ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - The victims of some of Canada's highest-profile cases of wrongful conviction say there needs to be an independent panel to review possible miscarriages of justice.
David Milgaard, Steven Truscott, Ronald Dalton and Gregory Parsons recounted their stories Saturday at a conference put together by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
Milgaard, Dalton and Parsons were all exonerated after serving prison time for murder.
Steven Truscott is awaiting a decision by an Ontario appeal court 46 years after he was put on death row.
"Every system makes mistakes. The court system, the judicial systems, the legislatures, the police - we're always going to make some mistakes," said Dalton, who spent nearly nine years behind bars.
"That isn't the problem. The problem is not having a system in place to correct your mistakes, or accept that mistakes are made."
Dalton was convicted in 1989 for his wife's murder. It wasn't until nearly nine years later that an appeal court finally heard the case and overturned the conviction. [She choked on cereal]
He was acquitted at a second trial.
David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in prison for the murder of Gail Miller before being exonerated by DNA evidence, said the separate inquiries and reviews that have taken place into such cases make him wonder if the system isn't corrupt.
There is currently a public inquiry into Milgaard's case underway in Saskatoon.
"You go to these judicial reviews and they say these people knew this, these people knew that," he said.
"There has to be a break between government and the people resolving the issues about wrongful conviction... and compensation," Milgaard said.
"Accountability is key," said Gregory Parsons, who spent six weeks in prison for the 1991 murder of his mother.
Four years after his conviction, Parsons was formally acquitted. A childhood friend has since pleaded guilty to the crime.
On Sunday, it will be 46 years since Steven Truscott was arrested for the murder of a 12-year-old schoolmate near Clinton, Ont. He was 14.
Truscott spent three months on death row before the sentence was commuted to life. He was released on parole in 1969.
He has always maintained his innocence, but it wasn't until 2000, when the youngest of his three children graduated high school, that he came forward to ask for a review of his case.
Last October, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler referred the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
"I'm still waiting," Truscott said Saturday.
"It's getting there slowly and we'll stick at it because of people like this," he said, nodding to the other three men. "Because of people who have yet to come."
Truscott is now 60. He still lives under parole conditions and cannot leave the country because of his criminal conviction.
In addition to the public inquiry into Milgaard's case, a public inquiry wrapped up last week in Newfoundland into three cases of wrongful conviction, including those of Dalton, Parsons and Randy Druken.
But the four men had some recommendations of their own.
They said those facing charges should have the option of a trial by judge alone.
They also appealed to police and law enforcement trainees in the audience to keep an open mind during investigations.
"You have a huge responsibility," Parsons told the police cadets. "You'll do better justice to the world and to yourselves and you'll feel better for it at the end of the day."
Calling the latest judicial ministers' report "landmark" is yet another example of the self-serving legal profession patting itself on the back for once again really doing nothing concrete to effectively change the justice system or to protect innocent citizens against its excesses.
To suggest that the false testimony of jailhouse informants be prosecuted in future is hardly "landmark" when any self-respecting system would have charged them long ago with perjury as a matter of due process
More to the point of real reform would be to allow no jailhouse testimony whatsoever, considering the already compromised morality of the behind-bars source. In the meantime, the most egregious case of them all, that of Steven Truscott is allowed to drag on relentlessly unresolved. A more "landmark" gesture reflective of honest change would have been to deal with the facts of this injustice first instead of the fiction of system-wide reform.
Paul Pepperall, King City, Ont
Steven Truscott will turn 60 in January with three things from his boyhood intact: his youthful looks, a 1959 murder conviction and uncertainty about when his pursuit of justice will end.
Truscott took an important step forward on that road yesterday when Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced there is reason to believe his conviction for capital murder in the slaying of 12-year-old Lynne Harper was a miscarriage of justice.
But he left the final word on the Truscott case, one of the most famous in Canadian history, to be written by a panel of judges from the Ontario Court of Appeal. Cotler referred the case to the court for an "open-ended" review. The process, including hearings and judgment, could take another two years, Truscott's lawyers said yesterday.
"I have determined there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this case," Cotler said.
"I believe this is the most just and appropriate remedy."
It wasn't the ending Truscott hoped for when he asked the government three years ago to review his conviction under a special provision of the Criminal Code. His first choice was to have the justice minister quash his conviction and order a new trial, setting the scene for dramatic return to the Goderich courthouse where he was sentenced to hang as a 14-year-old - except this time, with what his lawyers call a mountain of evidence undermining the crown's case, prosecutors would fold their tent and Truscott would walk away a free man.
The one man who could speed things up is Attorney-General Michael Bryant. If Bryant, much like his federal counterpart Cotler, would admit there was a miscarriage of justice in Truscott's case, the appeal court process could draw to a close in a matter of months, said James Lockyer, who heads Truscott's legal team.
But Bryant, whose ministry opposed Truscott's request for a new trial, shows no sign of making such a concession.
While calling it "an historic moment," Bryant offered a lukewarm response.
"This is an issue that's been before Ontario and the people of Canada for many, many years. This is the latest chapter, a new chapter and it looks like the ending is going to finally be written by the Court of Appeal."
Surrounded by his wife, Marlene, his children and a mob of friends and neighbours at his home in Guelph, Truscott offered no public comment, but tried to remain upbeat, and privately described the development as "a bump in the road," Lockyer noted.
"Steven Truscott is proving today that he is a formidable man with an extraordinary character," he said.
"The fact is Steven Truscott did not kill Lynne Harper and the shame of our justice system is that more than 45 years have passed since he was convicted of a crime that he didn't commit. It now looks like it's going to be 46, 47, 48 years before he is finally exonerated."
"But we'll all be here," Lockyer added. "We'll be here if we all have to live to 100."
Truscott's eldest son, Ryan, said waiting on answers from the justice system has simply been part of his family's life.
"You watch him grow old and, as a child, you don't want to see your parent do that," he said yesterday. "You don't want to see your parent get old. So, it is disappointing. It is a new fight. We'll keep fighting and we'll be back tomorrow. On to the next step."
Cotler's announcement follows a 19-month, 700-page review of the case by Fred Kaufman, a former judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal, who presided at the inquiry into Guy Paul Morin's wrongful 1992 murder conviction. Kaufman delivered his report on the Truscott case, along with thousands of pages of supporting material, to the justice minister last spring.
Cotler said yesterday he read "every page" of the report and was guided by "the pursuit of justice" in making his decision, which dovetails with Kaufman's recommendations. Under the Criminal Code, Cotler had three options at his disposal and by referring the case to the Court of Appeal, he chose the middle ground.
Another was Truscott's preferred option: quashing the conviction and ordering a new trial. The third was to dismiss Truscott's application.
Cotler is asking the Court of Appeal to hear the case "as if it were an appeal" by Truscott and to determine if there's a reasonable chance the fresh evidence that has emerged in the case could have affected the verdict.
Cotler bristled at a suggestion he'd shied away from exercising the bolder option of ordering a new trial.
"I don't shrink from any decisions I have to make," he said. "I'm guided by one principle only: that is, what is the right thing to do in any matters that come before me."
Cotler explained his decision this way: He said he personally wasn't able to rule on whether fresh evidence in Truscott's case is admissible. At the same time, Kaufman wasn't able to test the evidence by way of cross-examination, he said.
"Both of us, for our respective reasons, but (reasons) which converge, believe the most appropriate and just remedy in this case is the reference before the Ontario Court of Appeal," he said.
Lockyer said Cotler's concerns about the admissibility of fresh evidence in the case is a "non-issue." The Supreme Court of Canada said in three recent decisions that it is automatically admissible in a case such as this, he said.
But Cotler said Kaufman is the leading authority in Canada on wrongful convictions and that counts for something.
"If the pre-eminent authority in this country, after undertaking the most exhausting inquiry in this case - at 19 months - and producing the most comprehensive understanding of this case believes this is the most just and appropriate remedy, that is certainly a consideration I have to bear in mind in making the decision," Cotler said.
Although Truscott's lawyers say the appeal court process could keep Truscott waiting another couple of years, Cotler suggested the waiting time might have been just as long had he quashed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
If that happened, he suggested, the crown might not have thrown in the towel and may well have chosen to reprosecute. "That would have taken no less time than a ... stated case before the Ontario Court of Appeal," he said.
Alternatively, if the passage of 45 years made a prosecution unlikely, the crown may have simply asked for a stay of proceedings, which would not have given Truscott the public and decisive exoneration he so desires, Cotler said.
Among the criminal bar, his decision was drawing mixed reviews. Privately, some called it outrageous. But others called it a positive sign.
"This is not an absolute victory (for Truscott), but it looks like it is going to be in the long run," said Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young. "The minister only orders these types of reviews when there is an air of reliability in them. The weak cases get weeded out and the strong ones make it through."
It was only because Truscott had exhausted all other legal remedies that he could ask Cotler to review the case. He lost his appeal in the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1960 and the Supreme Court refused to review that decision. After a huge public outcry about the case erupted in 1966, with the publication of The Trial of Steven Truscott by author Isabel LeBourdais, the federal government referred the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which voted 8-1 to uphold his conviction.
In the appeal court this time around, Truscott's case will be heard by a minimum of three judges and possibly as many as five. If, as Cotler says, they approach the case in the normal fashion, they would have three options in the end: upholding Truscott's conviction, quashing the conviction and ordering a new trial, or entering an outright acquittal.
The appeal court's decision will be final. There is no possibility of appealing it further to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In their nearly 700-page application filed with the federal government on Nov. 29, 2001, Truscott's legal team, including Lockyer and co-counsel Marlys Edwardh and Philip Campbell, called the case "a misbegotten prosecution that has haunted our legal system for more than a generation."
Lynne Harper disappeared after supper on the sweltering early summer night of June 9, 1959, after hitching a ride on the crossbars of Truscott's bike. They were schoolmates in Clinton, a small town in southwestern Ontario which was also the home of a Royal Canadian Air Force base.
Lynne was the daughter of a flying officer and Truscott was a warrant officer's son. He would later tell police that she asked him for a ride down a county road to Highway 8. After dropping her off, he headed home, stopping part way near a bridge across the Bayfield River. When he looked towards the road, he said, he saw her getting into a 1959 Chevy with yellow plates.
Two days later, her body was found in a woodlot on a farm property off the county road. She had been raped and strangled with her own blouse. Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Harold Graham arrived on the scene that night. Less than 24 hours later, he announced he had solved the crime.
Truscott, then a Grade 7 student, was arrested before a single witness statement was taken, his lawyers noted in their application to Cotler.
In the end, it was a combination of police tunnel vision, shoddy science and the suppression of evidence that led to his conviction, they said.
Graham at one point said he made up his mind to arrest Truscott on the basis of two key pieces of information, which would become the focal points of the prosecution's case at Truscott's trial. But they have both been thoroughly discredited by new evidence as well as evidence that was in police files but never disclosed, Truscott's lawyers say.
The first was the time of Lynne's death based on an analysis of her partially-digested stomach contents. Graham said he received a call from the attorney-general's crime lab indicating that food had been in her stomach for about one to two hours before she was killed.
Dr. John Penistan, the district pathologist, who performed the autopsy, testified before the jury in Sept. 1959 that Lynne died sometime between 7 and 7:45 p.m., which would have made Truscott the last person known to have been seen with her.
But Penistan would later offer a dramatically different estimate of the time of death, information that was never disclosed to the jury or to the Supreme Court at a hearing into the case in 1966-67. In a 1966 memo, which he described as an "agonizing reappraisal" of his trial testimony, Penistan said she might have been killed as late as the following day.
The second plank of the case centred on testimony from Joycelyne Gaudet, a classmate of Truscott's in Clinton, whose testimony provided prosecutors with a motive for the crime. Truscott, they theorized, was a lust-driven teenager bent on raping a girl in the woods.
Gaudet told the jury she and Truscott had a "date" and arranged to meet at the woodlot around 6 p.m. on June 9. When Gaudet didn't show up, the crown argued, Truscott found a substitute in Lynne.
Truscott, however, had always denied ever having an arrangement to meet Gaudet. And now, sworn affidavits from two women who say they met her in Montreal in 1966 back him up. The women say Gaudet told them she had lied on the witness stand.
Gaudet, who later moved to Alberta and was reportedly in poor health, sent word through her brother that she no longer wants to have anything to do with the Truscott case.
OTTAWA - Steven Truscott was told yesterday for the first time by the government that he was likely innocent of raping and killing 12-year-old Lynne Harper in the controversial murder case that has haunted the nation since 1959.
But even as Irwin Cotler, the Justice Minister, conceded that he was probably wrongfully convicted, Truscott's hopes for an exoneration were dashed by Mr. Cotler's decision to refer the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal for a review, a process that could take years to clear his name.
"There is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred," Mr. Cotler told an Ottawa press conference, admitting his decision might be unpopular.
While Truscott lawyer James Lockyer did not hide his disappointment with the decision, the mild-mannered Truscott described it merely as "a bump in the road" in his pursuit of justice.
It has been a long wait for the 59-year-old father of three, who at age 14 was sentenced to hang for Lynne Harper's murder near a Canadian military base outside Clinton, Ont.
Truscott found himself at the centre of one of Canada's most sensational murder trials after giving the girl a lift on his bicycle down a country road near a popular swimming hole. He was the last known person to see her alive.
As Truscott waited on death row, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he served 10 years before being paroled.
With his wife, Marlene, and their two grown children, Mr. Truscott emerged from his home in Guelph yesterday flanked by his angry legal team.
"Why on Earth can't we do something about it straight away?" asked Mr. Lockyer of the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
"Everyone is going to be older, quite a lot older unfortunately, before we finally have that day of joy and happiness when Steven Truscott's reputation is returned to him."
The association applied to the federal government three years ago to review the case under a seldom-used Criminal Code provision that remedies miscarriages of justice.
Mr. Cotler defended his decision to send the case to the Court of Appeal, which will now sift through thousands of pages of documents and hear arguments from lawyers and witnesses about fresh evidence that has surfaced in recent years.
"On a personal level, I, like many others of my generation, grew up with the Truscott case," Mr. Cotler told reporters.
"When this case came before me, I said I have to do the right thing."
He said the Court of Appeal is the appropriate venue because it will produce a strong conclusion.
A new trial, on the other hand, could be lengthy and potentially result in a mere stay "that would not have given Mr. Truscott the exoneration he seeks," Mr. Cotler said.
Mr. Lockyer, however, said a new trial would have presumably led to dropping charges against Mr. Truscott for lack of evidence to proceed.
Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant told reporters the provincial government, which would have made the decision on whether to drop charges, has no power to expedite the case now that it is in the hands of the Ontario Court of Appeal, which could dismiss the appeal, quash the conviction or order a new trial.
It is the second time the case has gone to the appeal court — in 1960 it threw out Mr. Truscott's application.
A Justice Department official conceded that the process could take years and one of Truscott's lawyers, Marlys Edwardh, predicted "we're probably a couple of years from conclusion."
Mr. Cotler would not comment on the evidence that led to his conclusion that Truscott likely suffered a miscarriage of justice.
The recommendation was in a report from retired justice Fred Kaufman, whom the government hired almost three years ago to investigate the wrongful conviction application. That report has been sealed until the appeal court decides it can be released.
Truscott's lawyers, in a 561-page brief to then-justice minister Anne McLellan in November, 2001, claimed that police, in their haste to arrest the teenager, were blind to other suspects who were around in the summer of 1959.
The brief alleged police overlooked a pedophile who was stationed at the military base and a rapist who had repaired a clothes dryer at the Harper home and moved to the United States shortly after the girl's death.
The submission contained fresh evidence crafted from archival material that had not been previously released. A central pillar of the Crown case, which pinpointed the time the girl died based on the contents of her stomach, has since been proven to be false, the brief says.
Truscott spent most of his adult life in self-imposed hiding under an assumed name, and only emerged publicly four years ago in a television documentary.
His hope had been to return to the Goderich, Ont., courthouse where he was sentenced to death and have the Ontario Attorney-General stand up and acknowledge that he did not commit the crime.
Mr. Cotler does not have the power to personally clear Truscott's name.
OTTAWA - Steven Truscott's 45-year wait to clear his name will likely drag on for at least another two years.
The man who says he was unjustly convicted of murder at the age of 14 had hoped Justice Minister Irwin Cotler would order a new trial.
Under Truscott's best-case scenario, that would have cleared the way for the Ontario government to decline to prosecute - effectively exonerating him.
Instead, Cotler referred the legal labyrinth to the Ontario Court of Appeal where evidence that wasn't presented at trial can be tested.
"There is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this case," Cotler said.
"What Mr. Truscott seeks . . . is public exoneration. This is the most appropriate process for that purpose."
Truscott's legal team disagreed.
Lawyer James Lockyer said the move will mean a much longer wait for justice than if a new trial had been ordered. He suggested Truscott's name could be cleared in six months if the Ontario government agreed that justice likely wasn't done and chose not to go to the appeal court.
A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General said that won't happen.
"It will be up to the court of appeal to decide," said Brendan Crawley in an interview. "There's a process that's been set in motion and we will abide by that process and participate in it."
Lockyer spoke outside Truscott's modest yellow-brick bungalow in Guelph, Ont.
Truscott "feels that he's been struggling for 45 years, from when he was 14 years old, from death row to here we are in 2004, and he's still struggling," Lockyer said.
As Lockyer spoke, Truscott and his family stood, arm-in-arm, a few metres away. Truscott did not wish to comment so soon after the decision. His wife, Marlene, her head resting on his shoulder, appeared to be fighting tears.
Their son, Ryan, said Truscott took the news as well as could be expected. "He is very positive about everything, as he has been with this whole thing."
Truscott's only daughter, Lesley, was more obviously distressed. "It means more waiting, which means everybody ages twice as fast."
However, Cotler said the cloud that has hovered over Truscott since 12-year-old Lynne Harper was murdered in 1959 would not otherwise be lifted.
"The Crown might have said: 'Forty-five years later we can't really make a case at this point' . . . and they would have asked for a stay.
"That would not have given Mr. Truscott the (full) exoneration that he seeks."
Cotler called it a "tragic and painful case" for both the Harper and Truscott families. He also stressed that he has no power to determine guilt or innocence.
"Only a court can do that."
Cotler would not describe the new evidence that led him to doubt whether Truscott was justly treated. To offer details could prejudice the proceedings, he said.
But he said he'll ask that a secret 700-page review of the case by former Quebec Court of Appeal judge Fred Kaufman be made public at the Ontario appeal court's discretion.
Not even Truscott has seen the review that guided Cotler's actions. Kaufman also concluded that a reference to the appeal court - which dismissed Truscott's appeal in 1960 - is the best route, Cotler said.
The matter of who will foot Truscott's legal bills is still being discussed, said the justice minister.
Conservative justice critic Vic Toews said he sympathized with the complexity of the decision Cotler had to make.
Canadians may never know what really happened to Lynne Harper, he said.
"I think it's very difficult now to try to reconstruct a trial of an incident that occurred 45 years ago. This should have been dealt with on a more timely basis."
Truscott has always maintained his innocence.
His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1960 after he spent four months on death row. He was released on parole in 1969 at the age of 24.
Lawyers with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted filed a thick legal brief in November 2001 asking the federal Justice Department to review Truscott's case.
They cited flawed pathology, shoddy police work and said evidence was suppressed at Truscott's 1959 trial that would have backed up his claim of innocence.
Police tunnel vision coupled with the desperate search for a culprit helped corner a scared young teenager, they argued.
Truscott met and married his wife in 1970 and the couple moved to Guelph, where they lived as Steve and Marlene Bowers - Truscott's mother's birth name.
The family lived in anonymity, not able to openly associate with Truscott relatives or attend family functions.
They raised three children. Truscott has spent most of his working life as a millwright in the same Guelph factory, a trade he learned in jail at Collins Bay Penitentiary.
In 2000, his children grown, Truscott reclaimed his identity to plead for justice in a CBC documentary.
On Thursday, about two dozen friends, family and supporters were at Truscott's house.
Les Horne of the Defence for Children International Canada was also present the day police delivered a teenaged Truscott to jail in irons.
"He's obviously very disappointed. He's always been a brave guy. He doesn't share his emotions."
Albert Buffinga, 60, who went to school with Truscott, said the decision was a "downer," but the mood in the house was still quite upbeat.
Buffinga said he still remembers well the day Lynne's body was found.
"When I heard on the radio that they had taken him in, I just couldn't believe it."
"It's been a shock all along. We kept in contact and about four years ago we came together again and saw each other quite often."
Bob Lawson, a farmer who was 23 at the time and owned the property where the dead girl was found, said he always believed in Truscott's innocence.
"He wasn't the kind of kid who would do anything like that," said Lawson.
GUELPH - The peaceful little street in Guelph where Steven Truscott lives with his family was unusually busy yesterday.
By the time Justice Minister Irwin Cotler began making his statement at 1 p.m., it was lined with TV satellite vans and dozens of reporters were pacing back and forth on the sidewalk.
Well-wishers beat a steady stream to the door, bringing flowers, plants, balloons and food inside, where the family was gathered with friends and supporters. The atmosphere was almost festive.
Inside, it was anything but, as Truscott had learned through his lawyers that his quest for vindication was not yet over - that he would not receive the new trial he yearned for.
"It means more waiting, which means everybody ages twice as fast," daughter Lesley said later.
As 1 p.m. approached, Truscott and his family moved to a television in the crowded living room.
"It was very sombre and we all felt disappointed," said a friend who was present, adding that most of those in the room were struggling with emotion as Cotler announced his decision.
"Steven didn't say anything," she said. "No, Steven was very quiet."
She said that, after the news had sunk in that Truscott might have to wait several more years to clear his name, people gathered around the Truscotts, hugged them, and assured them of their continued support.
A new trial would have meant that Truscott would once again be presumed innocent, no longer a parolee and a convict.
Gone was the vision advanced by Truscott's lawyers: that he would be exonerated, his family at his side, in the very courtroom where he had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang so many years ago.
Gone was the joyous anticipation of his many supporters, who had begun to believe that by the end of the day Truscott would finally be a free man. Some had even expected he would receive an apology.
Albert Buffinga, a long-time supporter and friend who said he had been with Truscott and Lynn Harper in the same Grade 7 class, was clearly perplexed by Cotler's decision. "The courts have to do this, I guess," he said. "I figured it would have been, you know, a done deal after all this. But it isn't. I just don't know what to say."
Win Wahrer, of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, which has backed Truscott's fight, shared the disappointment. "There is something enormously courageous about a willingness to go back again," she said. "But the burden of not finishing is huge."
Wahrer said she would like to see Canadians petition Attorney General Michael Bryant not to oppose Truscott in the appeal court, "and to end this now."
GUELPH - The distraught family of Steven Truscott stood arm-in-arm today, vowing to soldier on despite being denied a quick resolution to their father's 45-year legal odyssey.
"It's been a difficult day, obviously," said Ryan Truscott, after word came from Ottawa that it may take three more years to clear his father's name.
"Obviously, it's not what we wanted to hear," he said. "But we will go to the Court of Appeal and we'll win."
Truscott emerged from his modest yellow-brick bungalow just hours after his request for a new trial was denied by Justice Minister Irwin Cotler. Instead, his 1959 murder conviction will go to the Ontario Court of Appeal - a lengthy process.
Choking back tears, Truscott's wife laid her head on his shoulder while taking comfort in the embrace of her children. But her husband, a millwright who lives a seemingly quiet existence despite a colossal battle with the justice system, remained stoic as he contemplated waging a legal battle well into his 60s.
"You watch him grow old," Truscott's son said about the toll the legal fight is taking on his life. Although Truscott declined to speak, his resolve has been strong, his son said.
"He said it's a bump, and tomorrow we'll start fighting again."
Despite their resolve to view today's decision in a positive light, emotions were running high as the family received the news.
"It was tense, it was sad," said his daughter Lesley. "It was anger," she said. "I don't think we were prepared for it."
While their father's optimism gives them strength, the children admitted they were hoping for a new trial.
"He doesn't get his hopes up as high as we do," said Ryan.
Truscott was just 14 years old when he was convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year old school mate near Clinton. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1960. In 1969, when he was 24, he was released on parole.
He has always maintained his innocence.
WINDSOR, Ont. — The compensation government may have to pay Steven Truscott for a wrongful conviction would be "stratospheric" if he becomes the latest Canadian to be exonerated for murder he did not commit, a group of high-profile lawyers predicted here yesterday. The lawyers, who were in town for a conference on wrongful convictions, said any payment would far outstrip the $10-million paid to David Milgaard and the $1.25 million paid to Guy Paul Morin for his wrongful conviction in the death of Christine Jessop in Oct. 1984.
The conference comes just days before Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is expected to render a decision on Truscott's fate and just two months before a Saskatchewan inquiry is set to publicly probe Milgaard's wrongful conviction in the rape and murder of 20-year-old nursing aide Gail Miller on Jan. 31, 1969.
Harvey Strossberg, a Windsor lawyer specializing in civil litigation, said he couldn't even ballpark the compensation that would be owed Truscott if his conviction is overturned.
"The number would be stratospheric," he said. "I can't even imagine if you could set a number that could actually compensate someone under those circumstances. It would have to be the highest number that has ever been given in Canada."
The lawyers, among whom included James Lockyer — who founded The Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted — also called on the government to establish an independent tribunal to review cases of wrongful conviction similar to a British tribunal.
Milgaard, Morin and Truscott came together in the same room for the first time yesterday at the University of Windsor.
Milgaard and Morin were both exonerated for murders they didn't commit after serving a combined quarter-century in prison, and Truscott, who was sentenced to death in 1959, but released on parole a decade later, is nearing the end of his 45-year-battle for exoneration.
Truscott, then 14, was arrested by police in Clinton, Ont. on June 12, 1959, the day after the partially nude body of 12-year-old Lynne Harper was found in a wooded area known as Lawson's Bush.
He was charged with her murder early the next morning and was convicted and sentenced to death on a charge of capital murder on Sept. 30, 1959. His appeal was dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal on Jan. 21, 1960, the same day his death sentence was commuted to a sentence of life in prison.
Truscott was released on parole after serving 10 years in prison and moved to Guelph where he settled down under an assumed name.
In November of 2001, Lockyer filed an application on Truscott's behalf, calling on the Ministry of Justice to review Truscott's case and, on Jan. 24, 2002, then Justice minister Martin Cauchon appointed retired Appeals Court Judge Fred Kaufman to review the file.
Kaufman handed an 800-page report to Justice Minister Irwin Cotler six months ago and Cotler is expected to announce his decision next week.