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Man convicted of killing his family wins appeal for evidence testing

Cranbrook man sentenced crimes in 1995 seeks to apply DNA testing to evidence
DNA-testing-zmeel-Eplus-Getty images
A Cranbrook man convicted of murdering his family can gain access to evidence in the possession of the RCMP for DNA testing, an appeals court judge has ruled.
A Cranbrook, B.C., man convicted of the murder of his wife and two children 25 years ago will have a chance at overturning that conviction after an appeal court judge ruled he could access RCMP-held material for DNA testing.

Dean Christopher Roberts wants that material to request a ministerial review of his convictions. Such review applications are allowed on the grounds of miscarriage of justice by someone convicted of an whose rights of judicial review or appeal have been exhausted.

“While that process may occasionally result in costly and ineffectual review of well grounded convictions, it is established with the intention of giving effect to the fundamental precept that the innocent must not be convicted,” Justice Peter Willcock wrote in the unanimous decision of three judges.

Roberts was convicted in BC Supreme Court 1995 on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the deaths of his wife and two infant sons.

Roberts, then 26, was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for 25 years.

Police investigated Roberts using a so-called ‘Mr. Big’ operation in which officers posed as members of a criminal organization. Roberts conducted tasks for the fictitious organization in return for the promise of significant compensation.

During that operation, a 2018 appeal court ruling said, Roberts told an undercover officer he strangled wife Susan and son Josiah with rope, started a fire in a bedroom, and he left sons David and Jonathan in the home to succumb to smoke inhalation. He also described how he put Josiah’s body in a bag and disposed of it in a bush.

The B.C. attorney general’s lawyer denied the suggestion the conviction was based primarily on the Mr. Big confession. The court was told there was a motive, a desire to start a new life, manifested in Roberts’ conduct and a $200,000 insurance policy he had taken out on his wife’s life about four weeks before she was murdered, as well as the means and opportunity to commit the murders.

In the 2018 dismissed appeal case, Roberts sought an order compelling the British Columbia Prosecution Service to produce physical evidence in the possession of the RCMP for DNA testing.

However, Roberts then moved to seeking a ministerial review of his case, which moves it from the criminal to the administrative realm.

The evidence sought is not new, the decision said.

“Mr. Roberts hopes testing the physical evidence (hair and fingernail samples, a rope used to strangle his wife, a rope used to strangle one of his sons, a bag in which that son’s body was found, a cigarette butt and plastic bags found near the body’s resting place on a trail, and a burnt scarf found near the Roberts home) with state‑of‑the‑art methods will reveal the DNA of another person, perhaps the same person on each article, perhaps one whose DNA is in the National DNA Data Bank,” the court said.