By TOM GODFREY
The family of Leighton Hay, who was released last week after being wrongfully convicted for 12.5 years, is breathing easier today now that he is free and back at home with his loved ones.
Leighton’s dad, Lascelles, is ecstatic and happy to have his son at home, but the experience has left him with serious doubts about the justice system.
Lascelles, who is from Jamaica, never gave up hope and expected justice to prevail one day. He didn’t realize it would take more than 12 years, as an ill Leighton languished in jail.
“I am very disappointed by the justice system,” Lascelles told Share. “This is Canada and we are supposed to have the best justice system there is.”
Leighton, 31, who was born in Toronto, has schizophrenia and spent most of his incarceration in the psychiatric wings of two institutions.
“I thought someone would see that he was innocent a long time ago,” said Lascelles. “There is no way we thought he would remain in prison for so long.”
He said Leighton is resting at home and receiving some visits from family members. He has not said much and is trying to come to terms with his release.
Lascelles, who is from Clarendon, came to Canada many years ago and is a pharmaceutical worker. He also has a daughter.
“Leighton has a close and supportive family,” he said. “We love him and he will be getting a lot of encouragement and support.”
Lascelles said his son is longing to return to church, which he enjoyed in the past.
“One of the first things he wants to do is to go to church,” he said. “He always loved church and it is a good sign that he wants to go back.”
The family is thankful for lawyer James Lockyer and Win Wahrer, of the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted. (AIDWYC), who are responsible for Leighton’s release.
“Leighton has been through a nightmare for all these years,” Lockyer told Share. “This was a miscarriage of justice of the highest order.”
He said Leighton did not receive proper medical care for his ailment while incarcerated.
“It is always nice to help a vulnerable person in society,” said Lockyer. “He has a tough and very difficult road ahead of him.”
AIDWYC lawyer Philip Campbell said the “bleakest day of his career” occurred when Leighton’s conviction was upheld after his first appeal.
“Leighton has faced many challenges during his years in penitentiary and more lie ahead,” said Campbell. “The consequences of his wrongful conviction will linger long after the courts and lawyers close their files.”
Leighton was freed last Friday by a Superior Court Justice who made a touching apology for the wrongful incarceration.
“Nothing I can say will bring back 12 years,” said Justice John McMahon. “I apologize for the fact that it has taken this long for the justice system to get it right. I hope you have a long and fulfilling life.”
Leighton was given a life sentence in 2004, after being convicted of the murder of Colin Moore, a member of the Guyanese community, who was shot and killed in July 2002 at an Etobicoke nightclub that was hosting a fundraiser when two gunmen stormed in.
The Crown alleged at trial that Leighton had acted as an accomplice to Gary Eunick, who shot Moore eight times after he and his brother, Roger, refused to pay a cover charge to enter the nightclub.
While Eunick’s identity was never in doubt, Leighton was convicted in part through witness testimony and hair samples.
The Crown argued Leighton had gone home and shaved his head to prevent officers from identifying him. Their evidence included hair found in a bathroom garbage, as well as an electric razor.
But Leighton’s lawyers, through court appeals, managed to obtain permission and conducted their own forensic tests that found the samples were facial hair, not hair from the head.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Leighton after reviewing the fresh evidence concerning the hair.
A witness who testified against Leighton later had their reliability called into question.
The witness had picked Leighton from a police lineup even though he did not have dreads as the shooter had at the time.
Leighton always maintained that he was at home, asleep at the time.