Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)

Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

A lawyer for a man who spent 37 years in prison for the murder of a toddler says the British Columbia Appeal Court should first consider new evidence in the case he believes involved a miscarriage of justice.

Thomas Arbogast said Monday that Phillip Tallio pleaded guilty in 1983 based on “ineffective assistance” from his lawyer at the time.

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin Delavina Mack, who court has heard had been sexually assaulted in a home in the northern community of Bella Coola.

Tallio, now 54, told the court last month that he wasn’t aware of the implications of the plea agreement his trial lawyer had him sign when he was a teenager.

Arbogast said DNA evidence the Crown has rejected because it does not point to Tallio as the perpetrator could have made a difference at his trial because experts have testified it is reasonable, relevant and credible.

“You say that that is the basis on which to set aside a guilty plea, even if the plea was otherwise entered in conformity with the law?” asked Justice S. David Frankel, one of three judges on the appeal panel.

“Yes,” Arbogast replied, referring to three other cases with valid guilty pleas he outlined that were found to be unreliable based on subsequent information.

He said the Crown’s view that a voluntary and valid guilty plea is the end of the matter and requires no further analysis may be acceptable in most cases considered by the Appeal Court, but not in cases like his client’s.

Tallio, who is out on bail, received a life sentence without chance of parole for 10 years as part of a plea agreement. He was never released from prison because he refused to admit his guilt to the parole board.

The opinion of a second psychiatrist was particularly problematic during the trial, Arbogast said.

The Crown and defence counsel relied on the statement, he said.

“That caused an entire string of events to unfold with respect to the plea,” he said, adding that the opinion “could not have been used as proof of the truth in 1983.”

READ MORE: Appeals trial begins for Phillip Tallio, convicted of killing toddler in 1983

The court has heard the second psychiatrist wrote in a letter dated May 17, 1983, that Tallio made incriminating statements about the crime scene.

The first psychiatrist who met with Tallio several times starting when he arrived at a psychiatric institute for a court-ordered assessment on April 25, 1983, found the teen had a low IQ but was not necessarily mentally ill.

Arbogast said Tallio’s compelled placement at the institute the following day was without consent and done on the basis of an assessment of his fitness to stand trial and mental health.

He said questions on whether statements to psychiatrists in that context could be used as proof of the truth were before the courts as far back as the 1960s before amendments in 1992 allowed them to be used to discredit an accused but not as evidence against them.

Arbogast said trial counsel would not have been involved in plea negotiations if the second psychiatrist’s statement “was not in play.”

“There was no other cogent evidence to support guilt that was admissible,” he said.

Rachel Barsky, another of Tallio’s lawyers, said testimony last month from experts suggests DNA tests by a lab in Texas on the girl’s tissue samples taken during an autopsy do not positively point to Tallio as the perpetrator.

Barsky said later testing done at the B.C. Institute of Technology was contaminated.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC Supreme Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Nisga’a Valley Health Authority reported an isolated cluster of COVID-19 cases among non-direct care staff at the New Aiyansh Health Centre. (Gary Fiegehen/Nisga’a Lisims Government)
New Aiyansh Health Centre experiencing COVID-19 cluster among non-direct care staff

Nisga’a Valley Health Authority asking residents to cancel appointments outside the Nass Valley

A photo of the CervixCheck at-home test kit, developed by Eve Medical. (Submitted Photo/Katina Pollard, Métis Nation British Columbia)
Pilot project puts cancer screening into the hands of northwest B.C. women

Métis women experience barriers to cervical cancer screening

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

The Nisga’a Lisims Government has extended its state of local emergency. (File photo)
Nisga’a state of local emergency extended, vaccines delayed

There are 21 active COVID-19 cases in the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

Most Read