BARRIE, Ont. - Ontario's high court tossed out a first-degree murder verdict Wednesday and ordered a new trial for a man who was convicted in the brutal killing a Barrie woman.
The Court of Appeal ruled the conviction of Clare Spiers, 48, was unconstitutional because members of the jury who concluded he strangled and repeatedly stabbed his victim were secretly vetted by the Crown.
Spiers, of no fixed address, has been in prison since he was convicted in 2008 following a four-month trial that delved into the murder of Mimi Khonsari, 60, a wife of a prominent Barrie surgeon.
Khonsari and her infant grandchild were abducted from her upscale home and her body was later found in a wooded area with 18 stab wounds to her neck May 21, 2004. The baby was found crying but unharmed, abandoned in Khonsari's vehicle in a parking lot.
At the time, the Superior court Justice Robert MacKinnon called the crime "a murder most vile" and sentenced Spiers to life in prison.
"You slit her throat and watched her die," MacKinnon said.
However, now that the verdict is tossed, Spiers is once again presumed innocent unless proven guilty at a new trial.
The appeal court stated the Crown and police carried out "extensive and improper pre-screening of prospective jurors" -- also referred to as jury vetting -- in order to weed out unsavoury candidates.
The court slammed the Crown for sending copies of jury lists to seven police detachments with a covering memo that stated:
"Please check the attached jury panel lists, for the persons listed in your locality, and advise if any have criminal records ... It would be helpful if comments and details could be made concerning any disreputable person we would not want as a juror."
The jury lists were sent back to the Crown with notes from various police databases that included not only criminal offences, but written comments beside several of the names such as "flag," or "hates police," as well as traffic violations. None of the information was supplied to the defence.
The appeal court determined the jury vetting went beyond the historically valid purpose of determining whether individuals had convictions for indictable offences rendering them potentially ineligible to sit as jurors.
The court found the Crown had no malicious intent.
Spiers, who has a lengthy record that includes rape, sodomy and violent assaults that date to 1981, will likely appear in bail court in Barrie later this week.