James Driskell

Manitoba, Canada
Date of Crime:  June 16, 1990

James Patrick Driskell was convicted of the murder of Perry Dean Harder. Harder, age 29, was last seen outside his rooming house in a pickup truck. His decomposed body was found three months later in a shallow grave just outside Winnipeg near Brookside Boulevard and Logan Avenue on Sept. 30, 1990. He had been shot three times in the chest. Driskell and Harder had been involved in a chop shop operation which was raided in 1989. They were jointly charged in a series of break-and-enters following the raid. Driskell said he had nothing to do with the criminal activity. But according to police Harder named him as an accomplice. Five days before the preliminary hearing into those charges, Harder disappeared. The Crown's theory was that Driskell had committed the murder in order to prevent Harder from testifying against him.

At trial the Crown presented the following evidence: (1) Harder was shot with a .22-calibre rifle, a type of weapon Driskell owned at one time. (2) Two career criminals, Reath Zanidean and John Gumieny, testified about hearing Driskell plot to kill Harder. (3) Harder's girlfriend said he had been feeling pressure from Driskell to take the full rap on the stolen-goods charge, yet he didn't want to do so. (4) A surreptitiously recorded exchange between Driskell and a Crown witness, Shakiv Kara, resulted in a handful of statements that could be interpreted as admissions of guilt by Driskell. (Kara later disavowed much of his testimony and accused police of intimidating him into supporting their version.) (4) Hairs were found in a van, once owned by Driskell, that police informants said was used in the murder. A RCMP expert testified that these hairs belonged to Harder.

Within a year of the trial, defence lawyers, a private detective, and The Winnipeg Sun began raising issues about the case. These included potential witnesses who claimed police harassed them, and a phone call to defence lawyer Greg Brodsky six days after the conviction. A mystery caller said key witness Zanidean had fabricated his testimony on instructions from the police. Police later acknowledged that the call was made from Zanidean's phone. They believe he called to force authorities to enhance his witness-protection program.

In particular, The Winnipeg Sun reported that: (1) Saskatchewan police had stopped investigating Zanidean in connection with a home arson in Swift Current, SK shortly after he agreed to testify against Driskell. Winnipeg police denied such a deal. (2) Forensic tests showed that two shovels were used to dig Harder's grave, suggesting at least two killers. (3) Harder suffered a broken nose several weeks before he disappeared, suggesting he had other enemies. (4) Harder's lawyer, Tim Killeen, denied having discussions with the Crown about his client testifying against Driskell on the stolen-goods charges.

Other evidence showed Harder was prepared to accept a plea bargain that would have prevented him from testifying against Driskell, and that Driskell knew it. DNA tests performed years later showed that the hairs found in the van came from three different people, none of them being Harder.

In 1993, a police review of the case was made after media reports questioned Driskell's guilt. The review report was withheld for years, but released in 2003. It included the following: (1) A taped statement by an inmate at Stony Mountain Penitentiary, who contacted the RCMP and alleged a Winnipeg police officer was involved in Harder's murder. (2) Confirmation that police negotiated a witness protection agreement for Zanidean that was never revealed to the jury. Zanidean was reportedly paid more than $70,000 while in the program. (3) Confirmation that Zanidean was going to be charged with the Swift Current arson, and that Winnipeg police made a secret promise to him that he would not be charged. As a result of the accumulating evidence in his favor, Driskell's conviction was quashed in 2003 and the charges against him were stayed in 2005.  [3/09]


References:  Centurion MinistriesInjustice Busters, CBC NewsDriskell Inquiry Transcripts

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Canadian Cases