Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baltovich Acquitted of Murder

April 22, 2008

Peter Small Toronto Star Ontario, Canada

Eighteen years after the disappearance of university student Elizabeth Bain, her boyfriend Robert Baltovich was acquitted this morning after Crown prosecutors declined to offer evidence at his second trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

Before the jury was brought in to hear the opening arguments this morning, Crown attorney Philip Kotanen said the prosecution could not proceed due to a lack of evidence.

"There is no longer any reasonable prospect of conviction," he told Superior Court.

Justice David McCombs then directed the jury to acquit, saying the only verdict that could "be supported in this case" is not guilty. Minutes later, the jury complied.

Today’s hearing marked the end of Baltovich’s second trial in the disappearance and presumed death of his girlfriend, whose body was never found.

Baltovich, now 42, spent eight years in jail before Ontario’s highest court quashed the conviction in his first trial and ordered a second one.

“It’s an 18-year nightmare for me. It’s a never-ending nightmare for the Bains,” Baltovich said outside court this morning. “I just hope that one day they can come to accept the fact that I didn’t kill their daughter.

“I loved her. I miss her. I know they do and maybe one of these days we can get together and grieve together.”

Bain, a 22-year-old student at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus, was last seen on the afternoon of June 19, 1990, after telling her mother she was going to the campus tennis courts.

Baltovich, who always maintained his innocence, was charged with her murder in November 1990.

Three days later, her bloodstained car was found two blocks from the campus.

At the Bain family home in Scarborough this morning, Elizabeth Bain’s parents, Ricardo and Julita, asked to be left alone as they grieved.

“Please leave us alone for today,” Ricardo Bain told reporters from the front yard before retreating inside the house. “This is not a good moment.”

Julita Bain said that despite the court’s decision, the family still believes Baltovich is guilty.

“We believe that he did it. That doesn’t change.”

“We’re not vengeful people - all we wanted to have is justice for Elizabeth,” Julita said. “I’m sure she’ll get that sometime, if not here, then up there,” she added, gesturing to the heavens.

Asked what would come next for the family, Julita Bain replied: “Life’s got to go on, I guess - just like the past 18 years.”

During the appeal that overturned his conviction, Baltovich’s lawyers argued that convicted sex killer Paul Bernardo – who admitted to a series of sexual assaults in Scarborough around the time when Bain vanished - may have been her killer.

Today, Baltovich’s lawyer said he believes today’s decision puts a rest to the case against his client once and for all.

“I am absolutely certain they have no intention to appeal,” said James Lockyer. “They would look utterly ridiculous if they did so and they know it.

“If you look at any of the wrongful convictions that have happened in Canada, it always starts with something small and it gets bigger and bigger,” added Lockyer, who is known for his work with the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted. “Ultimately, all of these cases seem to die the same way.”

Another supporter said Baltovich had waited too long for exoneration.

“When the original trial was held, we were told that it would be about two years for his appeal to be heard,” said Brian King, a private investigator hired by the defense team.

“I believe that was in 1992. It's now 2008 and he finally got his day in court today."

At Queen’s Park, Attorney General Chris Bentley said prosecutors did the right thing in the Baltovich case.

“The crown took the appropriate course, which was to quickly reassess the strength of the case, the prospects for it ... and reached the determination that resulted today in a finding of not guilty,” Bentley told reporters.

“Mr. Baltovich needed and deserved the verdict of not guilty in light of the assessment, in light of the facts, the law and the evidence,” Bentley added.

“I hope that he will now be able to get on with the rest of his life with this matter behind him.”

Bentley said any compensation for Baltovich would have to be a matter of future discussion.

“I will leave that issue to Mr. Baltovich, his counsel and others for another day.”

Bentley sent his sympathies to Bain’s relatives, who have no closure in the case.

“This is a tragedy for the Bain family ... it does not end today for them.”

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