News release

Crown Halts Clayton Johnson Murder Prosecution

PUBLIC PROSECUTION SERVICE--Crown Halts Clayton Johnson Murder Prosecution


The Public Prosecution Service today asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to acquit Clayton Johnson on a conviction for murder.

The Shelburne man was convicted in 1993 of murdering his wife. Janice Johnson was found at the bottom of the basement stairs with severe head injuries on Feb. 20, 1989. Mr. Johnson was sentenced to 25 years in prison before being eligible for parole.

Having exhausted all avenues of appeal, including a denial of leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. Johnson served five years in prison before filing an application for release with the federal Minister of Justice under Section 690 of the Criminal Code.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered Mr. Johnson's release while awaiting arguments from both the Crown and the defence.

Meanwhile, opinions were solicited from 22 experts in forensic pathology, engineering, biomechanics, physics and human postural dynamics. The experts focused on what caused Mrs. Johnson's fatal injuries. The opinions of 14 forensic pathologists on the cause of Mrs. Johnson's injuries ranged from accidental to likely accidental to favouring accidental to uncertainty whether they're accidental or as a result of assault to caused by assault.

The majority of opinions do not favour assault.

"The broad range of expert opinions within the totality of the evidence means that murder cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," said Martin Herschorn, Director of Public Prosecutions. "Therefore, there is no realistic prospect of conviction and we cannot undertake a retrial."

The Crown notified the defence and the Court of Appeal of its decision last week. The Crown and the defence asked the Court of Appeal this morning to quash Mr. Johnson's original conviction and order a new trial. After arraignment and plea before a Supreme Court Justice this afternoon, the Crown offered no evidence and asked the Court to order an acquittal for Mr. Johnson.

"We made this decision only after intense scrutiny of the evidence and concluded that proof of murder beyond a reasonable doubt was not attainable," said Mr. Herschorn. "Once we reached that decision, we had an obligation to both the accused and to the public to stop the prosecutorial process."

Mr. Herschorn emphasized that the role of the Crown in any criminal matter is to assess the evidence and make a decision to move forward with a prosecution only if there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

"In this way, the rights of both the accused and the public at large are protected," he said.

FOR BROADCAST USE:

The Crown today asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to acquit Clayton Johnson on a conviction for murder.

The Shelburne man received a life sentence in 1993 for the first-degree murder of his wife, Janice.

He served five years before petitioning the federal Minister of Justice to have him released pending arguments on new evidence.

The Crown said today that 22 experts have given such a wide range of opinion on how Janice Johnson might have died that murder cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Crown said in this case there is no realistic prospect of conviction and that it has an obligation to stop the prosecution.

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Contact:

Chris Hansen
Public Prosecution Service 902-424-2225 Cell: 902-430-5529
kjd            February 18, 2002        4:02 P.M.