Justice system scrutinized: Woman hires hitman but goes free
It’s the plot of a seedy Hollywood thriller.
Nicole Ryan, a small town school teacher from Digby County, N.S, was desperate to escape a loveless marriage.
But rather than go for a divorce, she decided it would be more expedient to have her husband murdered.
So she hired a hit man to kill Mike Ryan for a cool $25,000.
However, the man simply took the money and bolted.
But that didn’t stop the woman, who appeared hell bent on murder. She kept shopping around the county for an assassin, and after two more failed attempts, she reeled in a trigger man. Or at least she thought he had.
Unfortunately for Nicole, and luckily for Mike, the would-be killer turned out to be an undercover RCMP officer posing as a gun for hire.
At a meeting outside a gas station in March 2008, Nicole tells him: “I need the job done. I need it done this weekend.”
The hitman asks about Mike Ryan’s new, 19-year-old girlfriend. “If she’s in the way, is that a problem?” Nicole shakes her head, no.
The undercover cop also asks: “Any beatings? Like did he beat you or anything? Every laid a hand on ya?”
Nicole responds: “No.”
She then tells the cop that she’d been planning the hit for the past seven months. And he elicits a possible motive: Money.
With her husband out of the way, she stands to inherit three properties and his $500,000 military pension. Mike Ryan is worth well over $1,000,000 dead.
Nicole drives to her home in Church Point to get photographs of her husband. She has no idea that she is under secret surveillance by Mounties in unmarked cars.
At the second clandestine meeting hours later, she provides the would-be assassin with photos of her husband’s house, his vehicle, his cell phone number and a physical description of Mike Ryan.
Then within minutes of leaving the car, Nicole Ryan is arrested. The next day, she is taken to court and charged with counselling to commit murder.
A month later, Herbie Boudreau, her father, who allegedly put up the hit money, is also charged with the same offence.
For the prosecution, the case was straight forward. No way they could lose, or at least that’s what they thought.
In the 21 months between her attempt to have her husband killed, and her trial, Nicole Ryan got divorced, reverted to her family name, Doucet, and radically changed her story: levelling allegations against Mike Ryan that had never been heard before. Not by the police, her therapists, or in family court during divorce or custody hearings over their young daughter.
At her trial in 2009, Nicole pleaded not guilty claiming that she had been under duress when she committed the crime. She alleged that Mike Ryan was a violent and abusive husband; and that for nearly 15 years he threatened and bullied her. She swore that he had pinned her up against the wall, squeezed her throat and had put a gun to her head.
She also testified that she was afraid for her herself and for their young daughter, Aimee, adding that the RCMP had ignored her many pleas for protection.
Former RCMP Cpl. Chris Thibeaudeau sat through the trial, stunned at what he was hearing.
“I’m like, first time I hear this. Like we’re like dumbfounded basically,” he told W5 in an interview.
Key figures not called as witnesses
Cpl. Thibeaudeau was the RCMP authority on the file, but was not called to testify. Neither was anyone else on the force.
And neither was the man Nicole portrayed as a monster, her ex-husband Mike Ryan, who was sitting in his car in a nearby parking lot outside the courthouse, waiting to be called as a witness.
“I was very anxious to get on the stand and testify, and rebut anything she had to say,” he told W5. But “I was never called.”
During the three-week trial, Mike Ryan had several conversations with the Crown prosecutor who reassured him that “there’s no way that a judge could not see that she tried to hire a killer
In other words, the case was a slam dunk.
But in March 2010, Justice David Farrar of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court decided: “I have no difficulty in finding that Mr. Ryan was an abusive and manipulative individual,” adding that “the one person that could have rebutted all of these accusations…was Mr. Ryan himself…However, he never gave evidence.”
Then in acquitting the accused, the judge noted that “a reasonable person in the circumstances of Ms. Ryan…would have acted in the same manner.”
Adding insult to injury, the Crown ultimately dropped the charges against Nicole’s co-conspirator, Herbie Boudreau.
Outcome prompts questions
W5 had questions for Peter Craig, the Crown attorney who prosecuted the case. We wanted to know why Mike Ryan was never called to testify. Why the RCMP were not called to testify. And why the charges against Boudreau were withdrawn.
Craig declined W5’s request for an interview but he did provide this written statement: “In the Crown’s view, duress was not established during Ms. Ryan’s testimony and that of other defence witnesses. Therefore, Mike Ryan’s testimony was not required.”
He added that the charge against Nicole’s father was dropped on “a legal technicality” which the Crown declined to explain.
In 2011 the Crown appealed the acquittal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. But to its dismay, the higher court upheld the lower court’s decision, writing: “It is hard to imagine that, as a teacher with a steady income, support from family and friends, presumed police protection, a divorce in the works and with the last specific threat months before the ‘crime’, she would not have had other avenues of escape.”
Yet the Appeal Court upheld the acquittal.
There was one last hope for the Crown – an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which, in January 2013, made a stunning reversal ruling that the defence of duress – the only defence Nicole used to justify hiring a hit man to kill her husband, did not apply.
But then in yet another bizarre twist, instead of sending the case back to the Nova Scotia court for a re-trial, the Supreme Court ordered a stay of proceedings, determining that Nicole had suffered enough.
Bottom line: Nicole Doucet can never be tried again for the crime.
The Supreme Court decision not only vilifies Mike Ryan, but the RCMP as well.
In its ruling it noted: “It seems the authorities were much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her.”
Cpl. Chris Thibeaudeau’s response: “That’s total baloney.”
The decision prompted the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to investigate. In July 2013, Ian McPhail, who chairs the Commission, issued a damning report which came to a very different conclusion than the Supreme Court.
The report notes that Nicole Doucet’s statements about the failure of the RCMP to respond to her complaints of abuse “is without basis in fact and negatively impacts Ms. Doucet’s credibility and reliability.”
“We made that statement on the basis that Ms. Doucet had repeatedly denied, not just to the RCMP, but to our investigator, to the undercover officer who she attempted to hire as a hit man that there was any physical abuse,” Mr. McPhail told W5.
“The RCMP not only did their job, they actually…walked the second mile,” he added.
Asked if he felt the justice system was fooled all the way to the Supreme Court, Mr. McPhail said: “It’s a conclusion that a reasonable person might arrive at.”
Mike Ryan now lives in Ontario with Shannon Huntley. They have a three year old son, and in the spring gave birth to a sister for Aimee, now 14. He was awarded full custody of Aimee.
In an effort to clear his name, Mike has taken to the Internet. He has posted a video on YouTube giving his side of the case; a side he never got the chance to give during Nicole Doucet’s trial.
W5 airs Saturday @ 7 pm on CTV and @ 10 pm on CTV 2. Also available on CTVNews.ca.