Blue Line

Saint John, N.B. police chief asks ex-Mountie to review wrongful conviction of 2 men

January 12, 2024  By The Canadian Press

Jan. 12, 2024, Saint John, N.B. – Saint John police Chief Robert Bruce has launched a review of his force’s conduct in the wrongful murder convictions of two New Brunswick men.

Bruce said in a news release Friday he has asked retired RCMP officer Allen Farrah to conduct a comprehensive review of how investigators handled the case against Robert Mailman and Walter Gillespie.

But Ron Dalton, president of Innocence Canada, a group that advocates for the wrongfully accused, says police have enough evidence of errors committed in the case to apologize to the two men and acknowledge the problems. He says he fears the review is a tactic that will further delay those steps.

“My first reaction is that this is another stall,” Dalton said in an interview Friday.


Gillespie, 80, and Mailman, 76, were acquitted last week of a 1983 murder for which they both served lengthy prison terms. Chief Justice Tracey DeWare of New Brunswick’s Court of King’s Bench called the case a miscarriage of justice and offered the two men an apology.

Bruce said in Friday’s release he is “concerned about the outcome, in particular, the role of the Saint John police in the original investigation and prosecution.”

Innocence Canada took up the men’s case and kept records of what it claimed were key factors in the 1984 murder convictions. In a written submission to the court dated Jan. 4, the group said those factors included “police tunnel vision, the non-disclosure of important evidence, recantations by the two key Crown witnesses,” as well as a disregard for the men’s strong alibis.

The case goes back to Nov. 30, 1983, when George Leeman’s partially burnt body was found by a jogger in a wooded area in the Fisher Lakes area in Saint John. There were blunt force wounds to his head and face, and a hospital pathologist concluded he had been dead for at least 24 hours.

Mailman is terminally ill, said Dalton, adding that it’s crucial the authorities move swiftly to provide apologies, compensation and acknowledgment of problems with their conduct.

“I didn’t see any apology in there,” he said about the police’s Friday news release. “I didn’t see any recognition that the Saint John Police Force agrees … with the findings of the federal justice minister or the chief justice of the Court of King’s Bench in New Brunswick.”

Bruce said that before proceeding, his force needs to review the full, final report by the federal Justice Department, which led the federal justice minister to overturn the convictions.

Dalton said police are well aware of the details and that the force had a chance to review a preliminary version of the department’s report.

On Dec. 22, the Justice Department said it found “new and significant information was identified that was not submitted to the courts at the time of Mr. Mailman and Mr. Gillespie’s trials … that calls into question the overall fairness of the process.”

Dalton said, “Everybody involved had access to these reports, police have had the opportunity to comment on them … so, it’s been very thoroughly canvassed. I can’t imagine there’s anything left for police to review that’s going to enlighten them in any way.”

Bruce was unavailable for further comment other than what was provided in Friday’s release.

In its submission to the court on Jan. 4, Innocence Canada noted that two key witnesses recanted their original testimony. One of those witnesses, John Loeman Jr., recanted his testimony five times: to his lawyer, to a journalist, in two letters, and to a federal Justice Department lawyer looking into Mailman and Gillespie’s wrongful conviction case in 1998.

“He (Loeman) said that he had given false evidence in court and was coerced to do this by Insp. Al Martin and deputy chief Charlie Breen of the Saint John Police,” Innocence Canada says in its court brief.

The Innocence Canada brief also said that since the convictions, Mailman and Gillespie learned that the Saint John police had provided a total of $1,800 to Loeman, in addition to hotel and relocation costs — information that wasn’t disclosed during the trial.

“For a 16-year-old living in poverty in 1984 this was a lot of money by any standard,” says the brief, which argues this information should have been made available to the defence to challenge Loeman’s motives in testifying.

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