A Cranbrook man convicted of murdering his wife and two children nearly 25 years ago has lost his bid to the B.C. Supreme Court to have DNA evidence released for forensic testing
However, the ruling from Justice Arne Silverman shifted the responsibility of evidence disclosure to the federal government, and notes that an application must be made directly to the Minister of Justice.
Dean Christopher Roberts had petitioned the court for access to DNA evidence that went untested as part of a triple murder case in Cranbrook in 1994. In order to apply for a ministerial review, Roberts needs new and significant evidence to present within his application.
Justice Silverman determined Roberts was asking the wrong question in his petition, noting that instead of asking whether the Minister will order DNA testing, Roberts needed to determine whether DNA that was not available for testing during his original trial is deemed a new matter of significance.
“That is a decision for the Minister, as is the question of what she considers relevant in making that decision,” Justice Silverman wrote. “It is inappropriate for this Court to offer advice as to what examinations or testing the Minister should or should not carry out during that process, or what the ultimate conclusion of her inquiry should or should not be.”
Last year, Roberts applied for the release of evidence used to convict him in 1995 in order to build a case for a ministerial review.
Following his trial, Roberts was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for the deaths of his wife and two children. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 25 years.
An appeal of his conviction was dismissed in 1997.
Triple murder case shakes Cranbrook
The convictions stemmed from a house fire that occurred in July 1994.
Roberts’ wife was discovered in the master bedroom, however, an autopsy revealed her death was caused by strangulation.
Two of the boys were rescued by neighbours and firefighters; however, one died several days later.
Additionally, two days after the house fire, the body of another son was found up in what is now known as the Community Forest. An autopsy revealed his cause of death was also by strangulation.
During the trial, Roberts testified he was at a friends house when the fire broke out.
Roberts, who confessed to the murders in a ‘Mr. Big’ operation, later recanted and claimed his innocence, noting there was no physical or forensic evidence linking him to the murders.
Roberts launched his petition seeking the release of evidence for DNA testing last March, asking the Crown for numerous items that include a cigarette butt, hair and fibre samples, rope, along with the entire RCMP biology case file.
Roberts intends to make an application for a ministerial review on the grounds of miscarriage of justice, which means he needs to present fresh exculpatory evidence, according to his application.
However, Roberts argued that he cannot present new evidence that would need to be included in his application for a ministerial review without first having forensic testing of the evidence.
Justice Silverman determined in Roberts’ case that it is solely the determination of the Minister of Justice to order that untested DNA evidence be forensically examined.
“The process set out in the [Canadian Criminal] Code for Ministerial review, is available to the petitioner,” Justice Silverman wrote. “Part of that process permits the Minister to order DNA testing in circumstances where she considers it appropriate to do so.”