Nelson Hart, who was convicted in 2007 of first degree murder in the 2002 deaths of his three year-old twin daughters, is set to be released from prison after Crown prosecutors withdrew the charges this week.
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TO BE RELEASED – Nelson Hart was convicted in 2007 of murdering his three year-old twin daughters, after making confessions to undercover RCMP officers in a months- long investigation. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled those confessions inadmissible as evidence last week and Crown prosecutors withdrew the charges on August 5 in Gander Supreme Court.
Judge David Peddle heard from Crown attorney, Donovan Molloy, and Hart’s defense lawyer, Robby Ash, in Gander Supreme Court Aug. 5.
Molloy gave more elaborate reasoning for withdrawing the charges in a press conference following the hearing.
“Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to exclude the confessions made by Mr. Hart to the undercover officers left us with insufficient evidence to meet our standard for prosecution, which is a reasonable likelihood of conviction,” said Molloy.
“Without those statements, there was no longer a likelihood of conviction, and as such, we made a motion in court today to withdraw the charges.”
Hart filed for an appeal shortly after his 2007 conviction on the grounds his confessions to undercover RCMP officers during a months-long sting operation known as “Mr. Big” should not have been entered as evidence.
He was arrested in 2005 shortly after making those confessions.
Mr. Big sting operations are carried out typically in the case of a murder suspect. The operation sees undercover officers pose as members of organized crime in order to gain the trust of the suspect with the eventual goal of getting that person to reveal their criminal past in order to ensure the suspect’s loyalty to the organization.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the confessions were not admissible because such operations can provide unreliable evidence as suspects can feel pressured to play up to the so-called crime boss. The decision left the Crown to decide whether or not to move ahead with a new trial.
Molloy would not comment on what other evidence, if any, the Crown had to implicate Hart in his daughters’ death, but he said it’s possible there would be another trial if new evidence came to light.
The news of Hart’s release came just one day after the 12th anniversary of the death of his daughters, Krista and Karen. While Hart was absent from this week’s hearing, the girls’ mother, Jennifer Hicks, was in court during the announcement.
That was important to keep in mind, said Molloy, when asked if Hart should be held criminally responsible in the drowning deaths of his daughters while they were in his care.
“Irony is an inappropriate word but it compounds the tragedy that happened,” said Molloy. “You saw Ms. Hicks here today on what is essentially the anniversary of the loss of her daughters. She is understandably broken hearted. She’s just a normal person who doesn’t understand the complexities of the justice system in the Supreme Court of Canada — she has lost her daughters, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to her.”
When it comes to Hart’s release from prison, Molloy said there’s nothing holding that back as of now.
“Mr. Hart was only in custody in regards to the murder charges, and as you heard today in court, those charges were withdrawn. While he does have some matters that are outstanding in provincial court, he was not denied bail in those matters, and I expect Mr. Hart will be released into the community in the very near future. The court of appeal has restored his innocence and the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that decision, and that’s all we are dealing with here today. I’m not going to speculate or comment on the potential of other charges.”
According to the defense lawyer, the outstanding matters Hart is facing stem from incidents with corrections officials, and not guilty pleas have been entered while he awaits trial on those matters.
It’s been a long and emotional road for Hart since his conviction, he said, adding Hart was relieved when he learned of the court’s decision to withdraw the murder charges.
“He was very pleased with the outcome of the decision,” said Ash. “But this will be a difficult time for him as well. It’s a time of transition and a time of healing. He’s been in custody now for over nine years.”
Hart’s isolation is the reason the defense felt he should not have appeared in court during this week’s hearing.
“That’s one of the reasons he did not appear in court today — we wanted to ensure that he had some space to deal with this as well,” said Ash. “The Crown referenced the 12 anniversary of the death of the girls, and they were also Mr. Hart’s daughters. I think he’s in a very difficult spot right now in terms of coming out of prison and not really having a place to live, and having no social ties for the past nine years. He’s going to need some space to reintegrate, and this gives him that opportunity.”
According to his defense lawyer, the case has taken a toll on Hart.
“Mr. Hart has been affected physiologically in a tremendous fashion as a result of the sting and his prolonged incarceration, which included long periods of solitary confinement as well. He’s had some difficulties on the inside being in various prisons across the country. He’s going to need some time to heal.”
While Ash would not comment on where Hart is being released from prison, he did say Hart was recently in Corner Brook to discuss the case with his lawyers.