Prosecutors reviewing new information before deciding on murder retrial

No word yet on exoneration

A man who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he may not have committed will have to wait at least a few more weeks to learn whether he will be tried again.

Gerald Klassen is awaiting word from prosecutors in the Kamloops Crown counsel office as to whether he will be tried a second time for the murder of a woman found dead along Highway 5A near Merritt nearly three decades ago. On Monday, he found out that won't be happening for at least three weeks.

Now 61, Klassen was convicted on March 10, 1995, by a B.C. Supreme Court jury in Kamloops of one count of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Julie Delores McLeod, a 22-year-old woman from Merritt, was found dead at a Nicola Lake rest stop on Dec. 16, 1993. At trial, a forensic pathologist testified McLeod had likely died as the result of a severe beating — testimony that has since been called into question.

Klassen has always maintained his innocence. He said he had consensual sex with McLeod, after which they got into an argument. He said he pushed her away, causing her to fall and hit her head on the boat ramp.

According to Klassen, McLeod was very much alive when he left the rest stop. She was found dead, partially submerged in the lake.

Klassen began working with the UBC Innocence Project in 2009. In 2018, lawyers and UBC law students filed an application under a section of the Criminal Code of Canada that allows the federal minister of justice to review and overturn criminal convictions in extraordinary cases that are deemed “likely” to represent a miscarriage of justice.

In September of the following year, the UBC Innocence Project team heard back from Ottawa with a decision indicating the ministry would investigate the case.

Independent pathology reports were prepared in 2020 showing McLeod’s death was likely not the result of intentional force. Klassen was granted bail in September of that year.

In March, Federal Justice Minister David Lametti ruled Klassen’s case represents a “likely” miscarriage of justice. He ordered a new trial.

In July, UBC Innocence Project director Tamara Levy, a professor at UBC’s law school, told Castanet she’s surprised it’s taken prosecutors so long to decide what to do with Klassen.

If prosecutors choose to retry Klassen, a new trial will take place in B.C. Supreme Court. If they choose not to, his legal odyssey will come to an end and he will remain a free man.

“It’s not in the interest of justice in any way to proceed,” Levy said.

“There’s no evidence to proceed on and there’s no pubic interest given that he already served the time. So I am just really perplexed as to why it’s taking so long for the Crown to sort of come to terms with that.”

During a brief hearing Monday in B.C. Supreme Court, a judge was told Klassen’s lawyers have sent new materials to prosecutors for review. They asked for a three-week adjournment to allow time for the review.

Klassen’s file will return to court on Oct. 17, at which time more might be learned about whether prosecutors plan to proceed with another trial.

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