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Appeal court sets aside conviction

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 30/06) - A manslaughter conviction against a Hay River man has been set aside by the NWT Court of Appeal and a new trial has been ordered.

The case involves Pavel Bruha, who was convicted in 2003 in connection with the Jan. 17, 2002, beating death of 50-year-old Yves (Frenchie) Lebel.

Bruha, 54, was sentenced to five years imprisonment, but was released on bail in November 2004 pending the appeal.

Yellowknife's Hugh Latimer, one of Bruha's lawyers, is pleased with the appeal court's Jan. 17 decision.

"They unanimously set aside Bruha's conviction," Latimer notes.

The grounds for the appeal centred on the Crown's cross-examination of Bruha during his trial. The Crown asked him about his criminal record, including five offenses for which he had been pardoned.

Information about the pardons had never been passed on to the Crown or the defence by the RCMP.

"Due to the fact there was a pardon, he should not have been questioned on some," says Hay River's Stephen Shabala, another of Bruha's lawyers.

During the trial, Crown attorney Loretta Colton revealed the oversight to the judge and apologized.

Latimer filed for a mistrial, but it was rejected by Supreme Court Justice John Vertes, who did not believe the criminal record affected the jury's decision.

Latimer declines to discuss the case further, noting, "The matter is still in court and a new trial has been ordered."

No date has been set for the new trial.

Another man, Craig Stromberg, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with Lebel's death and was sentenced to four years.

Stromberg and Bruha were accused of attacking Lebel in his room at the Cedar Rest Motel because of suspicions the victim was having an affair with Bruha's wife.

Shabala says at his trial, Bruha denied direct involvement in Lebel's death and testified he never hit the victim.