in my boots. I know these two men here [prosecutors Fetterly and MacRury]. They’re smart men, Crown attorneys, and their job is to convict. I understand that.

And there’s no way that I can get to the truth with Don Murray. I know if I continue to keep Don Murray, I have no chance at this trial. And I know if I represent myself against these two men here that I have a slim chance, and I mean “very” slim. But I’d rather take a slim chance than no chance at all.

I would like to represent myself in this trial. I pray that God is with me and all I want to do is get to the truth. And I’ve been telling the truth. I’ve been wrongfully imprisoned for 14 months now.

[…]

I wanted to call some witnesses to [the hearing about Robin’s evidence] and Mr. Murray didn’t seem to want to do that, ma’am. And I heard you ask him there the other day if he had any witnesses and he just stood up and said, “No, I haven’t.”

[…]

I have five people who are consistently lying against me. For whatever reason, I don’t know. I can guess, but I’m not positive. I do know the truth.

Just like that, three days into the jury trial, Glen fired his lawyer.

It was a Friday, so Hood told Glen to take the weekend and think about what he wanted to do — whether he really wanted to represent himself, or whether he should get another lawyer.

Over the next week the trial came to a standstill as Glen, Hood, and the crown prosecutors debated how to proceed.

Glen consulted with five lawyers — Harry How, Mark Knox, Josh Arnold, Duncan Beveridge, and Pat Atherton — but most were too busy to take his case.

Pat Atherton

At one point, however, Atherton told Hood he was representing Glen, but when it came time to schedule a new start to the trial — for either August or September — Atherton said he had several other trials in the meanwhile. Glen felt that a lawyer needed 300 hours to prepare for his trial, and Atherton couldn’t devote that time to Glen’s case, so Glen likewise dismissed Atherton.

But Glen said he wanted a lawyer all the same. “You know, there’s so much of it that I just don’t understand,” Glen told Hood. “I don’t have the legal training, the legal background. I have nothing of that sort. But I do know that to walk into a courtroom on a charge as great as this, to try to defend myself would be ludicrous. They say that a person who tries to defend himself in court has a fool for a client and I believe that’s true.”[20]R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, pg 1308

Another issue discussed over this week was the possibility that Glen could get another Legal Aid lawyer. For this, Glen would need to fill out another application to Legal Aid in hopes that he could get a second Legal Aid certificate. Glen seemed dismissive of the idea — Murray had consumed most of the hours provided by the first Legal Aid certificate, and Glen didn’t bother to fill out the application for a few days.

Dorothy Bersuk. Photo: Facebook

Asked why he didn’t fill out the application for Legal Aid, Glen explained that a woman named Dorothy Bersuk[21]Bersuk had an active Facebook page until 2013, and was listed at a Sydney address until recently. I’ve attempted to contact her for comment on this story, but have been unable to locate her had been helping him contact Legal Aid. Glen alternately referred to Bersuk as his “wife” and “girlfriend” — the two had lived together in British Columbia until Glen was arrested.

Bersuk, Glen said, had had a “mental breakdown” and was no longer helping him. Regardless, he didn’t think the Legal Aid application would go well. On this, he was right: in the months that followed, Legal Aid rejected his application.[22]Glen contacted Greg Hildebrand, the managing lawyer at Nova Scotia Legal Aid on August 26, three days into the restart of the trial. The next day, August 27, Hildebrand wrote Glen and told him that … Continue reading

However, the Legal Aid issue is an example of why Glen’s case is so maddeningly frustrating. Years later, in 2004, Supreme Court Justice Gerald Freeman reversed an earlier ruling against Glen made by Justice Thomas Cromwell. In his ruling, Freeman unraveled the complex situation and detailed exactly how it was that Glen was denied a second Legal Aid certificate. Explained Freeman:

At the time of his arrest Mr. Assoun was living as a man and wife with Dorothy Bersuk and was receiving two disability pensions totalling about $2,000 a month. The larger of these, a Sun Life pension of about $1,500 a month, was terminated in October of 2000 when Mr. Assoun failed to provide evidence of continuing disability. Between the time of his arrest and September 1, 1999, when his brother Kevin Assoun was given power of attorney and took over his finances, he claims Dorothy Bersuk forged cheques and depleted his account. He stated in evidence before Justice Cromwell that he did not discover this until June 1999, when he went to pay a $10,000 retainer to a lawyer, Patrick Atherton, to represent him at his trial. He was only able to pay $4,500, which Mr. Atherton returned to Ms. Bersuk, who did not replace it in the account….

Mr. Assoun testified … that Ms. Bersuk had deposited his pensions for him but he had not authorized her to withdraw money from the account, with the exception of the money to pay Mr. Atherton. He says she withdrew his other money fraudulently by means of forged cheques. He has not been in contact with Ms. Bersuk since August of 1999. She had sent him a “John Deere” (sic) letter and had not responded when he tried to telephone her. He believed her to be living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Ms. Besuk’s conduct had been reported to police, but they had not acted because the complaint was made too long after the events. I am satisfied that the substantial amounts Ms. Bersuk is alleged to have taken can no longer realistically be considered available to Mr. Assoun for obtaining legal assistance.

Glen’s brother Kevin Assoun is a musician. Click on the photo to see a video about Assoun.
Glen’s brother Kevin Assoun is a musician. Click on the photo to see a video about Assoun.

After the alleged theft from his bank account was discovered, Glen gave his brother Kevin power of attorney, and Kevin’s common-law wife, Brenda Williams, created a detailed accounting of Glen’s records. Freeman found that accounting credible: Glen really didn’t have any money to hire a lawyer.

But, as Freeman noted:

[Glen had] himself muddied the waters by [initially] obtaining the services of Legal Aid by “false statements or concealment in relation to his income,” and an affidavit to the court containing “half truths.” In Justice Cromwell’s view the appellant had concealed income and misled Legal Aid concerning his financial ability to retain counsel. At the beginning of his trial Mr. Assoun discharged the legal aid counsel who had represented him [i.e., Don Murray] during the preliminary inquiry[23]Freeman was incorrect here; Glen actually fired Murray during the trial itself. and Nova Scotia Legal Aid refused to appoint another. It did not appear that Legal Aid was made aware of Mr. Assoun’s $2,000 per month in disability income until it was considering his appeal from its decision refusing him counsel, which it dismissed. Mr. Assoun was self-represented at the trial, and his requests to have counsel appointed were rejected by the trial judge.

This is the sort of misbehaviour coupled with bad luck that seems to have defined much of Glen’s life. Recall that Brenda’s sisters alleged that Glen had faked his disability in the first place. But whether the injury was real or faked, at the time of his trial Glen should have had $32,000 in his bank account, according to Freeman. Glen could’ve used that money to privately hire a lawyer, but instead he appears to have concealed that money in order to get a Legal Aid lawyer, Murray. Then came the bad luck — the concealed money was allegedly stolen by his common-law wife, Dorothy. And so after Glen fired Murray — when Glen actually needed to rely on Legal Aid because he really was broke — Glen was denied Legal Aid because of his past deception.[24]In 2004, Freeman ruled that despite the past deception, Glen could access Legal Aid for an appeal.

Regardless, when his trial reconvened, Glen Assoun, a man with a Grade Six education and no legal experience, was left to defend himself against a murder charge. He had a fool for a client.

The case against Glen

Glen argued that Hood should declare a mistrial, but Hood rejected that call — she said that too much time had been spent on the trial already, and she wasn’t about to let an accused murderer end proceedings mid-trial just because things weren’t going well for him. She instead scheduled a resumption of the trial for August 23.[25]Retaining the jury for the delayed restart of the trial meant polling the jurors to determine their availability, and in the case of one juror — a university student, who was planning to leave town … Continue reading That, she said, would give Glen enough time to prepare.

Glen Assoun

Not unexpectedly, Glen performed horribly. From his jail cell, Glen was unable to do the basic research needed for a defence. He couldn’t locate the people he wanted to subpoena, and even when he managed to do so, he couldn’t easily access the court forms he needed to subpoena them.

Worse, he knew nothing of courtroom procedure and made basic mistakes. He had trouble finding documents in the reams of disclosures given to him. He mentioned in front of the jury that he was in jail, which may have prejudiced the jury against him. He had difficulty entering documents into evidence because he didn’t understand the process for doing so. He didn’t know how to properly pursue a line of questioning, and even when the judge explained how to do so, he abandoned that line of questioning rather than get it right. And he repeatedly — dozens of times — angered the judge by giving evidence in the form of questions.

In contrast, the two extra months meant crown prosecutors Fetterly and MacRury were completely prepared, and they competently pressed their case. They ran circles around Glen both procedurally and when questioning and cross-examining witnesses.

The crown’s case, which was entirely circumstantial, can be summarized with the following list of major witnesses:

Physical evidence
Jane Downey’s discovery of a knife at the murder scene

Timeline witness
Cory Tuma

Witness saying Glen was at murder scene and knew of Brenda’s death
Robin

Witnesses who say they heard Glen confessing to murder
Wayne Wise
Tina Cameron
David Carvery
“Roberta” (a pseudonym)

I’ve already discussed Tuma and Wise, who gave testimony while Murray was representing Glen. I’ve discussed Robin’s evidence at length, but at the time Glen took over his own defence, that evidence hadn’t yet been presented to the jury. Let’s consider the testimony of the other witnesses.

Tina Cameron

The first crown witness after the trial resumed on August 23 was Tina Cameron,[26]The witness’s given name was Mary Cameron, but everyone knew her as Tina Cameron. I’ve been unable to find her. who testified that she was at Cathy Valade’s house a few weeks after Brenda’s murder when Glen, who she had only met once before, arrived.

“He said, ‘I did it,’” testified Cameron. “And she [Cathy] said, ‘Who, Brenda?’ And he said ‘Yes’…I heard him [Glen] say that he got her [Brenda] from ear to ear and that the tip of his blade was broke off.”

Cameron said she overheard Glen confessing to killing Brenda soon after the murder, in November of 1995. But Cameron didn’t report the conversation to the police until 16 months later.

As Cameron explained it, in March 1997 she just happened to be accompanying her friend Carla Jenkinson to the police station, but she didn’t know why Jenkinson was going to the police station. “[Jenkinson] said she had to go to the police station,” testified Cameron. “So I went with her. She wanted me to go with her. And then when we got there, she started to go talking about something that Wayne was involved in — something that Wayne was involved in. And she mentioned Brenda Way. I know about Brenda.”

Cameron then and there decided to tell police investigator Dave MacDonald about overhearing the conversation 16 months earlier, the conversation in which Glen said he had killed Brenda.

Roberta

Roberta[27]“Roberta” is a pseudonym. I’m withholding her real name for two reasons. First, she is a victim of sexual assault. Secondly, there is a publication ban on using her real name in relation to … Continue reading testified on August 25 and 26. She said that she had been working the stroll in Dartmouth, was picked up by man she later identified as Glen Assoun, and taken to a warehouse in Burnside where she was raped, beaten, and sliced with a knife.

During the assault, said Roberta, her attacker called out “Pit Bull,” the street name for Brenda. Roberta said she asked him if he had killed Brenda and he replied, “Yes, and I’ll kill you, too.”

Later, said Roberta, her attacker took her back to Windmill Road, and then, when he came back a few minutes later to deliver her coat, there was a note in the pocket that read, “And I’m going to kill you, too, you fucking bitch.”

Roberta said she recognized Glen as her attacker when Global TV aired a segment on Glen’s arrest for Brenda’s murder.

On cross-examination, Glen got Roberta to admit that she had told police the attack had happened about 18 months before police interviewed her in September 1998 — so in March 1997.

“Well,” Glen said to Roberta, “What would you say if I told you in March 1997 I did not live in Nova Scotia?” Fetterly objected to the question, and Hood ruled it improper — “you’re giving evidence,” said Hood. Then followed about an hour long back and forth, with Hood explaining the rules of court, and Glen not getting it.[28]“At the end of the day,” said Hood, “you get to say to the jury, ‘She said this, she said that, she said this, she said that’… and leave the jury the thought that the person wasn’t a … Continue reading

In fact, police documents record that Glen moved to British Columbia in July of 1996, eight months before Roberta said she was attacked by Glen in Dartmouth. No evidence was presented to suggest Glen travelled back to Dartmouth while living in British Columbia.

Last summer, Roberta appeared on an assault charge in the Halifax court. I attended the hearing.

Some months before, she had had a fight with her ex-boyfriend. He had driven his car to her apartment building, she told him he owed her 30 bucks, words were exchanged, she punched him in the face through the open window of the car. He pressed charges.

By the time of last summer’s hearing, the couple had reconciled. The crown prosecutor noted that Roberta was in therapy. The judge stayed the assault charge, and everyone — the prosecution, the defence, the judge, the boyfriend  — seemed sincerely to wish Roberta well.

After the hearing, I approached Roberta and asked her about Glen. She is a pretty woman, with her hair dyed red and an expression that is at the same time both world-wearied and inquisitive. Roberta insisted the man who attacked her in 1997 was Glen Assoun. I told her Glen had been released from prison, and she said no one had told her.

Roberta then told me that she was the victim in a high-profile attack four years before. On August 16, 2010, Roberta, then a sex worker, had a john named Steven Laffin. Through the course of their encounter, Laffin choked Roberta until she passed out, then bound her mouth, arms, and legs with duct tape. When Roberta came to, Laffin raped her, told her he was going to kill her, and threw her in the trunk of his car.

Incredibly, Roberta was able to free herself and managed to jump out of the trunk of the car as Laffin was driving down Old Sambro Road. Laffin was subsequently convicted of kidnapping, aggravated assault, uttering threats, and unlawful confinement.

Nadine Taylor

Three weeks before he attacked Roberta, Laffin attacked another sex worker named Nadine Taylor. On July 28, 2010, Laffin’s fiancée was out of town at her stagette party. Laffin hired Taylor, brought her to the couple’s Dartmouth home, and horrifically murdered her in the basement.[29]Explained CBC: “Both his wife and police witnesses testified about blood spatter all over the basement of that home. To explain the blood, Laffin told his wife he’d been mugged in the … Continue reading Laffin dumped Taylor’s body in the woods near East Chezzetcook. A few days later, Laffin and his fiancée were married.

Roberta’s escape from the trunk of the car led police to Laffin for the murder of Taylor. In 2013 he pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 13 years. He was additionally sentenced to nine years in prison for the attack on Roberta, but the sentences will run concurrently. Laffin will be eligible for parole in October 2023.

“I was on smack,” Roberta told me. “I’m out of that life now.” She said she’s no longer a sex worker and is doing well.

Glen reacts to Robin’s statements

I’ve discussed Robin’s statements at length, so no need to dwell on them. But it’s important to relate what happened just as the evidence was about to be presented to the jury.

After Roberta finished testifying on August 26, the crown spent the rest of the day questioning police officers, with the goal of establishing how Robin came to give her statements. The next day, August 27, the crown planned to open with two more police officers, then show the jury the videotape of Robin’s KGB interview (Version 2, above).

Recall that Glen had fired his lawyer, Don Murray, in large part because Glen felt that Murray hadn’t adequately argued against Robin’s statements being entered as evidence. In the intervening months, and especially on August 26, Hood made repeated rulings on aspects of Robin’s testimony, almost all going against Glen. Glen knew that Robin’s statements were the heart of the crown’s case against him, and he felt boxed in, unable to get his objections to that evidence before the jury.

The court transcript relates how Glen interrupted and spoke directly to the jury when prosecutor Dan MacRury prepared to call the first cop on August 27:

MACRURY: The Crown calls Constable Williams.

GLEN: Back in June, I told the court that I’m wrongfully imprisoned —

HOOD: Mr. Assoun, you’re not to address they jury —

GLEN: [inaudible] there’s so much being hid from you that you —

HOOD: [inaudible] Take him out of the court, take him out.

GLEN: There’s too much — there’s too much being hid —

HOOD: [inaudible]

[inaudible discussion]

HOOD: We’ll adjourn until Mr. Assoun is back in the courtroom. Sorry.

One of the Sheriff’s deputies placed his hand over Glen’s mouth in order to “muzzle”[30]See Borden, Sherri, “Assoun muzzled, removed from court,” Chronicle Herald, August 28, 1999. him as he was being removed from the courtroom.

Years later, Glen’s lawyers would point at this incident and say that the deputies muzzling Glen while physically dragging him out of the courtroom irredeemably prejudiced the jury against Glen. The lawyers argued that, after that, there was no way Glen could have a fair trial.[31]From Hood’s perspective, she was trying to prevent a mistrial. From Glen’s perspective, he was being framed for a murder he did not commit. The subsequent conversation between Hood and Glen gets … Continue reading

Jane Downey and the knife

Jane Downey testified on August 31 and September 1. Downey explained how in the summer of 1996 she had attended a baby shower on Tulip Street, where she met a woman who claimed to be a psychic.[32]The psychic is not named in court documents. Jane was introduced to the psychic by their mutual friend, a woman named Ann Pritchard. I’ve been unable to find Pritchard or the psychic. Downey died … Continue reading Downey, who was disturbed that no progress had been made in the investigation into her sister’s murder, asked the psychic for help. Over the next few days the two women met in Downey’s Pinecrest Drive apartment, and the psychic had a revelation: Brenda had been killed with a knife with the tip broken off from it.

A few months later, on September 9, 1996, Downey said she just happened to be walking through the murder scene, along the shortcut between 109 Albro Lake Road and 252 Victoria Road, when she discovered a knife with a broken tip.

A dirt path through a small stand of trees connects the parking lot behind 109 Albro Lake Road to the parking lot behind 252 Victoria Road. This view looks from the site where Brenda’s body was found towards 252 Victoria in the distance.
A dirt path through a small stand of trees connects the parking lot behind 109 Albro Lake Road to the parking lot behind 252 Victoria Road. This view looks from the site where Brenda’s body was found towards 252 Victoria in the distance.

“It was in the path not too far from her body,” said Downey. “There was two trees there. I was walking through there one day with my son and I had stepped there and just happened to walk through. Something felt weird, so I moved the grass and I seen the brown handle. And I picked it up and I looked at it and I seen some — it looked like a rusty coloured stain on it. So what I’m thinking is this is the weapon that did do something to my sister.

“The next thing I did was walk into my father’s, picked up the phone and called the police, which was the day I first met Dave MacDonald. He came and retrieved the knife that I found.”

Downey was shown a picture of the crime scene on the day of the murder — the picture showed the scene cordoned off with police tape — and she was asked to mark where 10 months later she found the knife. Downey marked a spot between two trees, just past the area cordoned off by the tape.

Glen was understandably incredulous. From the court transcript:

GLEN: Don’t you find that a little coincidental? You talk to a psychic, she tells you this and then all of a sudden you find a knife?

DOWNEY: Not exactly.

GLEN: You don’t find that coincidental?

DOWNEY: No.

GLEN: Were you aware that the day that they found your sister’s body, the 12th of November 1995, the RCMP had a tracking dog in there and searched the area and they found nothing?

DOWNEY: No.

GLEN: Were you aware that the police did several searches of the area on foot and found nothing?

DOWNEY: They do that in most investigations.

GLEN: But I’m asking you were you aware of that?

DOWNEY: I have not seen it with my own eyes, if you want to know. No.

GLEN: In fact there were several searches of the area by several policemen, also a tracking dog…

HOOD: Mr. Assoun. That’s not in evidence.

GLEN: Pardon me?

HOOD: That’s not in evidence. You’re —

GLEN: It’s in the police report, Your Honour.

HOOD: But that’s not in evidence…

GLEN: Well, I think it’s very important, Your Honour.

HOOD: Well, then somebody should put — then you should — you might want to consider somehow getting into evidence. But you can’t get it into evidence by asking this question.

GLEN: How can I get it into evidence, Your Honour?

HOOD: We can discuss that in the absence of the jury.

But the court transcript doesn’t record such a discussion happening, and Glen never introduced the police reports about their search of the murder scene into evidence.

One thing was entered as evidence, however: the knife without a tip that Jane Downey says she found at the murder scene.

Besides supposedly being predicted by a psychic and then being found at the crime scene, there was nothing linking the knife to Brenda’s murder — there were no fingerprints on the knife, no blood, no DNA evidence. Still, it was allowed as evidence against Glen.

David Carvery

David Carvery was called to the stand on September 7 and testified that when the two men were housed together at the Halifax Correction Centre, Glen had confessed to killing Brenda.

During cross-examination, Glen tried to establish that Carvery had been so interested in Glen’s case that he invaded Glen’s cell and read through confidential court documents while Glen was in the shower. Glen said that as a result, he successfully had Carvery removed from the cellblock. But, as had by this time become typical during the trial, Glen was not successful in having jail documents that supported his argument entered as evidence, and as most of Glen’s argument happened without the jury being present, it did him no good.

Glen did succeed, however, in establishing that Carvery had a direct connection back to Jane Downey, Brenda’s sister who found the knife. Carvery’s girlfriend was a close friend of Downey’s. Glen got Carvery to read aloud a transcript of his interview with police investigator Dave MacDonald:

MACDONALD: Can you explain why you decided to provide police with the information regarding this investigation?

CARVERY: Well, the reason I provided was, like I said, the lady that was killed, her sister was a good friend of my common-law wife and also help out with some charges that I had.

Carvery was facing charges for dealing cocaine. If convicted, he could have been sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison. In exchange for his testimony against Glen, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that would see Carvery serve just two years in jail and three years on probation.

But Carvery insisted he testified against Glen because, “I know [what] the truth is,” he said. “That’s why I came forth to tell what I had to say.”

After Carvery stepped down from the witness stand on September 7, 1999, the crown called three more minor witnesses and rested its case.

Glen’s defence

Partly because he had trouble subpoenaing people[33]None of Glen’s witnesses were subpoenaed. Glen’s son, Glen Junior, happened to run into Juan Sanchez on the bus and asked Sanchez to testify. Sanchez was going to the courthouse anyway, so … Continue reading while behind bars, Glen called just eight witnesses in his defence.

Juan Sanchez,[34]Sanchez had 24 different criminal convictions and earlier on that very day, in another courtroom, he was sentenced on a manslaughter charge. In May 1998, Sanchez was involved in a fight with … Continue reading Glen’s cellmate in jail when Carvery said Glen had confessed to Brenda’s murder, and Hector Deagle,[35]Deagle also had a lengthy criminal record. In 2001 he told the Daily News that he had spent 15 years in jail for crimes related to feeding a dilaudid and morphine addiction. Lambie, Chris, … Continue reading who was also on the cellblock, testified that Glen was a quiet, anti-social man while in prison, and never discussed his case with them. A guard at the jail, Scott Keefe, said the same.

Glen also called a cop, Milton Williams. Glen asked Williams about the night Glen stayed at the Stardust Hotel with Robin. As Glen told it, he had called Williams to tell him he was going to the hotel; Glen and Robin took a cab from the House of Hum to the hotel, and Williams followed behind in his patrol car, said Glen.[36]Glen appears to have thought of the trip to the hotel with Robin as part of his ongoing personal investigation into Brenda’s murder, and not the nefarious and threatening incident that Robin … Continue reading But Williams couldn’t remember the incident, and had made no notes of it.

Glen’s ineptitude as a lawyer was perhaps best demonstrated when he called Cathy Cameron to the stand to rebut Roberta’s testimony. Roberta had said the man who attacked her had an earring and a pierced ear. Rather than subpoena a doctor who could testify about pierced ears, Glen called Cameron, a 25-year-old aesthetician. On the stand, Cameron admitted she had only seen four people who had removed their piercings, and couldn’t say with certainty whether someone had previously been pierced. For what it’s worth, she said she didn’t think Glen had had pierced ears.

Ann Morse

Glen’s most important witness was Ann Morse, his alibi for the night of Brenda’s murder — Glen was living with Morse, and she testified that the two spent the night of November 11, 1995 together. They were in bed, and she recalled looking at the clock at 5am before falling to sleep, then woke up the next morning as Glen was puttering around the house.[37]Morse also testified about two other events, both of which are important to this story. I’ll return to that testimony in Part 3 of this series.

On cross-examination, crown prosecutor Dan Fetterly attacked Morse’s memory — at the time of the murder, Morse was taking the prescribed drugs Lectopam and Ranitidine, both of which affect memory.

Fetterly went on to rip apart Morse’s story.[38]During a break in Morse’s testimony, Morse and Brenda’s sister Carol Beals got in a “scuffle” in the courthouse lobby. Her statements to police were inconsistent — the definitive timeline Morse gave to police the afternoon of the murder wavered in subsequent retellings over the years until finally she said she couldn’t be sure it was 5am when she fell asleep, and it was possible that Glen slipped out while she was asleep.

Linda Grandy

Glen’s penultimate witness was Linda Grandy, who testified that she had previously lived at 109 Albro Lake Road, but had moved out some months before Brenda’s murder. Grandy said that on the night of murder she was living at 21 Jackson Road. Earlier that evening, said Grandy, she was prostituting along Albro Lake Road, and had run into Brenda. Then, said Grandy, she went home and smoked crack by herself. Moreover, said Grandy, she did not know Robin.

Grandy’s testimony completely contradicted Robin’s statements — Robin had said that the morning of the murder, she was smoking crack in Grandy’s apartment at 109 Albro Lake Road.

On cross-examination, Fetterly pointed out that Grandy had repeatedly been convicted for theft and dealing drugs, and was in fact then serving a sentence for selling crack. Grandy said she had been doing crack for 10 years. “I do it all day long, all night, when I have it,” she said.

Fetterly suggested that Grandy’s crack use affected her memory, and that Grandy couldn’t really remember whether she lived at 109 Albro Lake Road the night of the murder, or whether she was with Robin. “Is it fair to say that there were people at 109 Albro Lake Road that consumed drugs that you may not have known?” asked Fetterly. “Yes, that could happen,” said Grandy.

On redirect, Glen had Grandy read from her statement on November 12, 1995 — the day Brenda was murdered. At that time, she said she lived on Jackson Road.[39]The police statement itself said that Grandy lived at 19 Jackson Road, apartment 11. But 19 Jackson Road is a single family home; the apartment building next door is 21 Jackson Road. Grandy thought … Continue reading

Brenda Williams

Glen’s last witness was Brenda Williams, the common-law wife of Glen’s brother Kevin. Williams testified that she helped Glen get established in British Columbia, and saw him regularly in BC from July 1996 to April 1998, when he was arrested. That timeframe included March 1997, when Roberta said Glen attacked her in Dartmouth.

Williams brought a file folder of documents with her — a receipt from a landlady for an apartment Glen rented, a letter from a Sun Life worker saying she had mailed cheques to Glen, a letter from a doctor who said he examined Glen, a speeding ticket — all showing that Glen was in BC in March 1997. But Hood ruled that the documents were hearsay, and so not admissible as evidence.

On cross-examination, Williams admitted that she didn’t see Glen every day, and sometimes not for weeks at a time. And, responding to Fetterly’s questions, she explained how Glen and Kevin’s brother-in-law worked for Air Canada and sometimes got the family $100 tickets to anywhere in Canada — Fetterly’s implied argument being that without William’s knowledge, Glen could have flown to Halifax, attacked Roberta, and then flown back to BC.[40]One of the more frustrating things about reading the court transcript is the lack of documentation entered as evidence. If Fetterly was suggesting that Glen flew to Halifax, he should have produced a … Continue reading

Glen’s closing statement

Glen addressed the jury on September 14. He read from hand-written pages. He spoke so softly that several times he had to be told to speak up because the jury couldn’t hear him. His voice cracked, he drank a lot of water.

Glen discussed his alibi on the morning of the murder, and then went on to give a good summation of the problems with the evidence against him: the multiple problems with Robin’s statements; Corey Tuma changing his story; Jane Downey discovering a knife with a broken tip after being told of it by a psychic; the nexus between Wayne Wise, Carla Jenkinson, Tina Cameron, David Carvery, and Jane Downey; and Roberta identifying Glen as her assailant in Dartmouth while he was living in British Columbia.

True to form, when he was discussing Roberta, Glen stepped over rules of court procedure and attempted to give fresh evidence: “I don’t know [Roberta],” he said. “I never laid eyes on her in my life.”

The judge rebuked him: “You’re testifying and you cannot do this.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to,” said Glen. “It’s a pretty wild story to hold onto for a year and a half.”

Glen then tried to discuss the statements he gave police soon after the murder, and the judge again stopped him. “I apologize,” he said. “I have to skip pages and pages … I’m just going to sum this up.” He continued:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my life is in your hands right now. I ask you please don’t let a miscarriage of justice happen.

The crown has not met a burden of proof. There’s no forensic evidence, and there’s no physical evidence. It’s just hearsay, he-said/she-said, and alleged confessions.

I fought these two men here [the prosecutors, Fetterly and MacRury] the best I could, all the way through this trial. The reason I did fight them is because I am innocent.

I’m not claiming to be no angel because I’m not. I’ve made mistakes in my life, plenty of them. By God, I’m not no murderer. As I stated, my life is in each and every one of your hands. I ask you please, please make the right decision. I’m asking you please. Thank you very much for listening to me.

That afternoon, MacRury gave the crown’s closing statement, reviewing the evidence. The next day, Hood gave her instructions to the jury.

The jury, sequestered in the evenings in a Truro hotel, deliberated for two days. But the two days reflect not so much indecision as thoroughness on the jury’s part — jurors listened again to the audio recording of Robin’s testimony at the preliminary hearing, of the court testimony from the two days of trial in June, and of Roberta’s testimony. They also watched the video of Robin’s KGB statement.

The jury ended deliberations on September 17. “Members of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?” asked Hood.

“Yes, we have,” said jury foreman Drew Markham.

“And so on behalf of the indictment of second-degree murder, what is your verdict?” asked Hood.

“Our verdict is guilty,” said Markham.

Glen sat silent as Hood went on to explain the sentencing process, and that Glen could ask for a lawyer to represent him as his background report was written. “What is your wish?” she asked Glen.

“Well, I do wish to say that it’s official that I am wrongfully imprisoned right now,” said Glen. “The jury made a mistake.”

Next Week: DEAD WRONG, part 3: If Glen Assoun Didn’t Kill Brenda Way, Who Did?

References

References
1 “[Robin] was going to clean up her act after her girlfriend [Brenda] got murdered,” said Pauline. “She made a tape of him and you can’t deny a tape, and he [Glen] didn’t know she made the tape — or more than likely she wouldn’t have been murdered if he had known. The police made a tape of her in the Way girl’s murder — that’s why she was killed. I don’t even know if I should be saying all of this, you know, it might hurt their case of keeping him in [prison]. But I don’t want anything bad to happen to anybody, I just don’t want him walking around, because anybody who would try so hard to cover up what happened doesn’t deserve to walk the streets. We have enough bad people walking the streets without him out there too.” But contrary to Pauline’s opinion, Glen knew that Robin had been videotaped for a KGB statement — Robin testified about it at the preliminary inquiry a month before she was killed.
2 R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, Summary for the Trial Judge, page 12.
3 In an affidavit filed with the court as part of Glen’s 2006 appeal, private investigator Fred Fitzsimmons reviewed all the suspects police had listed in their notes; neither Glen Junior nor Jamie are mentioned.
4 Both Glen Junior and Jamie were prepared to testify about the incident in front of Rocco’s Restaurant at Glen’s murder trial. When it came time for the trial, however, neither man was called as a witness. We don’t know why prosecutors didn’t put Glen Junior or Jamie on the stand. Possibly the crown feared that the pair’s testimony would muddy the waters for the jury. Glen, after all, was not personally involved in the incident outside Rocco’s Restaurant; would the jury think it possible that either Glen Junior or Jamie could’ve been responsible for Brenda’s murder? Since neither man was a suspect in Brenda’s murder, investigators must have had good reasons to exclude them. But explaining such reasons would add complexities that would complicate the prosecution’s efforts to convince the jury to convict Glen for Brenda’s murder. Better to leave Glen Junior and Jamie out of the equation. As for Robin’s murder, as I’ll explain later in this series, police had a better suspect.
5 See comments from Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay in Lambie, Chris, “City-hall lawyer named to N.S. Supreme Court,” Daily News, December 21, 1995.
6 On November 22, 1995, Justice Lewis Matheson had sentenced a man named Colin Boutilier to probation and no jail time for forcible entry into his estranged wife’s home. “It’s unfortunate that at 54 years of age you have to appear for the first time in a court of this type,” said Matheson at sentencing. “I don’t know, even having heard everything that was said, whether it’s your own fault or you happen to have a very sensitive mate who is easily rattled.” Just 13 days later, on December 4, 1995, Boutilier was charged with the first degree murder of his former girlfriend Leah May MacQueen, a 45-year-old Grade 5 teacher who was found dead in her driveway. “Boutilier was found at the scene with a gunshot wound in the stomach,” reported the Daily News, which went on to note a previous incident in the judge’s past: “Last year, Matheson — who’s in his 60s — found himself at the centre of a controversy after jailing a 42-year-old man for sexually assaulting two 15-year-old girls and a 12-year-old girl. Before sentencing, the judge said: ‘What is most serious about this, is that it involves children …If these were 35-year-old women, women that (the perpetrator) had done this to, I might smile and throw this out of court.’” See “More trouble for Glace Bay judge,” Daily News, December 9, 1995. Boutilier was subsequently convicted of the murder of MacQueen.
7 Hood provided legal advice to the city of Dartmouth “for years” through the law firm Huestis Holm, and was then hired outright as city solicitor in 1993. She was appointed to the bench on December 20, 1995. See, Lambie, Chris, “City-hall lawyer named to N.S. Supreme Court,” Daily News, December 21, 1995.
8 See McLaughlin, Peter, “Area left to hookers, north enders say,” Daily News, June 5, 1994. “Northend residents have been fighting the sex trade in their neighborhood for almost a year. Two months ago they asked council to look at innovative ways to curtail the problem, even setting aside a ‘red light’ district in a non-residential area,” wrote McLaughlin. “City staff have thrown  up their hands saying there’s nothing Dartmouth can do to control the prostitution problem in the Albro Lake-Victoria Road area. In a memo to council, city solicitor Suzanne Hood said the city has no authority to legislate against the sex trade in Dartmouth. ‘These are criminal law matters, and according to the Constitution Act, are solely within federal jurisdiction. Any legislation which might be passed by the municipality … would be invalid,’ she said. Instead, Hood endorsed a move by Mayor Gloria McCluskey to write letters to federal Justice Minister Allan Rock asking for amendments to the criminal code so police could more effectively control street prostitution.”
9 At the time, Theman was president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorney’s Association; his efforts to improve the working conditions of prosecutors have resulted in a national award in his name issued to the person who best represents the interests of crown prosecutors. See http://www.cacc-acje.ca/en/index.php/theman_about
10 Fetterly was later co-prosecutor of William Chandler Shrubsall, a case that brought him some fame. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/final-arguments-heard-in-shrubsall-case-1.246161. Fetterly is now a crown prosecutor in Ontario.
11 MacRury was appointed as a provincial and family court judge in 2014. See: http://www.capebretonpost.com/News/Local/2014-07-30/article-3818544/Cape-Bretons-Dan-MacRury-appointed-to-bench/1
12 “My friend, Mr. MacRury, and I were thrown into this at the last minute,” Fetterly told Hood. “It’s difficult.” Page 1270, R. v Glen Eugene Assoun.
13 R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, pages 642 and 643.
14 Bates’ testimony was, frankly, incoherent. It would be a mistake to read anything into it one way or the other — for the crown or the defence. And neither the crown nor the defence referred to Bates’ testimony at the Court of Appeals
15 This became an issue in 1996, when Murray was defending Doris Eisenhauer, a woman convicted of the 1993 murder of a teenage sex worker named Gisele Peltzman. I’ll discuss that case at length later in this series.
16 The third pre-trial hearing involved witnesses’ testimony about Brenda and Glen’s relationship. Hood allowed almost all of the evidence to be presented to the jury.
17 Typically, a murder trial is recorded from beginning to end, and the audio recording is transcribed; the transcription then becomes part of the court record. But for some unexplained reason, Hood’s oral decision on Robin’s statements wasn’t recorded, and so there is no court transcript of it. Moreover, Hood didn’t issue a written version of her oral decision about Robin’s statements until June 14, 2000 — long after the trial had ended in Glen’s conviction, and not until Glen filed an appeal of the conviction. Years later, Glen’s lawyers argued that Hood only issued a written decision to get the appeal quashed.
18 Tuma claimed that he was watching a hockey game with Randy Downey, a man later referred to as Russell Downey. It’s odd that neither the prosecution nor the defence called Downey to either corroborate or contradict Tuma’s testimony. I’ve been unable to find Randy or Russell Downey, nor learn whether he is related through marriage to Jane Downey, the woman who was Brenda’s sister and the discoverer of a knife at the murder scene.
19 Glen would later say he believed that the night of the murder Tuma wasn’t at the Four Star at all, but rather was drinking with women who worked as strippers at Ralph’s Place.
20 R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, pg 1308
21 Bersuk had an active Facebook page until 2013, and was listed at a Sydney address until recently. I’ve attempted to contact her for comment on this story, but have been unable to locate her
22 Glen contacted Greg Hildebrand, the managing lawyer at Nova Scotia Legal Aid on August 26, three days into the restart of the trial. The next day, August 27, Hildebrand wrote Glen and told him that Legal Aid would not provide any services to him. Glen appealed that decision on August 28, but the appeal wasn’t heard until September 14, after Glen was convicted. The appeal committee rejected the appeal. See Affidavit of Warren Zimmer.
23 Freeman was incorrect here; Glen actually fired Murray during the trial itself.
24 In 2004, Freeman ruled that despite the past deception, Glen could access Legal Aid for an appeal.
25 Retaining the jury for the delayed restart of the trial meant polling the jurors to determine their availability, and in the case of one juror — a university student, who was planning to leave town September 1 — even promising to provide housing, if necessary. Hood later told the jury: “I don’t think you realize what a remarkable thing it is that has gone on with this jury, being chosen as a jury in June and then going away for two and a half months. I think what’s going to happen is that a long time after most people have forgotten the details of this trial, there will be people saying, ‘Do you remember that time there was a jury that was selected and — in June and then it went away for two and a half months, and they all agreed to come back and they all came back and finished their jobs.’ That’s a remarkable thing and I am not sure you realize how remarkable that is for you to have done that.” See R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, pp 4148-4149.
26 The witness’s given name was Mary Cameron, but everyone knew her as Tina Cameron. I’ve been unable to find her.
27 “Roberta” is a pseudonym. I’m withholding her real name for two reasons. First, she is a victim of sexual assault. Secondly, there is a publication ban on using her real name in relation to events described later in this article.
28 “At the end of the day,” said Hood, “you get to say to the jury, ‘She said this, she said that, she said this, she said that’… and leave the jury the thought that the person wasn’t a very reliable person. That’s the objective of cross-examination. Not to get the witness to break down and say, ‘I’m lying!’ I mean, it just never — maybe before I retire it will happen, but I haven’t seen it yet.” “Well,” said Glen, “I hope to get to the bottom of this, Your Honour, before you retire, with all due respect. And to the truth.” “Oh,” said Hood. “I hope this trial will end before I retire.” “Yeah,” agreed Glen. Hood has not yet retired.
29 Explained CBC: “Both his wife and police witnesses testified about blood spatter all over the basement of that home. To explain the blood, Laffin told his wife he’d been mugged in the driveway, and went down the basement to clean up so as not to mess up the rest of the house. Because they were getting married and were having guests in the house, Laffin persuaded his wife to help him clean the house. They scrubbed it down, but they didn’t get everything because police were still able to gather samples for trial.” See: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/laffin-pleads-guilty-to-killing-nadine-taylor-1.1378594 “Police found large blood stains in the basement of Laffin’s home weeks after [Taylor] disappeared,” reported CTV. “‘This was after he attempted to clean up the house,’ said Crown attorney Rick Woodburn. ‘There was still lots of blood left everywhere. There was blood on the murder weapons, blood on the walls, blood all over the floor. It was a clear, brutal homicide.’” See: http://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/steven-laffin-sentenced-to-life-in-prison-for-killing-nadine-taylor-1.1253781 
30 See Borden, Sherri, “Assoun muzzled, removed from court,” Chronicle Herald, August 28, 1999.
31 From Hood’s perspective, she was trying to prevent a mistrial. From Glen’s perspective, he was being framed for a murder he did not commit. The subsequent conversation between Hood and Glen gets to the heart of the complex interplay of issues in the trial:
HOOD: Mr. Assoun, you have the right to be present during this trial. However, that right is subject to my interpretation of improper behaviour on your part which will allow me to order you to watch this trial on closed-circuit television from the cells. Now I don’t intend to do that now. But I have the power to do that, and I will. Do you understand that?
GLEN: I understand what you’re saying.
HOOD: You are not to address this jury until the trial is over.
GLEN: I want a lawyer. And I want to change the —
HOOD: Have I made that clear?
GLEN: — venue
HOOD: And I have told you that you cannot — that I am not going to grant a further adjournment or grant a mistrial for you to get a lawyer. We’ve been through this and there is nothing new that has occurred. You have been conducting your own cross-examination of witnesses. I told you I think it was yesterday or the day before, I think it was yesterday, that in my view, you’re doing a good job of it. You are cross-examining the witnesses as well as I’ve seen some lawyers do it. You may — I know it’s not easy. Counsel don’t find trials easy. But this is not an overly complex set of facts. The legal issues have been largely dealt with by the voir dires that were held before you dismissed your counsel. And what is going on now is, with the exception of a couple of voir dires, they’re simply witnesses being called by the Crown. And you have an opportunity to cross-examine them. You’ve demonstrated that you’re very familiar with their statements. You’ve cross-examined them on inconsistencies in those statements and you’ve been doing it quite thoroughly.
GLEN: I can’t get to the truth without a lawyer, Your Honour.
HOOD: You’ve said that.
GLEN: There’s corruption here and I know it. This case pertains to the David Milgaard case, I’m wrongful in prison… I told you that girl was lying.
HOOD: Mr. Assoun, you’re talking about two different things.
GLEN: No, I’m talking about the same thing. I’m talking about corruption and this man here framing me.
HOOD: You’re not —
GLEN: And he knows it.
HOOD: You’re—
GLEN: David MacDonald.
32 The psychic is not named in court documents. Jane was introduced to the psychic by their mutual friend, a woman named Ann Pritchard. I’ve been unable to find Pritchard or the psychic. Downey died from cancer in 2007.
33 None of Glen’s witnesses were subpoenaed. Glen’s son, Glen Junior, happened to run into Juan Sanchez on the bus and asked Sanchez to testify. Sanchez was going to the courthouse anyway, so agreed. On the morning Hector Deagle testified, Glen and Deagle were transported from the Halifax Correctional Centre to the courthouse together — Deagle had been subpoenaed on another case — and Deagle agreed to testify for Glen.
34 Sanchez had 24 different criminal convictions and earlier on that very day, in another courtroom, he was sentenced on a manslaughter charge. In May 1998, Sanchez was involved in a fight with “numerous” other people in the parking lot outside the Colby Village Beverage Room. Sanchez pulled a paring knife and stabbed Neil Raymond Nicholson four times, once in the heart, killing him. Sanchez was charged with second degree murder, but pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
35 Deagle also had a lengthy criminal record. In 2001 he told the Daily News that he had spent 15 years in jail for crimes related to feeding a dilaudid and morphine addiction. Lambie, Chris, “Methadone clinic offers safe fix: Narcotic helps addicts struggling to withdrawl from heroin and other powerful opiates,” Daily News, July 1, 2001.
36 Glen appears to have thought of the trip to the hotel with Robin as part of his ongoing personal investigation into Brenda’s murder, and not the nefarious and threatening incident that Robin claimed it was. If he was up to no good, why would he first call the cops?
37 Morse also testified about two other events, both of which are important to this story. I’ll return to that testimony in Part 3 of this series.
38 During a break in Morse’s testimony, Morse and Brenda’s sister Carol Beals got in a “scuffle” in the courthouse lobby.
39 The police statement itself said that Grandy lived at 19 Jackson Road, apartment 11. But 19 Jackson Road is a single family home; the apartment building next door is 21 Jackson Road. Grandy thought the discrepancy was merely a typo.
40 One of the more frustrating things about reading the court transcript is the lack of documentation entered as evidence. If Fetterly was suggesting that Glen flew to Halifax, he should have produced a record of the flight. Likewise, I’ve avoided discussing the various vehicles that Glen may or may not have owned through the period because neither the crown nor the defence took the simple act of getting DMV records. There are similar issues with pages and cell phone calls that were discussed during the trial — no one subpoenaed phone records to ascertain the exact times of the calls and phone numbers connected.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. First I was going to comment about a judge thinking that it’s a “John Deere” letter. Ha. Then I was struck by just how terrifying and overwhelming it must be to be, trying to defend yourself and learning how to speak in a courtroom by trial-and-error (what a great title for part 2) at the same time. You can feel the despair in his repeated apologies. Just wow.

  2. I just heard this week’s podcast… too many comments about this being hard to read. I select the text and tell my computer to read it to me. Better to do a trial run with a few sentences to get the voice and speed right. It turns the thousands of words into a virtual podcast… no idea how to do it on windows but it is easy as pie on a macintosh! I just thought I’d pass that along.

    Also, thanks for the list of characters and other support materials… I was thinking I would need that to keep things straight.