New trial ordered for B.C. father convicted or murder 37 years ago

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OTTAWA — Canada's justice minister has ordered a new trial in the case of a British Columbia father convicted of two counts of second-degree murder nearly 40 years ago.

Tomas Yebes was found guilty in the deaths of his two adopted sons in 1983 after their bodies were discovered following a fire in the family home in Surrey, B.C.

Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement that following a thorough review, he was satisfied a new trial is necessary to ensure a fair process in the case. 

"Promoting a fair and impartial criminal justice system that respects the needs of victims while protecting against potential miscarriages of justice is crucial to furthering Canadians' confidence in our justice system," he said.

Court documents show Yebes and his wife, Elvira, were going through a separation, but he had asked to move back in to the family home on the night of the boys' deaths.

Yebes testified at his original trial that he told Elvira he was unable to support two households and they "had to come together."

Elvira cried and was upset, but gave him the impression that she accepted what he had told her, he told the court.

The trial heard that Elvira and the couple's two daughters had left the home at around 8 p.m., with the boys already in bed.

Yebes testified that he went to bed at 10 p.m. before being woken up later by the smell of smoke and finding the boys dead on a burning mattress.

A fire expert testified that the fire had been deliberately set and a pathologist gave evidence the boys were dead before the fire began, but wasn't able to determine the cause of their deaths. The pathologist told the court that he placed the boys' time of death at no later than 12:30 a.m. and possibly before 10:30 p.m.

Yebes' appeals to the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1985 and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987 were both dismissed.

He previously argued the Crown had failed to call his wife as a witness and that she was essential to the narrative of the case.

The Supreme Court dismissed that appeal, saying the assumption Yebes' wife had something to say rests on "nothing more than speculation" as there was no evidence she was present or possessed knowledge of what happened.

Yebes submitted his application for ministerial review in 2019.

If the justice minister is satisfied there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred, a new trial or appeal is needed, said the statement from Lametti.

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

The Canadian Press