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Niemi lured into confession, defence says

Tracy McLaughlin

By Tracy McLaughlin, Special to QMI AGENCY

No DNA. No fingerprints. No eyewitnesses. No murder weapon. No smoking gun.

The police investigating the murder of Alyssa Watson had nothing on Roy Niemi until they devised an elaborate undercover operation and lured him into a “false” confession, his lawyer insisted Wednesday.

“This was a false confession. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd,” Richard Stern said in his closing arguments to the jury. “Is Mr. Niemi going to be sitting in jail and then one day we will find out who the real killer is?”

It was the last day of the trial for Niemi, 34, of Orillia, who is facing a possible life in prison for the first-degree murder and indignity to the body of Watson. Watson, 20, of Orillia, was a friend of Niemi’s and the two met at the Adult Learning Centre in Orillia. Her half-naked body was found with her throat cut in the bushes off a nature trail near Orillia’s waterfront Aug. 19, 2006.

In court, the jury looked at photographs of Watson’s battered and mutilated body. Her face was bruised, she was cut from her throat to her abdomen and one breast was sliced from one side to the other.

From the beginning, Niemi was a suspect in the case, along with two other men, but after a full year went by, police still couldn’t crack the case. Niemi willingly submitted a DNA sample, but the samples of DNA found under Watson’s fingernails and on her watch belonged to another unknown male.

“So they used extraordinary measures,” Stern said, describing the elaborate undercover operation where police officers pretended to be members of a criminal organization in a tactic known as a “Mr. Big” operation.

They lured Niemi with friendship, fancy hotel rooms, rides in limousines and fast money by delivering packages. They greeted him with a hug, called him “brother,” bought him a smart suit and got him to cut his waist-length hair.

But after several months, the operation was shut down after the undercover officers repeatedly tried, but failed, to get a confession out of Niemi while he was being secretly videotaped at meetings with the fictitious boss at Toronto hotel rooms.

The jury watched the videos that showed a frustrated Niemi repeatedly denying any involvement in the Watson murder. The boss of the operation threatened to cut Niemi out if he didn’t “fess up” and suggested he had inside information on Niemi.

“I didn’t do it,” Niemi told the boss dozens of times, convinced police targeted him only because his father is a convicted murderer.

“I’m not like my father,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t kill a woman.”

At one point, Niemi became so fed up with the constant questions, he told one undercover officer, “Fine, maybe I’ll just admit to it to keep (the boss) happy.”

With no confession, the operation was finally shut down. But, one year later, police started up a second Mr. Big operation with the same actors.

“They just decide to take another run at him,” Stern said, pointing out police had no new evidence to justify a second operation.

On the second attempt, the boss “sweetened the deal,” said Stern, and offered Niemi, who was living on a welfare cheque of $400 a month, a chance to make $25,000 a day in a debit-card scheme. But the boss insisted Niemi was out as long as he was a murder suspect.

“We can’t have that kind of attention,” the boss said on the video as he strutted around the hotel suite. “I have a guy doing a stretch in prison who is willing to admit to it.”

But first, the boss demanded Niemi divulge every detail of the murder so his “guy” could convince police he killed Watson.

Stern noted Niemi continued to deny involvement in the murder until he was so overwhelmed with the constant questioning that he finally admitted to killing Watson.

“He’s willing to just say he did it,” said Stern. “But he still can’t give any details.”

In his initial confession, Niemi told the boss, “I hit her on the head with a whisky bottle and then I choked her out.” But he could not remember anything else.

It was only after the boss told Niemi to “sleep on it” that Niemi came back days later to reveal the sordid details of how Watson was mutilated after death and dragged into the bushes.

Details, Stern insisted, Niemi probably learned on the streets of Orillia, where rumors about Watson being “gutted like a fish” were rampant.

“He made it all up,” said Stern. “It was all a lie because the boss convinced him if he confessed, he would get all that money,” said Stern.

The Crown has argued there is no way Niemi could have known specific details of Watson’s injuries unless he was the real killer.

The jury will begin deliberations today.

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