Ontario's court of appeal has ordered a new trial for the man found guilty in the killing of Jennifer Stewart, a 36-year-old sex-trade worker found dead in a Vanier parking lot in 2010.
Adrian Daou was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in Stewart's death and has been serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Daou was already in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre when, in 2013, he approached police and confessed to killing Stewart — a confession that played a major part in the Crown's case against him.
However, the Court of Appeal for Ontario threw out the conviction Thursday, on the grounds that an opinion an Ottawa detective gave in the witness box about the veracity of Daou's confession was actually inadmissible evidence.
"The jury should have been cautioned to completely disregard this dangerous testimony. But there was no caution," wrote Justice Gary Trotter in his June 3, 2021 decision. "It cannot be safely concluded that this evidence, and the lack of a warning, had no impact on the verdict."
Testimony had 'special aura'
In his ruling, Trotter wrote that Daou was showing symptoms of schizophrenia at the time he confessed and was on suicide watch in segregation.
When Daou met two Ottawa Police Service detectives to admit to killing Stewart, he first sought assurances that he'd be transferred out of segregation and into federal custody that very evening, Trotter wrote.
The following day, Daou was interviewed a second time for four and a half hours by Det. John Monette, the lead investigator.
Monette's impressive resumé — which included investigating more than 170 homicides and serving as a peacekeeper in South Sudan — ended up having a "special aura" during the trial, Trotter said.
Monette testified that he believed Daou's confession was legitimate, given that Daou had identified the murder weapon as an axe — information that had not been made public by police — and appeared to know where Stewart had been wounded.
'He had no special power'
However, Monette was not qualified to give an expert opinion on whether Daou was telling the truth, Trotter concluded.
"He had no special power, training, or ability to determine if someone is telling the truth," said Trotter. "Moreover, had he been offered as an expert, his impartiality and lack of independence would surely have been fatal to being so qualified."
Daou also backtracked from his confession at trial, the judge wrote, and had confessed to another homicide that was "almost immediately dismissed as demonstrably false."
Trotter also disagreed with the Crown's submission that ultimately, Monette's opinion was "harmless" and did not affect the verdict.
"The dark backdrop to all of this was that a number of young women were murdered in the Ottawa area between 2008 and 2011. For the jury, determining the reliability of the confession would have been no easy task," he said. "However, the jury's challenge may have been eased by Det. Monette's opinion that the confession was truthful."