A man who spent over two decades in prison for a murder he may not have committed will have to wait at least three more weeks to learn if he will be tried again.
Gerald Klassen has been waiting to hear from prosecutors in the Kamloops Crown office as to whether he will be tried a second time for the murder of a woman found dead on Highway 5A near Merritt in 1993.
On Monday, he found out that won’t happen until mid-December at the earliest.
In March 1995, Klassen was convicted by a B.C. Supreme Court jury in Kamloops of one count of first-degree murder. Klassen was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Julie Delores McLeod, a 22-year-old Merritt woman, was found dead at a Nicola Lake rest stop in December 1993. During the trial, a forensic pathologist testified McLeod had likely died as the result of a severe beating — a testimony that has since been called into question.
Klassen, now 61 years old, has maintained his innocence. He said he had consensual sex with McLeod, after which they got into an argument. Klassen said he pushed her away, causing her to fall and hit her head on the boat ramp.
According to Klassen, McLeod was very much alive and yelling at him when he left her at the rest stop.
McLeod was found dead, partially submerged in the lake.
Klassen started working with the UBC Innocence Project in 2009. In 2018, lawyers and UBC law students filed an application under a section of the Criminal Code of Canada that allows the federal minister of justice to review and overturn criminal convictions in extraordinary cases that are deemed “likely” to represent a miscarriage of justice.
The following year, the Innocence Project team heard a preliminary decision which indicated the ministry would look into the case.
Independent pathology reports prepared in 2020 showed McLeod’s death was likely not the result of intentional force. Klassen was granted bail in September of that year.
In March, Federal Justice Minister David Lametti ruled Klassen’s case represents a “likely” miscarriage of justice and ordered a new trial.
Now, it’s up to prosecutors in the Kamloops Crown counsel office to decide how to proceed.
If prosecutors choose to retry Klassen, a new trial will take place in B.C. Supreme Court. If they choose not to, his legal odyssey will end and he will remain a free man.
This past summer, UBC Innocence Project director Tamara Levy told Castanet Kamloops she’s surprised it’s taken prosecutors so long to decide what to do.
“There’s no evidence to proceed on and there’s no public interest given that he already served the time. So I am just really perplexed as to why it’s taking so long for the Crown to sort of come to terms with that,” Levy said.
During a brief hearing on Monday in B.C. Supreme Court, a judge heard Klassen’s lawyers planned to send new materials for prosecutors to review, and had requested three weeks for this process to take place.
The matter has been adjourned for three weeks, and lawyers are due back in court on Dec. 12.