Court rejects 'police trickery' appeal, confirms northern Ont. man's murder conviction
SUDBURY -- Defence lawyers for a man convicted in 2016 of a grisly murder in northern Ontario have failed to convince an appeals court to grant him a new trial.
Mathew Hayes is from Cobalt, a small town near the Quebec border. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in connection with a 2013 homicide in a nearby community.
Lawyers for Hayes based the appeal on nine factors, ranging from accusations of police manipulation to the fact the defence was unable to get details of who submitted the tip to Crime Stoppers that led to the murderer's arrest.
Hayes and his girlfriend, Caitlyn Willard, were friends with the victim, Christopher Parsons, a gas station attendant in Haileybury in June 2013, when the killing took place.
One witness testified that the couple was "almost starving broke." Both were unemployed and facing eviction from the Silverland Motel the night before the murder.
When the victim was giving Hayes and Willard a ride back to the motel they were staying at the day of his murder, he mentioned to them that he was receiving money into his bank account that night, according to the trial transcript.
Parsons' roommate, Laura Heavens, also testified at trial she told Hayes that Parsons kept his PIN number written on the back of his bank card. She also testified that Hayes talked about robbing Parsons, but she thought he was joking.
Willard testified Hayes also talked to her about robbing Parsons the day before the murder.
Heavens found Parsons' naked body lying face down on the floor when she came home at 7:30 a.m. on June 4, 2013, and called 911.
Security video showed Hayes leaving the Silverland Motel at 5:30 a.m. that day, and at 5:37 a.m., he is seen on video carrying a "rigid" object in a plastic bag as he left a convenience store.
"Later, at 6:17 a.m., the appellant was seen on video using Mr. Parsons’ bank card to withdraw $160 from an ATM," the court transcript says.
Willard testified Hayes returned to the motel that morning and said Parsons wasn't home, but that he had stolen his bank card from the man's car.
Acting on a Crime Stoppers tip, Hayes was arrested in July 2014.
He denied using Parsons' bank card at first, but changed his story at his trial and said he went to see Parsons at 5:50 a.m. because he thought he left his morphine pills there the night before.
"He testified that he went early in the morning because he was worried that someone else would find the pills," the trial transcript says. "When he got to Mr. Parsons’ house, he knocked, but there was no answer."
So, he then robbed Parsons' car, taking the bank card, and left.
The jury didn't believe it and convicted Hayes of first-degree murder.
On appeal, Hayes' lawyers argued that he was a victim of "police trickery," a term used when officers try to convince someone not to exercise their rights to a lawyer.
In this case, the North Bay OPP officer that questioned Hayes told him the 'Easy Eddie' story about Al Capone’s lawyer who felt guilty about defending the mafia boss in the 1920s and eventually turned on him. It was during this interview that Hayes denied using the murder victim's bank card the morning of the murder.
Lawyers for Hayes argued that that statement should not be allowed at trial because the 'Easy Eddie' story was designed to "undermine the appellant’s confidence in his own lawyer" and amounted to unlawful police trickery.
The trial judge disagreed and the appeals court upheld that decision, ruling the story is meant to encourage criminals to do the right thing and confess, rather than undermine confidence in their legal counsel.
Defence lawyers also argued that not revealing details about the Crime Stoppers tip robbed their client of a chance to investigate alternative murder suspects. But the appeals court ruled there was no reason to believe that the tip contained information the defence couldn't get from other sources.
Just as important, ensuring informants can provide information without fear of retribution is a major consideration.
"The rationale for the protection is that, as informers play an essential role in the investigation of crime through the passing on of pertinent and otherwise inaccessible information, it is in the public interest to ensure their anonymity is secure," the transcript says.
In a decision released May 4, the court rejected that and the other seven arguments presented by the defence and upheld the murder conviction.
Read the full transcript here.