Walter Gillespie, Wrongfully Convicted of 1983 Murder, Dies at 80 Months After Acquittal

Walter Gillespie, wrongfully convicted of murder, dies months after exoneration. His decades-long fight for justice highlights the human toll of wrongful convictions in Canada's justice system.

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Sakchi Khandelwal
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Walter Gillespie, Wrongfully Convicted of 1983 Murder, Dies at 80  Months After Acquittal

Walter Gillespie, Wrongfully Convicted of 1983 Murder, Dies at 80 Months After Acquittal

Walter Gillespie, a New Brunswick man who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, died on Friday at the age of 80. His death comes just months after he was acquitted in January 2024 alongside his friend Robert Mailman, 76.

Gillespie and Mailman were convicted of manslaughter in 1984 for the 1983 killing of George Leeman, a Saint John plumber. But the two men always maintained their innocence. In January, the New Brunswick Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare acquitted them, apologizing for the "miscarriage of justice."

The acquittal came after federal Justice Minister Arif Virani ordered a new trial, citing evidence that called into question "the overall fairness of the process." Innocence Canada, an organization that fights for the wrongfully convicted, had been reviewing the men's cases since 2018 and petitioned for the retrial in 2019.

Gillespie had refused to falsely implicate Mailman, even when offered a shorter sentence. He served 21 years in prison, while Mailman served 18 years. Gillespie's main motivation in obtaining his acquittal was so that his only daughter would know he was not a murderer.

Why this matters: Gillespie's case highlights the ongoing issue of wrongful convictions in Canada's justice system. His decades-long fight for exoneration, even in the face of opportunities to falsely incriminate others for a reduced sentence, underscores the human toll and the importance of organizations like Innocence Canada that work to overturn such convictions.

James Lockyer, the founding director of Innocence Canada, expressed sadness that Gillespie died so soon after his name was cleared. "It's sad that he had such a brief time to enjoy his victory," Lockyer said. The New Brunswick government reached a settlement with Gillespie and Mailman in March for an undisclosed sum. Gillespie's legacy includes raising awareness of wrongful convictions in Canada, which will be part of his lasting impact.

Key Takeaways

  • Walter Gillespie, wrongfully convicted of murder, died at 80 after 21 yrs in prison.
  • Gillespie and friend Robert Mailman were acquitted in 2024 after new evidence emerged.
  • Gillespie refused to falsely implicate Mailman, even for a shorter sentence.
  • Gillespie's case highlights ongoing issue of wrongful convictions in Canada's justice system.
  • Gillespie's legacy includes raising awareness of wrongful convictions in Canada.