Court grants legal help to Kelly Ellard

A B.C. Court of Appeal justice has ruled that Kelly Ellard deserves a publicly funded lawyer to appeal her 2005 murder conviction.

Last year in Ellard's third trial, a B.C. Supreme Court jury found her guilty of second-degree murder in the drowning death of 14-year-old Reena Virk in 1997 in a Victoria suburb. Ellard was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for seven years.

On August 3, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Ian Donald ruled that there were “enough meritorious arguments” for him to order a lawyer appointed under Section 684 of the Criminal Code of Canada. This lawyer would argue Ellard's appeal. The decision was only posted on the B.C. Court of Appeal Web site near the end of September.

Under Section 684, a Court of Appeal justice may assign a lawyer to act for an accused person in an appeal. If the provincial legal-aid society refuses to pay, then the attorney general is on the hook for the lawyer's fees and disbursements.

Ellard was convicted of killing Virk, in part because of the testimony of Warren Glowatski, who had also been convicted in 1999. Ellard was 15 years old when she, Glowatski, and several girls attacked Virk.

Glowatski said that he and Ellard followed Virk over a bridge and that Ellard drowned her.

Lawyer Peter Wilson filed the recent application on Ellard's behalf, according to Donald's ruling.

Senior Vancouver criminal lawyers Gil McKinnon and Len Doust had previously reviewed the prospects of Ellard's appeal for the Legal Services Society, which funds legal aid.

“Neither thought there was a reasonable chance of success,” Donald wrote in his decision.

Doust, however, found there were “arguable points of law". According to Donald's decision, Doust stated in his opinion to the Legal Services Society that it is “arguable” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Frank Bauman “erred in law by failing to specifically caution the jury with respect to possible collusion or contamination”.

In addition, Doust stated that it was “arguable” that Bauman “erred in law” by allowing the Crown “to adduce on re-examination evidence” of one witness's “prior consistent testimony”.

Finally, Doust stated that it was “arguable” that “the verdict is unreasonable and cannot be supported by the evidence”. Doust also wrote that the appeal would likely result in a ruling that there was no substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice.

Donald, however, wrote in his ruling that he didn't believe this was an "inevitability", which was why he granted to order for a lawyer to act on Ellard's behalf.

Ellard was convicted of second-degree murder in 2000. In 2003, the B.C. Court of Appeal ordered a new trial because of how she was questioned during her original trial. In the section trial in 2004, a mistrial was declared after jurors couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.

Here is where you can read Justice Donald's recent ruling:

Here is where you'll find a CBC News chronology of the Virk case:

Here is where you'll find the Georgia Straight's 2005 article about Rebecca Godfrey, author of the award-winning Under the Bridge: The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk (HarperCollinsCanada, 2005):