On August 9, 1967, a firefighter in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada named Leopold Roy is stabbed to death in the stairwell of his apartment building. Five years later in 1972, Romeo Phillion confesses to the murder while in custody on a robbery related offence. He immediately recanted and has maintained his innocence to this day. Romeo Phillion was convicted for the murder of fireman Leopold Roy and sentenced to life in prison at the age of 33. In 1992, Romeo was eligible for parole after serving 20 years yet he refused to apply because consideration for release depends on Romeo admitting to Roy's murder.
In 1992, The Innocence Project began in York University's Osgoode Hall Law School (in Toronto) as a program in which law students became involved in the investigation of cases of suspected wrongful conviction. After four years and more than 20 students researching Phillion's case, Toronto lawyer James Lockyer assisted them in the preparation of a brief for an application to the Minister of Justice for Romeo Phillion's exoneration under Section 690 of the Criminal Code of Canada. On May 15, 2003, Phillion files the application asking for a new trial. The 1968 police report states that Romeo was stranded in Trenton, Ontario (more than 200 kilometres away from Ottawa) as his car was being repaired at a service station. However, the rules of disclosure in 1972 did not require the Crown to share such evidence with the defense. Evidence was also found claiming that four Crown witnesses changed their testimony about when they saw Romeo in Ottawa.
On June 26, 2003, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Watt states he is satisfied that he has jurisdiction to rule on Romeo Phillion's bail application yet that he lacks the power to determine if the 1972 conviction was justified. On July 21, 2003, after 31 years in prison, 64 year-old Romeo Phillion was released on $50,000 CDN bail. When asked about why he had initially confessed Mr.Phillion stated: "It was a joke, a bad joke that cost me my life." Romeo Phillion will live in his sister's home in Mississauga, Ontario, while his case is reviewed. As a condition of his bail, Justice Watt said that Phillion would receive support from the John Howard Society and St.Leonard's House; the former being a prisoner's rights group and the latter an organization that provides assistance for the reintegration of prisoners into society.
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (18 years in jail) stated that justice officials are committing "terrorism by kidnapping" and imprisoning innocent people. David Milgaard (23 years in jail) also spoke out by urging Phillion's release: "Let's get this man out of prison. Let's do it now, today." Phillion's lawyer, James Lockyer, stated that the review of the case could take as long as a year and that if Romeo Phillion's innocence is proven in court, his jail time would make him the longest serving wrongfully convicted prisoner in Canadian history.