A Nova Scotia man who admitted to burning his girlfriend’s body but insisted he didn’t kill her has had his murder conviction overturned. (Wesley VanDinter/Getty Images)
Paul Trevor Calnen was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Reita Louise Jordan in March, 2013.
In a divided decision released Wednesday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal tossed out the murder conviction because of insufficient evidence and inadequate final instructions to the jury.
On the night of her death, Ms. Jordan planned to leave Mr. Calnen. The sexual relationship, which appeared to have been fuelled by their joint use of crack cocaine, was coming to an end.
Text messages suggested she was a victim of domestic violence and wanted to move back home. When Mr. Calnen came home, Ms. Jordan’s bags were packed and he spied his laptop and jewellery among her belongings.
An argument broke out and, Mr. Calnen claimed, Ms. Jordan died after she took a swing at him in anger, missed and accidentally fell down the stairs.
Mr. Calnen said he tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but decided she was dead. Rather than call for help, Mr. Calnen said he looked for crack cocaine and put Ms. Jordan’s body in his truck.
Over the following weeks, Mr. Calnen went to great lengths to destroy her body, moving her body several times and burning it twice. The Hammonds Plains, N.S., man pleaded guilty to burning her body and scattering her ashes in a lake, but maintained he did not cause her death.
Justice Ted Scanlan, writing for the majority, described what Mr. Calnen did to Ms. Jordan’s body as “horrific.” But he said aside from the after-the-fact conduct, “there was no evidence, physical or otherwise, that contradicted the appellant’s version of the event.”
The majority decision said the trial judge should have granted a motion for a directed verdict and, in the absence of any new evidence, any retrial should not include the charge of second-degree murder.
But in a dissenting decision, the chief justice of the province’s highest court said there was sufficient evidence for the jury to decide on a second-degree murder charge. Although Michael MacDonald admitted much of the evidence is circumstantial, he said it was still relevant.
Mr. Calnen had been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 15 years for the second-degree murder conviction, which has now been set aside.