Lesson 2: Criminal Investigation and Forensics

Topic 2: Police Investigation

Regina vs. Feeney – Calling Police Investigation into Question

Actual Case History

First Trial - British Columbia Supreme Court (unreported, 1992)
  • Michael Feeney was convicted of second degree murder by a jury in 1992. 
  • At this trial, the Crown relied on the evidence that had been obtained by the police when they entered Michael’s trailer and arrested him on June 8, 1991. 
British Columbia Court of Appeal ((1995), 54 B.C.A.C. 228)
  • After he was convicted, Michael Feeney appealed his case to the Court of Appeal for BC, arguing that this evidence had been obtained illegally by the police and therefore the Crown should not be able to use it against him in court.
  • The Court of Appeal denied the appeal, and upheld Feeney’s conviction.
Supreme Court of Canada ([1997] 2 S.C.R. 13)
  • Michael Feeney again appealed, now to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court agreed with the defence and overturned the rulings of the lower courts, holding that the evidence found when the police entered the trailer couldn’t be used against Michael Feeney at trial. 
  • The reason for the court’s decision is that police are not allowed to enter someone’s home to arrest them unless they first have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the person has committed an offence. The officer who entered the trailer testified at trial that he suspected Michael was involved, but that he did not believe he had reasonable and probable grounds to arrest him before entering the trailer. The Crown argued that, in spite of the officer’s personal opinion, police actually did have sufficient information to arrest Mr. Feeney before they entered his trailer. The Supreme Court disagreed. 
  • Nor are police allowed to walk into someone’s home for the purposes of searching it if they do not have a search warrant. There are narrow exceptions to that rule which allow police to storm in if they have good reason to believe that evidence is about to be destroyed or someone is about to be hurt, but the Supreme Court of Canada held that neither of these conditions existed at the time the police entered Michael’s home.
  • The Supreme Court held that because the police broke the law in very serious ways, none of the evidence they found in Michael’s trailer that day could be used against him in court. Because he had been convicted on the basis of this evidence, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial.
Second Trial – B.C.S.C. ([1999] B.C.J. No. 688, aff’d 2001 BCCA 113)
  • When the new trial was ordered, the police went back to work in an attempt to gather more evidence. Using new DNA technology, the police matched the saliva on the Sportsman cigarette butt found on Frank’s property to Michael Feeney. They also relied on the fingerprints found in Frank Boyle’s home and on the beer can in the Datsun that were matched to Michael Feeney, as well as the blood type test matching the bloody crowbar found by the Datsun to Frank Boyle. 
  • All of the evidence from the trailer that was used in Michael Feeney’s first trial, which the Supreme Court held was collected illegally, was excluded.
  • On the basis of the new forensic evidence, and especially the DNA match on the cigarette butt, Michael Feeney was again convicted of second degree murder by a jury in 1999. His appeal to the Court of Appeal (2001 BCCA 113) was dismissed.
  • Interesting fact – the trial judge was Mr. Justice Wally Oppal and the Crown counsel, for both of Mr. Feeney’s trials, was Kathy Murphy. Ms. Murphy was also Crown counsel for the high-profile trial of the five men accused of kidnapping Vancouver student Graham McMynn.

Facts of the Case

Michael Feeney was charged with the second degree murder of Frank Boyle. The following is the evidence in the case against Mr. Feeney.

The Evidence

Frank Boyle was an 85 year-old widower who was well-known in his community, the small northern town of Likely, B.C. Frank was last seen alive on the evening of June 7, 1991. 

The Crime Scene
  • At about 8:20 a.m. on June 8, 1991, Frank’s neighbour noticed that Frank’s garage door was open. This being out of the ordinary, the neighbour took a peek into Frank’s house. He found Frank lying on his back in the living room.
  • Frank had sustained five severe blows to the head, apparently from a crowbar. Any one of the blows was sufficient to kill him. Blood was spattered on the walls. The house was ransacked and his money, Sportsman cigarettes and beer were missing. 
  • Frank’s red Datsun truck was gone too, but it was found a few hours later, abandoned at an S curve in the road ½ km away. A bloody crowbar was found near the truck. 
Witnesses
  • On the same day, June 8, the police talked to Cindy Potter, who lived near where the Datsun truck was found. She said she saw someone she knew only as Michael walking on the road at about 6:45 a.m. that day, heading away from the Datsun. He had something in his hand – possibly a beer, possibly a stick.
  • The police next spoke with Kelly Spurn. Kelly owned a property that he rented to Angela Feeney Russell and her partner Dale Russell. Angela’s brother, Michael, arrived in town not long ago and had been staying in a small trailer at the back of the property. Kelly told the police that the night before, Michael had stolen his blue flatbed truck and ditched it in exactly the same spot where the Datsun was found.
  • The police next visited the property rented by Dale Russell. Dale told the police that Michael took a joyride in Dale’s blue flatbed truck the day before and ditched it up the road. He told police that Michael came home around 7 a.m. that morning after a night of drinking.
  • The police later interviewed Angela Feeney Russell. She told them that her brother Michael had no blood on him when he arrived home that morning.
  • However, when it came to the second trial, Angela testified that she might have seen a few blood spots on his shirt, but that she might have just dreamed that.
  • Several people who were partying with Michael the night before (June 7) testified that he had been bumming beer and cigarettes from them because, he said, he had no money.

Arrest of Michael Feeney

  • After interviewing Dale Russell on June 8, the police proceeded to the trailer at the back of the property where Michael Feeney was said to be staying. The police did not have a search warrant. The police knocked on the trailer door, and when there was no answer, they walked in. They found Michael sleeping and arrested him for the murder of Frank Boyle.
  • The police obtained a warrant under section 487.05 of the Criminal Code to take a blood sample from Michael. 

Forensic Evidence

Michael Feeney’s Trailer
  • Upon entering Michael Feeney’s trailer, the police found a pair of Michael’s shoes with blood on them. It was later determined that the blood matched Frank’s blood type. The soles of the shoes matched shoe prints found at the scene of the crime.
  • They also found a package of Sportsman cigarettes.
  • The police also seized the blood-spattered T-shirt Michael was wearing at the time, later determined to match Frank’s blood. When the police asked Michael why there was blood on his shirt, Michael responded, “I got hit in the face with a baseball”. However, he had no facial injuries when he was arrested.
Frank Boyle’s Property 
  • In the cabin on Frank’s property, the police found Frank’s empty wallet and a Sportsman cigarette butt.
  • The police also found a fingerprint on the door of the refrigerator in Frank’s home. When they plugged this fingerprint into the B.C. Automated Fingerprint Identification System, they matched those of Michael Feeney.
Off-site
  • Police also determined that the blood on the crowbar found beside the Datsun was of the same blood type as Frank Boyle’s.
  • The police found another fingerprint on a beer can in the cab of the Datsun.When they plugged this fingerprint into the B.C. Automated Fingerprint Identification System, they matched those of Michael Feeney.