The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ostrowski has always held the key to unlocking his jail cell

Frank Ostrowski waited a long, long time for Jim Luzny to die.

Finally, he had to settle for brain damage.

Luzny was the last loose thread from Ostrowski's 1986 conviction for first degree murder. And he was the most dangerous. At any moment Luzny could give police a signed confession revealing how he helped Frank Ostrowski arrange and carry out the killing of Robert Nieman, a Winnipeg drug dealer. Sure, it would put his own neck in the figurative noose, but stranger things have happened.

A night of drunken remorse. A spark of revenge. A sudden conversion to Christianity. Who could predict the potential trigger?

But it would sink Ostrowski's hopes of getting out of jail---and of winning millions in the NDP's wrongful-conviction lottery.

While Ostrowski sweated it out in prison, Luzny enjoyed his life on the outside. He enjoyed it a little too much.

In June, 2006, Luzny got caught in bed with a man's estranged wife. The man laid a severe beating on Luzny, putting him into a life-threatening coma. When Luzny awoke, he was blind in one eye and suffering brain damage.

Brain damage. The kind that made Luzny an unreliable witness in court. At last Ostrowski could make his move.

"I'm innocent," he shouted. "I wuz framed."

Of course, Ostrowski has been claiming he was innocent ever since the jury found him guilty in 1986. He just didn't know why.

His reasons changed with the seasons. Most recently its because the chief witness against him had charges of cocaine trafficking dropped following Ostrowski's trial.

Now, making a deal with the Crown wasn't such a big deal for Ostrowski in 1986 when he offered to snitch on his cocaine suppliers in Montreal if Winnipeg police would drop drug charges against him here. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves...

When Ostrowski walked out of court Friday on bail while authorities examine his claim of wrongful conviction, he was met by a crowd of worshipful reporters shouting "How do you feel, Frank?" Now he's their friend, Frank.

So you can expect the usual pack journalism from these mainstream media reporters.

What you won't see anywhere except here in The Black Rod is the story that the jury heard, the story that convicted Frank Ostrowski of the first degree murder of Robert Nieman.


Way back 23 years ago, Frank Ostrowski was the biggest cocaine dealer in Winnipeg. He was raking in half a million dollars tax-free a year from his criminal activities.

And then the roof caved in.

* Jim Luzny was Ostrowski's right-hand man. Funky Jim, as Ostrowski listed him in his bedside book o' numbers, was busted Sept. 9, 1986.

Four days later, police rolled up Matthew Lovelace, Ostrowski's trusted associate who handled his vital Montreal pipeline, carrying money east and coming home with kilos of coke.

The very next day, early on a peaceful Sunday morning , the police came calling on Frank Ostrowski as he lay burrowed in his nice, soft bed.

You don't have to be a paranoid drug dealer to suspect the obvious---somebody was talking to the cops. We now know exactly who they had in mind, a conclusion reached by Luzny even before Matt Lovelace and Ostrowski were arrested.

According to a signed confession provided to police, Jim Luzny's first move after being taken into custody was to call one of his dealers, Bob Dunkley, and have him contact Ostrowski with the news of Luzny's arrest. Dunkley, in his confession, said that two weeks and two days later he was pumping three bullets into the head of the alleged rat, Robert Nieman.

Matthew Lovelace was also thinking about snitches. That's because he was one. When he got caught, he considered his options. The best one was to start working with the police. He told them all he knew about Frank Ostrowski.

At 2:30 a.m. the next morning, police battered down the door to Ostrowski's home. They knew exactly where to look to find his hidden stash of drugs and money. They seized 11 ounces of cocaine and $50,000 cash and one fat cocky drug dealer. "Your information was right on," he told the arresting officers.

Ostrowski was out of jail in hours. Don't you love our justice system? He had already formulated a plan of action. Step one---phone the police for a discreet meeting.

* Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1986. Ostrowski was having a sit-down with two detectives. Once the small talk was over he got to business. How, he asked, could he get himself out of his jam.

He was told that because he was at the top of the food chain, there was little the policemen could do. "You're the biggest show in town," they said.

But, he persisted, if there was anything they could do, what would it be? He was told there could be consideration in sentencing.

We can't tell you how he made the transition, but Ostrowski then began talking about, of all people, Robert Nieman. He was a badass, someone not safe to deal with, he told the police.

* Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1986. Ostrowski met with Lovelace at the Windsorian. He came right out with what was on his mind. He thought Nieman had "ratted on us." Not to worry, he told Lovelace (as Lovelace testified at Ostrowski's trial). He had always promised himself that if he was busted and found out that there had been a rat he would "have him taken care of---killed."

Ostrowski had a proposition for Lovelace. Lovelace should claim all the drugs as his. He would go to jail, but his legal bills would be covered and when he got out he would be welcomed back into the drug world with higher status than ever.

And he added this bombshell--- he, Ostrowski, had a source in the police department. We can see now he had elevated his two detective contacts of the day before into his "source."

* Friday night, Sept. 19, and the boys were out having fun. Ostrowski and Lovelace were at the Windsorian again. Ostrowski brought Lovelace up to speed.

"Don't worry about Robbie Nieman," said Ostrowski. "He's taken care of. He's dead meat." Ostrowski knew Lovelace had seen him in possession of a gun earlier that year. He had, he said, given the gun to Jim and "Jim's friends are going to take care of Nieman."

Things moved slower in 1986. There were no cell phones and obviously a lot less urgency in reporting threats. Lovelace waited until Monday to phone his contact within the police department. The officer wasn't in and Lovelace left no message.

The same day, Bob Dunkley was at the bus depot, picking up a gun left there for him by Jim Lunzy, according to his confession. The contract on Nieman was for $25,000 to be paid in $5000 installments.

* Tuesday, Sept. 23, 1986. Ostrowski and a companion drove out to a farm that Lovelace owned. Once again Ostrowski raised the idea of Lovelace's taking the rap for the drugs. This time there were some added flourishes. Lovelace, suggested Ostrowski, should then turn 'state's evidence' and point the finger at Dominic Diabaldo.

Lovelace said he had been hired by Ostrowski to dig a hole for the safe that would hold his stash. Frank was putting a hot tub in a room to act as the safe and asked if Lovelace knew of carpenters. Lovelace recommended Diabaldo.

"There's more than one rat; the other is Dominic," Ostrowski said at the farm.

He told Lovelace he had heard that Diabaldo would build stashes for other people, then turn them in. He wondered why Dominic hadn't shown up at Frank's the day he was arrested, and that made him suspicious.

Lovelace wasn't about to backstab his friend Dominic, and he later warned him about the proposed set-up.

That same night, Dunkley was casing the apartment where Nieman lived. And he got made. Nieman and his girlfriend's brother came waltzing out the door headed to a local pizza joint when they bumped right into Dunkley and Luzny. "Hi Jim. Hi Rob." Dunkley snarled at them and pretended he didn't know Nieman.

* The next day, Wednesday, Sept. 24, Ostrowski was meeting with his police contacts again, at Johanna's Restaurant. What information would he have to provide to get off, he asked. If they "fudged" the case, he said, he would be free and in return he would give up his Montreal people. "You'll have everybody."

He was told he was too hot for anyone to trust. He changed the subject to…Robert Nieman. "Nieman," he said," is a dead man. He's a rat and he's dead. In a couple of days he'll be dead."

"I'm not the one doing it," he assured the detectives. "I told them that's not the way to do it."

"Bill Andrews. I hear he's next," Ostrowski said. "Well, that may be one of my bargaining things for my charges."

The police immediately tried to find Robert Nieman and warn him. They did a terrible job. They visited his known haunts, talked to his acquaintances and then, you know, their shift was over and the next shift was short-handed, and nobody told Nieman he was on somebody's hit list.

While they were scurrying around trying to find Nieman, Matthew Lovelace was calling his police contact again, and, again, the detective was out. This time Lovelace left a message. "I'd heard there was going to be a hit on Robbie Nieman. I was also in fear for Dominic Diabaldo," he told the jury.

A detective also testified about the message. He said he had seen a note on a police message board which read "Sonny called. He'll be at this farm. Frankie wants to do a hit on his friend." The lack of urgency is handling the call had fatal consequences.

* Early in the morning of Thursday, Sept. 25, 1986, Robert Nieman was ambushed as he returned to his apartment and shot to death. Bob Dunkley fired the bullets. He was accompanied by Jose Correia, another druggie who agreed to drive Dunkley there.

Later in the day Ostrowski was talking to his police contacts about Nieman's demise. "I have ESP," he told them. He didn't know how bad his joke would turn out to be.

* They caught Correia first. He led them to Dunkley. Dunkley fingered Luzny.

Luzny was the direct link to Ostrowski, but everything went sour at the trial.

The Crown made a deal with Dunkley. If he cooperated with police he would get consideration in sentencing. He would be allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder and there would be a joint recommendation for a sentence of life without parole consideration for 15 years.

Dunkley gave them his confession and pleaded out to second degree murder. But when it came to sentencing, the judge balked. He rejected the joint recommendation. In fact, he said, if it wasn't for Dunkley's cooperation he wouldn't even accept the plea to second degree murder instead of first degree. To express society's repudiation of the crime, he was raising the minimum sentence with no parole to 20 years.

Dunkley was incensed. He immediately repudiated his confession. He refused to testify against Luzny. Dunkley was called as a hostile witness and his confession was read out in court, but without his evidence, the Crown couldn't proceed against Jim Luzny and he was set free.

But Frank Ostrowski stayed in the prisoner's box. In his instructions to the jury, the judge said they should first decide whether Dunkely was guilty of first degree murder, planned and premeditated, regardless of what he pleaded to. Then they should decide if they believed that Ostrowski provided the gun for the murder. If so, they should find Ostrowski guilty of first degree murder.

And so they did.

Ostrowski's defence team now tries to deflect the public's attention with the usual show-trial red herrings.

Lovelace warned police that Ostrowski wanted to kill Dominic, not Nieman, they claim, as if that shows Ostrowski was incapable of murder.

And the Crown bought Lovelace's evidence, they shout, by dropping the drug charges against him, as if Ostrowski wasn't fishing to get his own charges dropped in return for flipping on his Montreal cocaine suppliers.

Note how they don't say a word about the gun?

Lovelace linked the gun used to kill Nieman to Ostrowski. And another witness, Paul Marion, corroborated his evidence. In fact, Marion said he saw Ostrowski with the gun first, and told Lovelace about it.

If there's a public inquiry into the allegations of wrongful dismissal, shouldn't Jim Luzny be the first witness? If his brain injury is so bad it affects his memory, then he could waive his solicitor-client privilege and let his 1986 trial lawyer testify towhat Luzny told him about the gun and where he got it from before giving it to Dunkley.

Frank Ostrowski warned his police contacts that Nieman was going to be killed only hours before the fatal shots were fired.

"I'm not the one doing it. I told them that's not the way to do it," he said.

He told 'them.' In other words, if Ostrowski is innocent, he's always known who was behind Nieman's murder. He could have told police at any time who it was.

He has held the key to his freedom for 23 years but has refused to use it.
Why? Could it be because that key leads right into his bedroom, circa 1986?

Next: reopening the Sophonow Inquiry