Supreme Court grants Alberta woman new trial in husband's death

An Alberta woman sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband and setting her home on fire will get a new trial.

Deborah Doonanco was found guilty in November 2016 of second-degree murder, arson and interfering with human remains. Kevin Feland’s body was found in Doonanco’s home in Glendon, 210 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, in 2014.

Her lawyer had argued the killing was in self-defence and Doonanco was in a dissociative state at the time because of battered woman syndrome.

Doonanco appealed her conviction to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which dismissed it. However, a dissenting opinion by one of the three judges gave Doonanco an automatic leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

That appeal was allowed by the Supreme Court after a hearing Tuesday.

“They decided that Ms. Doonanco’s trial was unfair in a number of aspects, were very critical of how the case was prosecuted and decided the only just result would be a new trial,” her lawyer, Brian Beresh, said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“They were very critical of the majority of the Court of Appeal in its analysis.”

One of the major concerns was the Crown’s failure to produce an expert report on the subject of battered woman syndrome.

“They hid and suppressed a very important report, which the Criminal Code requires be disclosed whether it’s ever going to be used or not,” said Beresh. “The reasons given for that suppression … were very superficial and simply did not satisfy the court.

“They were very extremely concerned … as to why this occurred and what was the motive behind it.”

Beresh said his client has been out on bail pending the decision.

“She’s elated that finally justice has met what she’s always expected of it,” he said.

“The court decided that there were some rules of fairness which simply were not followed here and that that’s what causes miscarriages of justice, which we have to avoid.

“So I think it’s a great day for justice.”

After the jury found Doonanco guilty of second-degree murder, arson and interfering with human remains, she was sentenced in January 2017 to life in prison with no chance of parole for 13 years.

The retired school teacher admitted at her trial that she shot Feland twice in the chest in May 2014, then set fire to their house. But she testified she was suffering from battered woman syndrome and was trying to save her own life from an abusive spouse.

She characterized her situation as “kill or be killed.”

Dooananco has been out on bail pending the Supreme Court decision. No date for the new trial has been set.

The Glendon house belonging to Debbie Doonanco, where Kevin Feland’s body was found May 25, 2014. (Court Exhibit )

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