Occasionally I find an interesting story because someone looking for an interesting story found me. WordPress provides all search engine terms people use to find my blog. Recently, someone found my blog by searching “Nicole Ryan Appeal.” The search engine found my blog based on the stories I’ve done on Ryan Ferguson. A bit of a stretch. I went in search of the real story.
I found this article. In March 2008, Nicole Ryan of Nova Scotia was charged with conspiracy to commit murder after hiring at hitman to kill her husband, Michael Ryan. Her father was also charged with counseling to commit murder. The “hitman” was an undercover Mountie conducting a sting.
Ryan was acquitted in March 2010 based on a duress defense. She claimed she had been controlled, abused and threatened at gunpoint by her husband. Her lawyer argued that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) had failed to sufficiently respond to Ryan’s numerous complaints against her husband. Based on threats against herself and their daughter, Ryan decided her only choice was to take matters into her own hands.
The acquittal is being appealed. Here’s where it really gets interesting. Michael Ryan was not called to testify, but he has shared his side of the story. After columnist Stephen Kimber called Michael Ryan “a nasty piece of business” in this column about the case, Ryan replied to the accusations. I strongly encourage you to first read the news article, the column and ensuing comments, and the actual Supreme Court Decision. I went through this process, and my opinion changed several times as I continued to read.
Michael Ryan claims that the allegations of abuse were created for the defense in the trial. He said all corroborating witnesses simply testified about things Nicole had told them, therefore the only evidence against him was her word. He said she had multiple opportunities to report abuse prior to the trial and neglected to do so. He reported that it was he who had left her, that he had been granted custody of their daughter because she was an unfit mother, and that she was currently battling him for custody and for the couple’s $1 million in assets and property. He also pointed out that 3 of Nicole’s family members, including her father and sister, were found guilty of assault against Michael Ryan and his girlfriend in an earlier incident. Apparently they had attacked Ryan and his girlfriend with a pipe. It appears that since it was the Crown who prosecuted and not Michael Ryan, he was not really represented in the trial.
Does Nicole Ryan qualify for a duress argument? That’s the question of the appeal. According to the court decision, a defense of duress must be considered if it has an air of reality. To win the defense of duress it must have these four elements:
- The accused must act solely in response to threat of serious bodily harm or death.
- The threats must be of such gravity that the accused believed they would be carried out.
- The threats must be of such gravity that a reasonable person in similar circumstances could have reacted in the same way as the accused.
- The accused must not have had an obvious avenue of escape.
Did Nicole take reasonable steps to try to get away before she hired a hitman? Justice David Farrar believed she had exhausted her options.
This case is rife with things to consider.
If the allegations of abuse are true, should Nicole Ryan have been acquitted? Can violence/ the threat of violence justify murder? Self-defense is a tricky thing. It can’t be denied that a woman should be able to defend herself and her child. But if self-defense is given free reign, it can be used to justify disproportionate response and vigilante justice. Anyone can claim they felt threatened. Ideally, Nicole Ryan should have been able to seek protection from the RCMP, seek shelter with her family and get herself out of the situation without hiring a hitman. But things might not be so easy for a victim who has been subjected to years of manipulation, psychological and physical abuse. Maybe the system failed her. Victims of abuse often believe there is no way out. How much abuse and terror would it take to push someone to such a desperate solution? Most parents would probably be willing to kill to protect their children. The court decision describes a life of misery and terror for Nicole Ryan. She didn’t feel safe anywhere, even at her job as a teacher or when staying with a friend. Her husband pursued her everywhere and she lived under a constant cloud of threats. If the court agrees that she sought help and was denied it, should the RCMP hold some culpability for failing to protect her? Not only did they fail to help her, despite multiple pleas, but they set up the sting and presented the idea of a hitman to her. Nicole Ryan didn’t seek a hitman – the undercover officer approached her at a weak moment and proposed a solution. She simply took way out offered her. What was the police’ motivation for setting up this sting?
If, on the other hand, the allegations of abuse are false, why did the legal system fail Michael Ryan? First, he tried to divorce his wife and get custody of their daughter because, frankly, his wife was a little nuts. Then his in-laws beat the crap out of him and his girlfriend with a galvanized pipe. Then his estranged wife tried to hire a hitman to kill him. To top it all off, his wife was acquitted and he got publicly portrayed as an abusive, manipulative monster who deserved to be killed anyway. Things are not going well for him. Perhaps all he’s guilty of is poor judge of character when he decided to marry this woman. The fact that he was granted custody of their daughter is notable. There is always a strong bias toward the mother in custody battles. It is naturally assumed that the mother is the better choice; the burden of proof is heavily upon a father to prove a mother unfit. I wonder what that court saw when they gave Michael Ryan custody? Surely not a dangerous, abusive man. I wonder what the court saw when it found Ryan’s in-laws guilty of assaulting him? Apparently not self-defense.
When I read Michael Ryan’s comments on Kimber’s article, I believed them. But when I read the court document, I believed the judge’s ruling in Nicole’s favor. It is certainly a hard case.
Another thing that struck me about this case was a general lack of information. I found precious few news stories, and the existing coverage lacks depth. The few stories I read contained inconsistencies. The hitman was hired for either $10,000 or $25,000. In some instances, the Ryans are described as ex’s, while in other cases it says they are still married. There is no discussion of whether the undercover sting was specifically aimed at Nicole Ryan and if so, what prompted RCMP to suspect her? I want more information. Whose fault is that? The comments on Kimber’s column include an interesting discussion on the state on journalism today. Commenter “Civil Libertarian” called the media “little more than self-serving pseudo-literates.” And Stephen Kimber responded, blaming the shrinking newsroom and apologizing that he was only a part-time columnist without the resources to dig into the story deeper. He offered to privately refer Michael Ryan to full-time journalists who could investigate more. As I hold a journalism degree myself, I found this all quite interesting. In the media’s defense, both the CBC story and Kimber article provided the actual court decision. (I provided it, too. See 4th paragraph.) Reading it has given me far more insight than the journalism articles offered. I want to dig into this further.