When criminal defence lawyer Chris Murphy was introduced to Colten Boushie’s family by a mutual friend, he felt compelled to help.
Murphy was visiting Saskatoon. He was explaining the legal process to the family but soon realized he needed to do more.
“Very early on it appeared to me as though this was going to be a case that required some kind of assistance with the legal issues,” he told CTV News outside of his family’s home in Saskatoon.
Murphy is a former prosecutor turned criminal defence lawyer based in Toronto, but he grew up in Saskatoon and graduated law school at the University of Saskatchewan.
He travelled back to the province this week to keep a close watch on Gerald Stanley's preliminary hearing in North Battleford.
Stanley, a 55-year-old farmer, was committed on Thursday to stand trial for second-degree murder in the death of Boushie. He's pleaded not guilty.
Boushie, who was 22 and from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed Aug. 9 while riding in an SUV that went onto a farm near Biggar, Sask.
Murphy wouldn't say if being involved in the case is pro bono work, but said he is helping the family through the legal process, answering questions, speaking to media and acting as a watchdog.
“The way I perceive my role is that I want to essentially hold the prosecutor’s and the police’s feet to the fire and make sure all the Is are dotted, the Ts are crossed,” he said. “It may not be a role that the Crown and the police appreciate, but whenever I can get a second opinion on something, I’m glad to receive it.”
Murphy told media last year he discovered a major piece of evidence — the vehicle Boushie was shot in — may have been compromised when it was released by RCMP days after the death. Murphy said a blood splatter analysis was not done and the vehicle was in a towing lot before being moved to a salvage yard. At the time, RCMP wouldn’t comment on the investigation as the case is before the courts.
University of Saskatchewan associate law professor Sarah Buhler said victims’ families don't hire lawyers often, but it’s more common in high-profile or traumatic cases, or ones involving sexual assault. She pointed to recent cases — the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case and the one of Sammy Yatim, who was killed by a Toronto police officer — as examples when lawyers represented victims’ families.
“They’re not prosecuting the case and wouldn’t have a formal role in the trial process itself, but there are some roles they can play that would be very helpful,” she said, adding a prosecutor’s duty is to the public, not the victim or the family.
She said a lawyer representing a family can advise them throughout the legal process, speak to media, act as a liaison between the prosecutor and the family, and act as a watchdog.
“Especially in high-profile cases that have raised so much trauma in a community, I think having an advocate walking with a family can be a very helpful thing,” she said.
Stanley’s preliminary hearing wrapped up Thursday and now Murphy plans to present his thoughts about the evidence heard and the investigation to the Crown. He said he hopes his “constructive feedback” doesn’t fall on deaf ears. While no date has been set yet, Stanley’s trial is expected to take place in Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench at the end of the fall.