The Crown has dropped a murder charge against a Toronto man who was serving a life sentence for killing respected community figure Colin Moore, 51, in July 2002.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Leighton Hay after his lawyers presented hair samples they said proved his innocence.
Lawyer James Lockyer, founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), asked the judge to apologize to Hay on the Attorney General’s behalf.
“Nothing I say will bring back the 12 years,” Judge John McMahon said in ordering the first-degree murder charge withdrawn.
“I apologize that it has taken this long for the justice system to get it right. I wish you well.”
McMahon also said the evidence against Hay was circumstantial and it wasn’t anyone’s fault that the science wasn’t there at the time of his conviction.
Justice had been served by the Centre for Forensic Sciences, the Crown and the defense, he added.
The court room erupted into cheers as justice McMahon signs the papers to withdraw charge of first degree murder.
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The Crown alleged Hay, then 19, was Eunick’s dreadlocked accomplice based largely on hair found in a newspaper in his bathroom garbage as well as in the electric razor on his nightstand.
At their trial in 2004, prosecutors argued Hay, who always denied any part in the killing, had shaved his scalp to change his appearance after the shooting.
The one witness who claimed to have identified Hay as a gunman had pointed to his image in a photo line-up, saying he looked more like the second gunman than the other 11. She was shown a second line-up three weeks later and did not choose Hay.
Nevertheless, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
The AIDWYC became involved after Ontario’s top court rejected his appeal.
At the association’s request, forensic experts determined the hair samples did not come from his scalp but from his face.
That undermined the Crown’s belief he had rushed home after the killing and shaved his dreadlocks.
The Supreme Court said the new evidence could have made a crucial difference and quashed the conviction.
The Crown announced Friday it would not proceed against him.
Hay, who suffers from mental illness, has spent most of his time in custody in the psychiatric wings of two Canadian penitentiaries.
“Leighton has been through a nightmare for all these years,” Lockyer said.
“This was a miscarriage of justice of the highest order.”
At the time of the Supreme Court decision, Lockyer said he didn’t think his client understood what had transpired and would likely need to live in a psychiatric hospital.
However, Win Wahrer of the AIDWYC said he would be living with his parents.
Eunick has exhausted all of his appeals and is still serving a life sentence.
Click here for a timeline of other wrongful convictions.
With files from The Canadian Press