On January 4, 2005 Sonia Gaudet was strangled and her body was set on fire in her own apartment. Michael Kassa, a platonic friend of Sonia’s, was charged with her murder a year and a half after the offence and, based on what has since been shown to be flimsy evidence, he was convicted. This is the history of his case.
In the first eighteen months of their investigation, police could not find a motive as to why Michael may have wanted his friend Sonia dead, but they suspected he was involved on account of the following two pieces of evidence:
(1) Michael’s DNA was on cigarette butts found in a garbage can that had been hidden under a chair in the deceased’s apartment. The Crown suggested the butts were evidence that Michael was in the apartment the night Sonia died. Keeping in mind that the apartment was unkempt, is it plausible that Sonia would have emptied out her ashtray midway through a visit with one of her friends who liked to smoke with her? At most, the butts were evidence he was in the apartment when she was alive and socializing; and,
(2) When Michael was interviewed three months after the offence, he said he had not been in Sonia’s apartment since 2004 (note she died January 4, 2005). The Crown suggested that the cigarette butts contradicted Michael and therefore his lie showed he had a guilty conscience. Even if one could infer that the cigarette butts had not been there for over a week, I doubt Michael is the only one who would want to distance himself from a murder, whether or not he was guilty.
Not surprisingly, police did not arrest Michael based on these two pieces of evidence.
They only arrested him after they spoke to Michael’s girlfriend, and mother of his two boys, Megan Fitzpatrick on July 4, 2006. Now police had spoken to her multiple times prior to July 4, and she had never suggested she knew anything about him being involved in Sonia’s death. However, when police came to her, uninvited, a year-and-a-half to the day after the offence, which was after Michael had broken up with her, she changed her tune.
Megan told police, and later testified, that when Michael came home very early on January 5, 2005, his hands and dark clothing were covered in blood. She claimed that he washed his hands under water for 20 minutes, and yet, there was still a noticeable amount of blood on them. You may remember that I said Sonia was strangled. There was effectively no blood at the scene. Her story did not coincide with the evidence.
Megan also claimed that Michael said “something terrible happened to Sonia”. It was this statement that sunk him at trial.
After trial, Megan recanted her trial testimony under oath and said that Michael never said, “something terrible happened to Sonia”. Thus, it appeared Michael had a strong appeal. However, two days after Megan swore under oath that Michael was wrongfully convicted, police spent a day tearing her home apart, an experience she admitted was terrifying. While they were in her apartment, she agreed to officially retract her recantation. She then swore under oath that her trial testimony was true.
After the Court of Appeal dismissed Michael’s appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed his application for leave to appeal, the Innocence Project in Ottawa accepted his case. They are gathering information to support an application for ministerial review – that is, an application to overturn his conviction based on evidence of innocence. To date, their research has suggested that Michael was wrongfully convicted. He will probably be eligible for parole before they can prove his innocence. However, even if he is released, he wants to clear his name. He does not want to go through life being labelled a murderer. He does not want his two boys, who have both grown up while he has been in custody, to believe he is a murderer. I hope that the Innocence project successfully shows that the police got the wrong guy.