Winnipeg drug smuggler's appeal in jeopardy
A lawyer's promotion, a frazzled computer and an email filter could cost a Winnipeg drug smuggler his chance of appealing a 20-year prison sentence he's serving in the U.S.
Timothy Morneau's bid for a new trial is in danger of being thrown out of court after his lawyer missed an important deadline to file papers, documents obtained by CBC News show.
Morneau, 32, is serving 20 years in a federal prison after being found guilty of smuggling nearly $5 million US worth of ecstasy tablets over the Canada-U.S. border in February 2008.
His lawyer, David Duke, immediately launched an appeal of Morneau's conviction after he was sentenced by a Montana judge in April. However, documents show Duke defaulted on the appeals process by not filing an opening brief by Nov. 30.
Duke scrambled to file a motion last Friday seeking an extension of time to keep the appeal alive.
In that motion, he said "a series of events" happened that caused him to miss the deadline.
Duke said he recently left his private practice to become a supervisor for Montana's public defender's office. He said the move caused him to "simply lose track" of Morneau's appeal and necessary dates for filing documents.
He also said he wasn't notified by the courts of any pending deadlines because his home computer crashed and his email at his new job filtered out any "private" emails.
Duke has asked the courts to give him until Jan. 15 to get the process back on track. A decision on his extension is still pending, but prosecutors have not raised any objections to giving him more time, documents said.
Blown headlight led to search
Morneau is likely to argue in his appeal that Montana police conducted an illegal search of a vehicle where the ecstasy was found, Duke told CBC News in an earlier interview.
Morneau made a deal to pay two Winnipeg teenagers $1,000 each to take him and the drugs in a car to an area near the border where he used a rickety stolen snowmobile to cross into the U.S. undetected.
The teens, then 18 years old, followed in a car and crossed over, telling border guards they were going shopping in Minnesota.
Instead, they picked up Morneau in North Dakota and were driving toward Billings, Mont., when they were pulled over for a having a headlight out.
Police said conflicting stories given by the three caused them to search the vehicle and find 223,810 tablets of ecstasy.
Duke said that evidence shouldn't be admissible.
"[The] argument would be something along the line that, when a police officer notices something like that they usually give a ticket for a light that's out or give a warning — one of the two — and send them on their way," Duke said.
If that's the case, the drugs would never have been found and the evidence in the case would have to be tossed out, Duke suggested.
Morneau tried a similar argument before his trial, but a judge allowed the drug evidence to stand. He is serving his 240-month sentence at a minimum-security prison in Lousiana.
The teens, Christian Laurin and Alan Mulder, are serving four-year prison sentences. They were granted leniency in exchange for guilty pleas and their testimony against Morneau.
Thursday, December 24, 2009 | 5:49 PM CT
By James Turner, CBC News