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Man wins settlement in wrongful conviction

Publication: National Post; Date:2004 Jan 15; Section:Canada; Page Number 5

Man wins settlement in wrongful conviction

JAILED 8 YEARS

Exonerated by court for Niagara murders

BYADRIAN HUMPHREYS National Post

A settlement in a malicious prosecution suit has quietly been reached between an Ontario man and police and prosecutors who put him in prison for two brutal murders he did not commit.

Peter Frumusa, 44, of Fort Erie, spent eight years of a life sentence in prison after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the deaths of a Niagara couple who were beaten in their beds with a baseball bat, just months after they were wedded in an odd marriage of convenience.

Mr. Frumusa's pleas of innocence were ignored from the time of his arrest in the summer of 1988 until the flimsy evidence against him began to unravel. He was freed on bail in 1996 and, in 1998, he was formally exonerated by an Ontario court.

A year later, Mr. Frumusa sued Niagara Regional Police, the Ontario government and various police officers and Crown attorneys who handled the case, seeking $6.25-million in damages.

An agreement between the parties has been reached, the National Post has learned.

"The settlement is in the process of being finalized now but an agreement was reached last week," said Louis Sokolov, a Toronto lawyer representing Mr. Frumusa. "Unfortunately, the terms of the settlement are entirely confidential. All I can say is that the matter has now been settled. We can't give any information," he said.

Superintendent Damian Parrent, a spokesman for Niagara police, said the force would not comment on the details but confirmed a settlement.

"It has been handled by the region's insurers and there has been a confidentiality agreement signed by all parties involved," Supt. Parrent said.

A spokesman for the province's Attorney-General said late yesterday he could not comment on the case and requests for an interview with Mr. Frumusa went unanswered.

Mr. Frumusa's case was unusual from the start.

For starters, the victims were an odd pair: Richard "Hop" Wilson was a 70-year-old invalid and Annie Smith a 48-year­old nurse he married after a contract was hammered out by lawyers that would see her care for the ailing Mr. Wilson until his death, at which point she would receive a portion of his estate.

The pair met in a nursing home, where Ms. Smith looked after Mr. Wilson. But the man longed to return to his home and the arrangement was struck to let Mr. Wilson stay at home but not forego his daily care. Ms. Smith was the mother of Mr. Frumusa's girlfriend.

After the older pair were murdered in their separate bedrooms, Mr. Frumusa was sent to check on them by his worried girlfriend because her telephone calls went unanswered. After getting no answer at the door, Mr. Frumusa had a neighbour call police and waited. Officers found the bodies and arrested Mr. Frumusa. His character might have been an issue: He was a cocaine user and dealer who hung around with some unsavoury men with mob links.

The evidence against him, however, was slim; no blood stain match-ups, fingerprints found at the scene or tearful confessions. But the court did hear damning testimony from a jailhouse informant, a career criminal whose nickname on the street was Snake. He claimed Mr. Frumusa admitted the crimes to him over the telephone while in prison.  

James Lockyer, of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, has previously compared this case to the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after being convicted of murder in the sex slaying of Christine Jessop primarily on the evidence of a man he met in jail while awaiting trial.  ahumphreys@nationalpost.com

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