An Indigenous man who has spent 34 years behind bars for a crime he says he didn’t commit may get a new shot at freedom.
Phillip Tallio, of Bella Coola First Nation in British Columbia, learned Monday DNA from the victim can be tested.
It’s a major development and important part of the argument to free Tallio, said lawyer Rachel Barsky of Vancouver.
“He was very glad about it,” Barsky said in a telephone interview. “He said it was a long time coming.”
Tallio, 51, pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of toddler Delavina Mack in 1983, but claims his confession was fabricated. Barsky took the case as part of the Innocence Project at UBC law school.
DNA has been a key factor in helping overturn wrongful convictions around the world. This tissue sample will be tested at the Netherlands Forensic Institute in The Hague.
“RCMP will personally fly and accompany the sample,” Barsky added.
APTN Investigates looked into the Tallio case last fall when lawyers argued about DNA.
Mack was just 22 months old when she was killed and the crime split the remote community featured in this story.
The Crown opposed the DNA testing on the grounds age had degraded and potentially contaminated the sample. But three judges from the B.C. Court of Appeal were unanimously in favour.
“It is in the interests of justice to allow the testing to occur,” they said in a written decision.
Tallio claims the guilty plea to second-degree murder was entered without his consent. And says he didn’t understand what was happening.
Testing has shown he has a low intellect.
Barsky has been working seven years to exonerate Tallio.
“It’s a mix of emotions for him,” she said. “This is just another step towards an appeal.”