The Supreme Court of Canada is poised to hear arguments in R. v. Hart this week, a case involving Newfoundland father, Nelson Hart, who was convicted of first degree murder in the deaths of his twin three-year-old daughters, Krista and Karen, after they drowned in Gander Lake in 2002.
Mr. Hart successfully appealed his 2007 murder convictions and was granted a new trial by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal on the basis that the sting operation which resulted in Mr. Hart’s confession to murder was unreasonably coercive given his particular circumstances.
The Appeal Court also found that the trial judge improperly refused to allow Mr. Hart to testify in a manner that would exclude the court gallery from viewing him while he gave his evidence. Hart’s lawyer at trial argued that his medical condition made it difficult for him to speak in front of groups of people.
The evidence at trial showed that Nelson Hart was a bullied, social misfit with a grade five education who suffered from frequent seizures due to epilepsy. His medical condition was so severe that social services provided him with a caregiver, who he later married and sired twin girls with.
On the fateful day his daughters drowned he was alone with them at Gander Lake. He told the police their drowning was accidental, but his behavior was suspicious. Instead of calling 911 on his cell phone, he left the lake to pick up his wife, Jennifer, to enlist her assistance. Of course, by the time he returned to the lake the children were dead. Hart, 33 years-old, was a non-swimmer, as was his wife.
He later changed his story, telling authorities he had a seizure, and didn’t know what had happened, but with no forensic evidence or eye witnesses the police could not arrest or charge him.
Out of desperation and their zeal to find justice for the young girls, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched a Mr. Big operation, inducing Hart to believe he could be a well-paid member of a sophisticated criminal organization. They wined and dined Mr. Hart for five months at various locations across Canada, and finally elicited a murder confession from him.
He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
However, the Court of Appeal found that because of Mr. Hart’s unique circumstances, including his extreme poverty and absence of a social network, he embraced the undercover operators and their wives who provided him with the first real “family” he had ever experienced.
When Hart realized he needed to impress his new friends and would lose them and the extravagant benefits they provided him, he willing admitted to intentionally murdering his children, saying that he feared his kids would be taken away by social services as he had no way of supporting himself or his family.
Newfoundland Crown decided to appeal the decision rather than proceed to a new trial, hence the hearing in Ottawa this week.
Mr. Justice Green of the Court of Appeal wrote:
“Did Mr. Hart confess falsely — or truthfully? We will never know with any degree
of certainty or even assurance on the basis of the trial that occurred. In fact, without a truthful confession from Mr. Hart, we will not know whether a crime was committed at all.”
This is not the first time our highest court will consider the tactics involved in Mr. Big stings, but in the other cases there was corroborative evidence supportive of a Mr. Big confession, while in the Hart case, there is no evidence except Nelson Hart’s confession.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang