A B.C. man who has spent nearly 25 years in prison for the first-degree murders of his wife and twin baby boys believes modern DNA testing could clear his name.
Dean Roberts has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking it to order that exhibits from his original trial be tested with the prospect of gathering evidence that could lead to a ministerial review of his conviction.
The petition says only some of the evidence was tested after Susan Roberts and the couple’s 13-month-old twins were murdered in Cranbrook in July 1994, and the only DNA recovered from Susan Roberts’ fingernail clippings did not match her husband.
Items requested for updated DNA tests include ropes taken from the necks of two of the victims, hair and fibre samples found on one of the boys and a cigarette butt also found near the baby.
The petition says Roberts has asked for the exhibits and evidence from the Crown, but was refused, which it claims is a violation of his charter rights.
Roberts lost an appeal of his B.C. Supreme Court convictions in 1997 and his petition says he intends to seek a ministerial review of his case, but requires new evidence in order to proceed.
He is serving a minimum 25-year prison term for the three murders and the attempted murder of a third child.
Jurors at Roberts’ original trial were told the strangled body of Susan Roberts was found in the family’s burning home, along with the body of one of the babies, the third child survived the fire and the body of the second twin was found at a nearby garbage dump near the East Kootenay Community College — now the College of the Rockies.
Roberts has consistently maintained his innocence, but did not apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada within the prescribed time, the newly filed petition says.
“The evidence implicating the petitioner was primarily based on his confession during the “Mr. Big” operation. There was no physical or forensic evidence implicating the petitioner in the offences,” the document says.
During his six-week jury trial in Nelson, B.C. in 1995, Roberts testified his confession to an undercover police officer posing as a gangster was a pack of lies offered to a man he feared was a mean-tempered killer.
“(Susan) went to sleep early and I just started giving her a massage…and in the process of giving her the massage, I manoeuvred the rope underneath her neck and double-knotted it, and put my knee into the back of her head,” Roberts told an undercover police officer, in a Richmond hotel room on Sept. 23, 1994. “And then I took one of my twins and strangled him, put him in a bag, set the house on fire and left.”
The undercover officer asked Roberts if he had any regrets.
“No regrets. I don’t have regrets now,” Roberts said.
In the same undercover operation, Roberts told the officer he had made three attempts to kill his family over the previous four months, including a poisoning attempt. He told the officer he had lit a cardboard box filled with newspaper and lamp oil on fire to set the house ablaze.
Roberts took the stand in his defence, telling the court he made those comments because he was afraid of the undercover cop’s gangster persona.
He also told his trial that he left his family sleeping in their home the night of the killings and drove to Wycliffe to look at ranch property, then later visited a friend.
Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press