The Manitoba man who has served decades in prison will appeal after a likely miscarriage of justice, the minister says
A Manitoba man who served more than two decades behind bars before being paroled is getting another chance to have his murder convictions overturned.
Robert Sanderson’s case was referred to the Manitoba Court of Appeals after Attorney General David Lametti determined it was likely a miscarriage of justice.
“The Attorney General’s decision is a big step for me,” Sanderson said in an interview with CBC News on Monday. “That’s going to help me on my journey and that’s what I’m looking forward to, that’s what’s next.”
Sanderson was convicted of triple first-degree murder in 1997. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years in connection with the August 6, 1996 murders of Jason Gross, Russel Krowetz and Stefan Zurstag.
The Manitoba Court of Appeals dismissed Sanderson’s appeal in 1999, and he was denied appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada later that year, the Justice Department said in a news release Monday.
Sanderson requested a ministerial review of his case in 2017. The following year his request for bail was denied pending the completion of that review. He was released on parole shortly thereafter, the press release said.
Two other men, Roger Sanderson and Robert Tews, were also convicted for the fatal torture, stabbing and shooting of the three men in 1996. Police said the killings were part of a gang war over control of prostitution in Winnipeg.
The Attorney General has the authority to order a new trial or appeal so long as he is satisfied that there is reasonable basis for concluding that there is a likelihood of a miscarriage of justice, the press release said.
A key consideration in this trial is whether the motion is supported by new matters of importance — typically information not available to the courts during a person’s trial or appeal, according to the press release.
“It is not a decision as to the applicant’s guilt or innocence, but a decision to return the matter to the courts, where the relevant legal issues may be decided under the law,” the press release reads.
“If a matter is returned for a new appeal, an applicant’s conviction is upheld and he or she bears the burden of proving that there may have been errors requiring intervention.”
Sanderson said he was excited and relieved at the news, but that family members who stood by his side during his time in prison have passed away, making it a bittersweet time in his life.
“I’m still excited, but I can’t share it with them,” he said.
Incorrect tests in individual cases
Police found a hair on the foot of one of the victims and claimed a type of laboratory analysis known as hair microscopy showed it belonged to Sanderson.
The same type of hair testing also led to the convictions of James Driskell and Kyle Unger in separate counts of murder in Winnipeg in the early 1990s.
But by the mid-2000s, more advanced DNA testing revealed that the hair samples did not match any of the three men, raising doubts about the reliability of the original hair testing method.
Driskell was released and later received $4 million in compensation. The province also sponsored a federal review of Unger’s case, and he was released more than a decade ago.
In 2005, the Manitoba government said there had been no “apparent miscarriage of justice” and that it would not support a federal review of Sanderson’s conviction as it did with Unger, in part because a review found there were still numerous There was circumstantial evidence incriminating Sanderson.
Sanderson nevertheless requested a ministerial review of his case. In 2018, the Federal Department of Justice determined that there may be reasonable grounds for concluding that there was a miscarriage of justice.
Innocence Canada took up Sanderson’s case, saying that after his conviction, DNA evidence surfaced that significantly undermined the prosecution’s case.
The group applied for review by the Federal Minister of Justice.
“The Secretary’s decision to refer his case to the Manitoba Court of Appeals is a major step for Mr. Sanderson in his quest to clear his name,” Innocence Canada attorney James Lockyer said in a written statement Monday.