At first blush, it seemed like one of those tawdry, too-strange-to-be-true tabloid tales. In April 2008, a 38-year-old Digby County school teacher named Nicole Ryan was charged — along with her 70-year-old father — with trying to hire a hit man to murder her husband.
Because I follow most court cases from the comfortable periphery of my morning newspaper, I’ll confess this sordid story quickly slipped back beneath my radar as it wended its usual slow-cooker way through the judicial system.
Which may explain why I was shocked in late March to learn the judge in the case had acquitted Ryan because, he said, she was under “duress” at the time — even though she admitted to agreeing to pay an undercover Mountie $25,000 to do the deed.
I wasn’t surprised when I heard, a month later, that the Crown had decided to appeal the acquittal, claiming the trial judge had erred in law by failing to consider whether hiring a hit man was a “proportionate” response to whatever duress she was under.
But now that I’ve finally read Justice David Farrar’s 26-page decision, I have no problem with his conclusion. Instead, I have an entirely different problem — and question.
Let’s start with Michael Martin Ryan,
He’s a nasty piece of business, “a manipulative, controlling and abusive husband (who) sought at every turn to control the actions of his wife,” the judge’s decision reads.
He cut her off from family, friends, even co-workers, put a gun to her head on several occasions, threatened to kill her and their daughter, then “dig a trench and put them in and pile garbage on top.”
When Ryan suggested a divorce, he warned: “Don’t test me, I will destroy you before I get a divorce.”
When she did finally move out, the threats only intensified. She charged him with uttering threats. The charges were dropped.
She called the RCMP nine times, victim services 11 and 911 once. On Feb. 17, 2008, her husband showed up at her school and sat menacingly in her car. The Mounties were called. They told her it was a civil matter; there was nothing they could do.
Instead, six weeks later, having failed Ryan at every turn, the RCMP decided to mount an expensive, sophisticated sting operation, using an undercover officer to entrap a desperate, frightened woman into committing a crime for which she could be charged.
Unfortunately, that question won’t be addressed during the upcoming appeal. But it’s a question that needs to the answered — if not by the Mounties, then certainly by the province’s justice minister.
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.