Court overturns stay granted to Quebec judge in wife's killing, orders case to resume

MONTREAL — Quebec's Court of Appeal has overturned a stay of proceedings granted to a retired Quebec judge whose 2012 conviction for fatally shooting his wife was reversed by the federal justice minister.

The province's highest court has ruled that the case against Jacques Delisle, 88, should return before the Quebec Superior Court, where he was facing a new murder trial.

Delisle's lawyers had argued successfully before Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-François Émond in April 2022 that a retrial would be impossible because of serious errors in a Crown expert's pathology report and unreasonable delays in the case.

But in a unanimous ruling Wednesday, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel agreed with the Crown that the trial judge erred in granting a stay.

Delisle has always maintained his innocence and said his wife, Marie Nicole Rainville, took her own life in 2009. The Crown argued that Delisle killed her to avoid a costly divorce and that he had wanted to move in with his former secretary, with whom he was having an affair.

A major part of the case revolved around the angle of entry of the bullet, which could confirm or rule out the suicide theory. Questions surrounding the reliability of this forensic evidence led to a new trial being ordered in 2021.

During the autopsy, a pathologist failed to photograph the brain or take samples that would have shown traces of the bullet that killed Rainville. Delisle's lawyers argued this evidence would have allowed them to prove their suicide theory.

The Court of Appeal found that “the state violated Delisle’s right to make full answer and defence by reason of unacceptable negligence," but it concluded that was not enough to justify a stay of proceedings.

“Indeed, despite the flaws in the autopsy file, the experts demonstrate that it is possible to present, regarding the trajectory of the bullet, convincing evidence contrary to that of the pathologist who carried out the initial autopsy," the high court noted. "The damage is therefore not irremediable."

The Appeal Court ruling suggests a directive about the loss of evidence to the jury hearing a future trial, but adds it "prefers to let the judge and the parties determine the appropriate remedy."

For its part, the Crown has argued that regardless of the trajectory of the bullet, a conviction remains possible given the entirety of the evidence against the former magistrate.

Delisle, who sat on the Quebec Court of Appeal before his retirement, was found guilty in 2012 of the first-degree murder of Rainville and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. His initial appeal was dismissed in 2013, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his case.

He spent nine years behind bars before being freed in 2021 when the federal justice minister at the time, David Lametti, ordered a new trial after reviewing evidence that was not previously before the courts and concluding a miscarriage of justice had likely occurred.

Delisle maintained that he found his wife dead when he walked into the condo they shared in Quebec City on Nov. 12, 2009. She was lying on a sofa, a .22-calibre pistol at her side and a bullet wound in her head. He called 911, telling the operator that his wife had killed herself.

Rainville had been paralyzed on one side by a stroke in 2007 and was recovering from a broken hip suffered a few months before she died. Delisle's version of events stated that his wife was depressed and took her own life using the gun that was found by her body.

The former judge didn't testify at his trial, but in 2015, he admitted in an interview with Radio-Canada that he had helped his wife kill herself by leaving a loaded gun in the home.

Lawyers involved in the case declined to comment on Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press