Supreme Court restores conviction in Calgary murder case after ruling statements to police were voluntary

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The Supreme Court of Canada has restored a Calgary man’s first-degree murder conviction, ruling his statements to police were admissible as proof in opposition to him at trial.

Russell Tessier was initially discovered responsible by a jury in 2018, 11 years after the physique of his buddy Allan Gerald Berdahl, 36, was found in a ditch north of Calgary, on March 16, 2007.

The conviction got here after the trial choose allowed the panel to hear proof of what Tessier disclosed to police earlier than he was thought-about a suspect and earlier than investigators instructed him of his proper to a lawyer and cautioned him that something he mentioned could possibly be used in opposition to him as proof.

In 2020, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the conviction and ordered a brand new trial however prosecutors took the case to the Supreme Court which agreed to present readability on the authorized problem of when statements to police are thought-about voluntary.

‘A free or significant selection’

A full panel of 9 judges heard Tessier’s enchantment and on Friday morning issued a seven-to-two ruling that the statements Tessier made to police were voluntary and due to this fact admissible.

“The accused exercised a free or significant selection to communicate to the police and was not unfairly denied his proper to silence,” reads a part of the 134-page choice.

Berdahl was shot useless in the early morning hours of March 16, 2007, his physique deserted in a ditch on a distant gravel highway northeast of Calgary and found by an oilfield employee hours later.

Tessier and Berdhal were buddies and enterprise companions who bought used clothes by the pound collected from unclaimed baggage from Greyhound busses. They additionally shared possession of a classic automotive.

The day after Berdhal’s physique was found, Tessier was interviewed by police. Investigators hoped to be taught extra concerning the sufferer and piece collectively his closing hours.

In truth, Tessier was interviewed twice that day with out police putting him beneath arrest.

The first-degree murder cost wasn’t laid till 2015 when DNA from one of many cigarette butts got here again matching Tessier.

The first interview

At trial, Tessier’s lawyer Pawel Milczarek argued his shopper’s statements to investigators were involuntarily and that he’d been psychologically detained by police. 

When Tessier arrived on the RCMP detachment on March 17, 2007, he was not thought-about a suspect.

After asking some preliminary questions concerning the sufferer, the investigator’s questions turned extra pointed. At one level the officer requested Tessier if he had killed Berdhal.

Tessier was not suggested of his proper to a lawyer, to keep silent or instructed that his feedback to police could possibly be used in opposition to him. 

He ultimately went residence however hours later he contacted police once more. 

Tessier instructed the identical officer Berdahl had been staying with him and that he’d saved a gun in the bed room utilized by his buddy.

A lacking gun 

Police escorted Tessier residence, the place they found the weapon was lacking. That’s when RCMP say Tessier turned a suspect and officers issued a warning and suggested him of his proper to a lawyer.

In Tessier’s police interview, he instructed the officer he’d final seen his buddy round 8 p.m. the evening earlier than the physique was found.

But surveillance video introduced as proof in the trial confirmed the pair inside a comfort retailer, at 12:32 a.m. — simply eight hours earlier than Berdahl’s physique was found with 5 gunshot wounds in the top.

The Crown steered the motive for Berdahl’s killing was an argument over the automobile they shared in the weeks earlier than Berdhal’s dying.

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