Winnipeg man pleads guilty to obstruction after cleaning up homicide scene in his home

A Winnipeg man charged with second-degree murder in a 2019 killing pleaded guilty to a lesser charge last fall after investigators found new DNA evidence had linked someone else to the crime.

Michael Alexander Spence was sentenced to 30 months in jail for obstruction of justice at a hearing on Oct. 3, 2022, after admitting that while he didn’t kill the man whose death he was charged with, he did try to clean up the crime scene in his home afterward. 

With extra credit for time served factored in, that sentence was equal to the 20 months he had already served before being released on bail after the new information came to light, Manitoba Court of King’s Bench Justice Ken Champagne ruled.

Winnipeg police announced in November 2019 they had charged Spence, now 35, with second-degree murder in the killing of Matthew Allan Sutherland, 28. 

Sutherland had been found critically injured with stab wounds outside a St. Matthews Avenue home in the city’s West End on Oct. 31 and rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Crown attorney Mark Kantor told Champagne that while there was initially evidence supporting the second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have determined there was no longer a reasonable likelihood of conviction based on the new evidence in the case.

Court heard Spence and Sutherland were friends, and that the accused was the one who called 911 that morning.

Spence’s lawyer Tony Kavanagh also told court his client’s home was frequented by people who used drugs, and that it “wouldn’t have been the first time there was an incident” there because of it.

Spence had also been diagnosed with schizophrenia and at the time of the incident was not taking his medication and using methamphetamine, Kavanagh said. He said his client has maintained his innocence on the murder charge since Day 1.

“But he did make a mistake. And the mistake he made is in his panic about this lease — this property that he needed, the foundation of his home — is he cleaned up the blood in panic,” Kavanagh said. “And he does feel guilt and remorse for cleaning up that blood.”

Kavanagh said Spence also identified to police two suspects he thought were involved in the killing, and that one of those people’s DNA is what led to his own release.

That suspect was not named in court. A Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson said it had nothing further to provide on the status of its investigation into Sutherland’s death in an emailed statement on Feb. 8.

Champagne said he was confident that in the case of Spence, who is Indigenous, the Crown was acting “completely appropriately, and that we’re averting a possible miscarriage of justice.” 

“The last thing we need is another Indigenous man convicted of murder who’s not responsible for murder,” he said.

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