Proof of suspect's alibi concealed, court told


TORONTO -- Police buried the proof that Romeo Phillion had an alibi for a 1967 killing because they simply could not accept that the chronic ne'er-do-well would falsely confess to murdering an Ottawa firefighter, the Ontario Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

A lawyer for Mr. Phillion, James Lockyer, told the court police investigators were flabbergasted when Mr. Phillion, 68, spontaneously confessed to the crime five years after they had confidently cleared him based on verification of his alibi.

In a dramatic clash, Mr. Lockyer accused one of the lead investigators in the case, retired superintendent John McCombie, now 75, of madly scrambling to conceal the proof he had unearthed confirming Mr. Phillion's alibi.

"That's not true," Mr. McCombie said.

"When Mr. Phillion confessed to the crime in 1972, you were confronted with a very odd situation," Mr. Lockyer insisted. "There was only one way you could grapple with it - and that was to assume that a man doesn't confess to something he didn't do - so that whatever you had concluded in 1967 had to be wrong."

Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy was stabbed to death in his apartment building on Aug. 9, 1967. Mr. Phillion spent 31 years in prison for the murder before his parole officer gave him a previously undisclosed 1968 police report in which Mr. McCombie stated that it was impossible for Mr. Phillion to have killed Mr. Roy.

Mr. Phillion was later released on bail.

The key to the alibi lies in a statement from a service station owner near Trenton, Ont. Mr. McCombie's long-buried report quotes the owner confirming that Mr. Phillion had run out of gas on the day of the murder and was towed to his garage.

The timing of events eliminated Mr. Phillion as Mr. Roy's killer.

The Court of Appeal's immediate task is to decide whether the suppressed alibi report and other evidence undermine the veracity of Mr. Phillion's confession and qualify as fresh evidence.

Crown counsel contend that while the passage of time has led to minor discrepancies in Mr. McCombie's account of events, Mr. Phillion was rightly convicted of a crime he freely admitted committing.