“I feel like a million bucks!” - Romeo Phillion Is Released From 31 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment After Discovery The Prosecution Concealed Proof Of His Innocence For Decades


By Hans Sherrer (July 26, 2003)




For over 35 years Romeo Phillion has steadfastly maintained that on the afternoon of Leopold Roy’s 1967 murder in Ottawa, he was having his car repaired 150 miles away. Convicted of the murder in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison, on July 21, 2003 Romeo was released on bond based on the discovery of prosecution reports proving the police verified his alibi in 1968, and concluded he couldn’t have committed the murder.


          On the afternoon of August 9, 1967, Romeo Phillion was at a gas station in Trenton, Ontario having his car repaired. On the same afternoon firefighter Leopold Roy was stabbed to death in Ottawa, Ontario, 150 miles from Trenton. Romeo was questioned during Roy’s murder investigation. He explained to the police he was in Trenton on the afternoon Roy was killed. After giving his statement Romeo wasn’t contacted by the police again about the murder.

          Years later, in 1972, Romeo and another man were arrested in connection with a robbery. The police brought up that he had been questioned about Roy’s murder, and Romeo told them he would confess to the murder if they let his alleged robbery accomplice go. The police agreed. However after Romeo confessed and was arrested for the murder, he immediately claimed it was a ruse to get his friend released -- because he couldn’t have committed the murder since he was hours away from Ottawa when it occurred.

          Romeo’s alibi fell on deaf ears, and in 1972 he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Leopold Roy’s murder. There was no physical or circumstantial evidence tying Romeo to the crime, and there were no witnesses. The sole evidence against Romeo was his recanted bogus confession.

          Romeo’s conviction was upheld on appeal and he languished in prison year after year. Eligible for parole in 1992 after serving 20 years, Romeo refused to apply because he wouldn’t be considered for release without admitting to Roy’s murder. [1] The first break in Romeo’s case came after 22 years of imprisonment. As a boy Romeo had been sexually assaulted by staff members at St. Joseph’s Training School east of Ottawa. Romeo was a plaintiff in a suit against the school, and he received a settlement in 1994. Romeo used the money to hire a lawyer to work on finding a way to overturn his conviction. Simonne Snowden, Romeo’s sister, also actively entered the battle to free her brother. Although their efforts seemed to be for naught, people in Ontario knew they were beating the bushes for new evidence of Romeo’s innocence.

          In 1998 the second break in Romeo’s case occurred when he received a large manila envelope in the mail that had no return address. Inside was a mother lode beyond Romeo’s wildest hopes: The police and prosecution documents about his case concealed from his lawyer before his trial. The most important document was a police report written on April 12, 1968 by Ottawa police investigator David McCombie clearing Romeo of the murder. Romeo’s alibi of being in Trenton had been confirmed to police investigators by workers at the gas station where his car was repaired. There was also evidence that four prosecution witnesses perjured themselves about when they saw Romeo in Ottawa. [2]

          Aided by lawyer James Lockyer, associated with Canada’s Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, Romeo filed an application in May 2003 with the federal Justice Minister requesting that his conviction be set aside, and that he be granted a new trial based on the concealed evidence of his innocence.

          On July 21, 2003, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Watt ordered Romeo released on $50,000 bond. The justice’s decision was unprecedented in Canadian legal history. It was the first time a prisoner challenging a conviction on grounds of being wrongly convicted was granted bail pending review of their case, which can take up to nine years. After lengthy arguments, Justice Watt rejected the prosecutor’s vigorous opposition to Romeo’s release. He said, “The applicant’s continued detention fails to accord with the principal fundamentals of justice.” [3] Attorney Lockyer said after the hearing, “There is no provision in the Criminal Code for someone to get bail specifically, but we decided to have a go at it and Mr. Justice Watt agreed.” [4]

          Romeo’s sister Simonne and a friend posted his $50,000 bail after the hearing, and a condition of his release was he had to live at her home near Toronto.





Romeo Phillion savors the judges ruling.







          Romeo, now 64, was escorted out of the courthouse by dozens of family members, friends and his lawyers. Outside the courthouse Romeo told reporters, “This is one step at a time. I’ve got more steps to go but I’ll be a winner at the end. I’ll be a winner. No doubt about it.” [5] Asked about his bogus confession to have his friend released, Romeo said “It was all a joke. A bad joke. It cost me my life.” [6] He also told reporters, “Without my innocence I would have been gone by now. My innocence kept me going and I knew in the end that things would come out, the truth would come out.” [7]





“I feel like a million bucks!” A smiling Romeo Phillion tells reporters and well wishers on the courthouse steps after as he breathed the air as a free man for the first time in 31 years.








          Given the incontrovertible proof of Romeo’s innocence, the Canadian legal system will be the laughingstock of the world if his conviction isn’t set aside after the Justice Minister’s review. Particularly considering prosecutors have already acknowledged there “may be a reasonable basis to conclude” a miscarriage of justice occurred in Romeo’s case, and it was the prosecution that concealed proof of his innocence for decades. [8]

          The identity of Romeo’s Guardian Angel that sent him the concealed prosecution documents is unknown.

          Joyce Milgaard, whose son David was exonerated in 1992 after 23 years of wrongful imprisonment for the rape and murder of a Saskatoon nurse, said after Romeo’s release, “We’re breaking down the doors. There’s finally a light coming on to those who are wrongly convicted.” [9]





Romeo Phillion waving as he arrives at his sister’s house near Toronto








          After working for years to free her innocent brother, Simonne Snowden described her feelings on his first day of freedom in 31 years, “Relief. Relief. It’s like I can go to sleep now.” [10]





[1] Convicted murderer Phillion released on bail pending federal review of case, Marlene Habib, Canadian Press, July 21, 2003, canada.com]

[2] Phillion case ‘world record’ for injustice: Lockyer, Toronto, CBC Ottawa, May 16, 2003]

[3] A Free Man … For Now, Bob Klager, Ottawa Sun, July 22, 2003

[4] Convicted murderer Phillion released on bail pending federal review of case, Marlene Habib, Canadian Press, July 21, 2003, canada.com

[5] Phillion Savours Taste of Freedom, David Rider, CanWest News Service, July 22, 2003, canada.com

[6] Convicted murderer Phillion released on bail pending federal review of case, Marlene Habib, Canadian Press, July 21, 2003, canada.com

[7] Id.

[8] Convicted murderer Phillion granted bail, July 21, 2003, Canada.com News, canada.com

[9] Convicted murderer Phillion released on bail pending federal review of case, Marlene Habib, Canadian Press, July 21, 2003, canada.com

[10] Id.