Supreme Court grants Alberta woman new trial in husband's shooting death

OTTAWA — An Alberta woman sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting her husband and setting her home on fire will get a new trial.

Deborah Doonanco was found guilty in November 2016 of second-degree murder, arson and interfering with human remains. Kevin Feland's body was found in Doonanco's home in Glendon, northeast of Edmonton, in 2014.

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She appealed her conviction to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which dismissed it. However, a dissenting opinion by one of the three judges gave Doonanco an automatic leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

That appeal was granted by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

"We are all of the view that the appeal must be allowed and a new trial ordered on all counts," said Justice Michael Moldaver as he read the unanimous decision.

Doonanco's lawyer, Brian Beresh, was in Ottawa for the hearing.

"They decided that Ms. Doonanco's trial was unfair in a number of aspects, were very critical of how the case was prosecuted and decided the only just result would be a new trial," Beresh said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

"They were very critical of the majority of the Court of Appeal in its analysis."

Doonanco's convictions came after the shooting death of her domestic partner. Court documents say their relationship was characterized by verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

On May 24, 2014, Feland fired a rifle in the direction of Doonanco's bedroom before leaving the house to obtain crack cocaine, the documents say. He returned 40 minutes later and Doonanco later confronted him about his behaviour and told him he was no longer welcome in her house.

The documents say he responded with a verbal threat and reached for a gun on a nearby table, but Doonanco grabbed the gun first and shot Feland twice in the chest.

After the shooting, she set a fire close to his body and left the house to call 911.

Defence lawyers put forward the theory of battered women syndrome at the trial, but noted that the Crown failed to produce an expert report it had on the issue.

"They hid and suppressed a very important report, which the Criminal Code requires be disclosed whether it's ever going to be used or not," said Beresh. "The reasons given for that suppression ... were very superficial and simply did not satisfy the (Supreme) court.

"They were very extremely concerned ... as to why this occurred and what was the motive behind it."

Doonanco has been out on bail pending the decision.

"She's elated that finally justice has met what she's always expected of it," said Beresh. "The court decided that there were some rules of fairness which simply were not followed here and that that's what causes miscarriages of justice, which we have to avoid.

"So I think it's a great day for justice."

No date for the new trial has been set.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020

— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton

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