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George Pitt

Hope at last, and a bid for freedom: Government reopens 12-year old murder case following Citizen report

George Pitt

George Pitt never screamed his innocence, never said he deserved anything other than a fair trial. Again and again, the convicted child murderer has tried to kill himself in a New Brunswick prison because, he says, nobody bothered to take seriously his claims of wrongful conviction. Nobody could believe that the Saint John police were still quietly investigating the 1993 rape and killing of his girlfriend's six-year-old daughter months after Mr. Pitt was condemned to life in prison for the crime.

Last summer the Citizen publicized a secret Correctional Service Canada report, saying not only that police had been investiating the case months after Mr. Pitt's conviction, but that the police chief actually suspected someone else of the murder.

Yesterday, the New Brunswick government re-opened the case, finally deciding to examine exhibits seized from the crime scene that somehow have gone untested until now. The case was introduced to Jerome Kennedy, a lawyer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, known for freeing Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall and David Milgaard, last year after the Citizen investigated the case.

The Citizen investigation, which appeared last July 31 under the headline "Presumed Guilty," found that the Saint John police had seized seemingly key evidence from the crime scene, including four strands of hair on the girl's body, her nightie, and what appeared to be a bloodstain on a neighbour's apartment door, but for some reason didn't send it to the crime lab for analysis.

The New Brunswick government announced yesterday that it will request that courts release the evidence to be tested.

"It was a potential wrongful conviction," said Mr. Kennedy. "A lot of the systemic issues are present. Therefore, I have reason to doubt the validity of the conviction. However, the DNA testing may prove who the killer is."

"My introduction to this case began with the Ottawa Citizen's story, and a year later, with all the work that we've done, it's amazing to me that there are still so many gaps in the case," he said. "It's the pursuit of the truth we're all interested in. Give George Pitt a chance to demonstrate his innocence," said Mr. Kennedy, who expressed cautious optimism.

The New Brunswick government agreed yesterday to start testing the first round of exhibits seized from the 1993 crime scene. The Saint John Police Department never bothered to test the exhibits they seized from the scene, including a used condom. But prosecutors still won a conviction in the highly circumstantial case that put Mr. Pitt's lifestyle on trial, rather than the evidence.

The prosecution never gave the jury a motive. Mr. Kennedy expressed surprise yesterday at the government's announcement and said it indicated a "new level of co-operation' for re-examining potential wrongful convictions in Canada.

Mr. Pitt, now 40, was convicted in 1994 for the rape and killing of young Samantha Toole, found dead behind her home at the edge of the Saint John River on Oct. 2, 1993.

The police might have found her before she had been raped, beaten, choked, and then dumped at the river's edge to drown, but the two officers first dispatched didn't take seriously the missing-child report called in by Samantha's mother. In fact, according to 911 transcripts obtained by the Citizen, the police officers laughed about it and went about their business. Gloria Toole, the mother of the dead girl, had to call police four times over two hours and 35 minutes before they finally responded and issued a citywide missing-child alert.

Ms. Toole told police she couldn't find her little girl, gave her address and then explained that she had left the child with a sitter the night before and that when she woke up, Samantha wasn't around. The girl's mother had skipped line-dancing at her church for a night of drinking, and then slept in until noon.

The police dispatcher never asked her for a description of the missing girl and said a cruiser, Car 109, was on its way. Behind the scenes, on the police radio, officers were having a good laugh.

"Huh, I bet she had no babysitter, no doubt," replied Const. Tom Clayton, the responding officer. The dispatcher later told the officer that Ms. Toole in fact had a sitter, and repeated there was a little girl missing. The constable laughed, and the dispatcher weighed in with: "Just f--king typical." "Really, eh? Unreal, isn't it?"

Const. Clayton agreed. Then Ms. Toole telephoned again: "I'm wondering when the police were going to show up." This time, another officer on the desk took the call, and assured her that a cruiser had been dispatched almost an hour earlier, and said he had double-checked, and Saint John police would be there shortly.

The dispatcher called Car 109 and inquired why it hadn't addressed Ms. Toole's call.

The constable had decided instead to investigate a shoplifting report. Three hours after the police finally took the call seriously, a neighbour found Samantha Dawn Toole, with brown, shoulder-length hair and blue eyes, and a loose bottom front tooth. She had been in Grade 1. Her body, somewhat stiff, lay face-up, with arms at a 90-degree angle, fists clenched. Inside them, seaweed. Her fingers, lips and earlobes were blue and her body was wet and cold. Her face was bruised and scraped. She was wearing a dirty nightie and soaked, muddy socks. Her left wrist had been fractured.

Investigators later noted massive trauma to her vagina and rectum. She had been choked, and then she had drowned. The case against Mr. Pitt, who had planned to adopt the girl, was a circumstantial one; police saw Mr. Pitt as a prime suspect almost immediately. The girl's mother told police she found Mr. Pitt doing a load of laundry at 4 a.m., when she arrived home after a long night of drinking.

The police crime lab unearthed one square centimetre of the girl's blood on a bedspread, which had been part of the load of laundry police were told Mr. Pitt had been seen washing. There was also a larger bloodstain on a comforter, but police were unable to identify its origin.

The Citizen also obtained a series of statements the dead girl's mother gave police. She made them over a period of a week, and they were never heard at trial. After first saying she knew nothing about the killing, she implicated Mr. Pitt, saying she witnessed the murder.

But her story didn't fit the evidence at the scene and she later admitted that she could have simply imagined it.

She told the Citizen last year that she regrets leading the police astray. The trial heard much conflicting testimony, and a family friend lied when asked his whereabouts on the eve of the killing. The jury never heard from the accused, who said he didn't take the stand because he thought the case against him was too weak to convict him.

He's always maintained his innocence. Mr. Pitt has been in and out of prison since he was 11. He's an alcoholic, and his steadiest pay has always been welfare. To believe Mr. Pitt's story, that he didn't kill the girl, you'd have to first see nothing wrong, or unusual, about doing laundry at 4 a.m., and then dismiss the prosecution's inference that he took flight out of guilt once the police were called.

He's always said that he's only guilty of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Guilty or innocent, the only thing certain about George Pitt's story is that it's a lousy one. Three sisters. Two brothers, one also a convict. His father, Ron Pitt, beat them hard and drank even harder. Young George was just seven when his family home burned to the ground. His mother put him in the care of the government, but instead of landing in a foster home, he ended up in an orphanage, where he was beaten and molested. He later moved back home with his mother, and he stopped going to school when he turned 11.

The Saint John police charged him with truancy and the court placed him on probation, but he was charged again for skipping class. The police picked him up and he was sentenced to three months in a youth jail outside Fredericton, an hour from home. Young George was raped at least 15 times by Karl Toft, one of the guards.

When he got out, he started drinking to forget, then turned to drugs, then overdoses, then suicide attempts.

Presumed Guilty the police put her on hold, then came back on the line. 'Now, what's the trouble?'

INDIANTOWN, SAINT JOHN, NB - Even with 25-foot tides, there's a drop of only two feet from high to low tide along the shores in this town's North End. Just down from Bridge Street, the muddy riverbank slips into an eddy, where, chances are good that if you leave something behind at first light, it will still be there at day's end.

There are six hours between high and low tide in the Bay of Fundy, but the river's different. In this slow water, there's an extra hour and a half on either side, leaving a full nine hours between high tide, 25.2 feet, and low tide, three feet. It is one of the few places along the river where evidence doesn't just wash away -- not even tiny but key clues like strands of hair.

This is where the girl's body was found. They might have found her before she was raped, beaten, choked, and then dumped at the river's edge to drown, but the two police officers first dispatched didn't think the report of a missing six-year-old girl was serious. They laughed about it and went about their business. The mother of the missing girl had to call Saint John police four times, across two hours and 35 minutes, before they finally responded and issued a city-wide missing-child alert.

12:48 p.m., Oct. 2, 1993: "Uh, yes. My name is Gloria Toole. I would like to speak to some, have some police officers come to my home." Cpl. Doug Jenner told her to wait a minute, put her on hold, then came back on the line. "Now, what's the trouble?" "I can't find my little girl," said Ms. Toole, then 26. She gave her address, 155 Bridge St., Apartment 5, then explained that she had left her girl with a sitter the night before and that when she woke up, the girl wasn't around.

She had skipped line-dancing at her church for a night of drinking, and then slept in until noon. The dispatcher never asked for a description of the missing girl. He said a cruiser was on its way. He called Car 109. "Huh, I bet she had no babysitter, no doubt," replied Constable Tom Clayton, the responding officer.

Cpl. Jenner repeated that the woman did in fact have a babysitter, and said: the mother can't find her daughter. The constable laughed. "Just f--king typical," Cpl. Jenner said. "Really, eh? Unreal isn't it?" Const. Clayton agreed. Almost an hour later, at 1:46 p.m., Ms. Toole called police again. "Yes, my name's Gloria Toole. I was wondering when the police were going to show up?"

This time, another officer on the desk took the call. He said the cruiser had been dispatched almost an hour earlier, and added that he'd double-check, and that Saint John's finest would be right along. He called Car 109, and Const. Clayton said they had been dispatched but that they had "changed our plans." The constable had decided to finish up a shoplifting report instead.

"You said she was out since 10 p.m. last night and she didn't know where (the girl) was, so I didn't think it was that serious, because the mother didn't really care, and I said let's finish the report." Ms. Toole's friends, including her live-in boyfriend, George Pitt, were all looking for the young girl. At 3:22 p.m., the desk officer called Car 109 again, and Const. Clayton said: "We're on our way there. We'll look after it." Thirteen minutes later, the constable radioed all cars about the missing girl and the police finally launched their own search. The officers were now playing catch-up, having already lost two-and-a-half hours.

At 6:34 p.m., the police were just about to check in with the babysitter when a woman came running up from the shore, screaming that she had found the body of the missing girl, just four feet from the river's edge. They had searched for more than three hours, and the girl's body had been just a stone's throw from her home. Samantha Dawn Toole, six years old, brown shoulder-length hair with blue eyes, and a loose bottom front tooth. Grade 1. Centennial School.

Her body, somewhat stiff, lay face-up, with her arms at a 90-degree angle, fists clenched. Inside them, seaweed. Her fingers, lips and earlobes were blue and her body wet and cold. Her face was bruised and scraped. Dirty nightie and soaked muddy socks. Her left wrist was fractured. Massive trauma to her vagina and rectum. She had been choked, then she drowned. At first, police assumed she was dead and made efforts to preserve the crime scene. But a minute later, they changed their mind and gave the paramedics a chance to try to revive her.

They moved the body, altering the crime scene. The paramedics tried in vain to revive the girl on the way to the hospital. Doctors couldn't bring her back either. The coroner couldn't pinpoint the time of death, saying too many people had handled the body. He said she would have survived her injuries if they'd found her before she drowned. One police officer filed a report, saying the mud around the body was undisturbed and that the beach was "pristine with respect to footprints." He didn't notice the fresh tire tracks, nor the footprint. Before they found the body,

Ms. Toole had stood in her apartment with police, looking out the window, saying her daughter couldn't swim. Drunk on the couch was Steven Miller, her friend and a drinking buddy of her boyfriend, Mr. Pitt, then 28. Police asked Mr. Miller who he was and why he was inside the apartment. He told them that he was Ms. Toole's boyfriend and that he was sticking around to help.

But he ended up leaving the apartment, and once the body was found, the police, with no motive for the killing nor physical evidence linking anyone to the sex slaying, launched a manhunt for the man who had been on the couch. He'd said he was Ms. Toole's boyfriend, but hadn't given his name. So they began hunting for the man they knew to be her boyfriend, George Pitt.

The alert would go out to all 13 police agencies in the province. His photograph was distributed to cabbies and to the newspapers, which printed it on their front pages. The case against George William Pitt started building fast.

Down at the river's edge, police started collecting evidence, everything they could find. A Marlboro cigarette butt, a Players cigarette butt, a glove, plastic bag, condom and pink lighter with the inscription: "Alimony is like buying gas for another man's car."

They also lifted a solid cast of a footprint from a deck shoe. Inside the apartment, the police were going through the motions. They collected specks of blood from the bathroom floor, the hallway floor and from the floor by the back door, and they seized some of Mr. Pitt's clothes for DNA testing.

They also seized a comforter after Gloria Toole told police Mr. Pitt had been doing a load of laundry around 4 a.m., the time she returned home. That afternoon, the day she reported her girl missing, Ms. Toole had checked on the load in the dryer and, noticing the clothes still were still damp, had pushed the button for another cycle.

It is this scene, one of Mr. Pitt doing laundry in the middle of the night, that raised suspicions. There's little about George Pitt's life that is normal, and he's got an explanation for the all-important washing that prosecutors used to help make their circumstantial case. The footprint didn't match his shoes, the "blood" they lifted from the floors was not blood, and tests for seminal fluid on the nightie and from swabs came back negative.

That freshly washed comforter, from the master bedroom that Ms. Toole and Mr. Pitt shared, did have blood on it. DNA from one square centimetre of blood within a larger spot of blood on the comforter matched Samantha's. No other samples from the comforter matched Samantha's. The larger spot of blood could not be matched to any known samples.

The girl's blood was lifted from the comforter, but experts later testified they could not say how long it had been there. The timing of the stain was raised because the little girl had cut her lip and scraped her knee two weeks before she was killed. A witness also testified later in court that Ms. Toole told her two weeks after the murder that she did, in fact, check on the children when she got home, saying she saw young Samantha sleeping -- which, if true, would mean the girl had been alive and well at the time Mr. Pitt had been doing the laundry.

The police tested what they took to be blood samples from the inside of the apartment, even tested a flashlight from the closet for blood but, for some reason, they never tested four hairs found on the girl's dead body. In fact, although the four hairs were bagged as evidence, they were never actually sent to the crime lab, nor were they mentioned on the exhibit list reviewed by the crime lab.

Just like the four hairs, police seem to have left other ground unturned. The morning that Samantha disappeared, another girl told a police officer she had seen Samantha playing at a nearby park. There was never any mention of this sighting, and police never did confirm it.

Two separate witnesses told police they had spotted a black pickup truck parked at the river's edge where the girl's body was later found. One sighting was in the morning, the other just before the body was discovered. Police never tracked down the pickup truck, nor did they find other possible suspects drawn from public tips.

The police started interviewing everyone linked to the girl, and questioned her mother, Gloria Toole, several times that week. At first, she said Mr. Pitt was good to her and the children. He made her feel "beautiful" -- flowers, gifts for no reason, and he used to draw her bath at the end of the day.

And he had hoped to adopt Samantha one day. The police asked her about his temper and his drinking, if she was afraid of him when he was drinking. She dismissed this at first, but later said yes.

In the first interview, she said she knew nothing about the murder. Didn't see it, just woke up a little before noon and found herself alone in the apartment. Her boyfriend, the babysitters and her girl, were all gone. She said her daughter had wandered off on her own before, but never in the morning.

By the time police had finished their last interview, she had given a completely different account of the day her daughter was killed. In this version, she arrived home around 4 a.m. She walked in the back door of the apartment. The sitter had crashed on the couch after having three friends over to the apartment. Ms. Toole had ordered them liquor -- a bottle of Captain Morgan rum, white -- before heading out to drink herself. She had come home around 1 a.m., then gone out for more drinking at a friend's place. Then, she had come home through the back door and found her live-in boyfriend raping her daughter, and later stabbing the girl in the chest. Her statements to police have remained unreported until now.

"She's so scared, his hands over her mouth and she's calling 'Mommy' and I can't get to her ... I feel like someone's holding me. There's blood on the floor. Under the bedsheet in my bedroom ... It would be the 2nd of October. I came in through the back door. I heard a noise and I went to see what it was. I saw Sam. On the bedspread and I see George Pitt. Her eyes are big. She wants me to help. I couldn't move ... I had to get help, I couldn't help her. I never did get help ... on top of her. And it hurts. He's inside of her ... He's got that spoon inside of her, he's got his hand over her mouth. I can still hear her scream 'Mommy.' He's trying to get on top of me, and oh God, I can hear her die. She's not moving anymore. He's talking about the river ... wrapping her up. They're not holding me anymore. I can't move, I can't believe it. I can't believe it. She's in her nightie and they're wrapping her up. I tried first to stop them. "There was a knife. That's how they stopped me from moving."

She then tells the detective that Steven Miller was there too, "hurting my baby." "They were using a spoon on her. It was inside of her. And they kept telling me not to move. Told me I'd be next ... They had to wash the blanket ... there was blood on it. They had to get Sam out of the apartment."

"Who took Sam out of the apartment?" one of the detectives asks. "Gloria, who took Sam out of the apartment?" "George did." "Were you there when George did this?" "I seen him pick her up ... and carrying her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Went out the back door. Down on the beach."

She explained that they had loaded the body into a pickup truck and headed down to the shore. She then said Mr. Pitt hid Samantha's underwear in the kitchen ceiling, just over the window. Why didn't you tell the police about this earlier? the detective pressed. "How could I? He told me that I had to protect him."

Then, the sobbing mother said, "I didn't kill her, I didn't kill my own baby." "Hold on, you have to be strong," Det. William Reid said. "Remember what we talked about. We have to speak for Sam, remember that."

Moments later, Ms. Toole began talking about how Mr. Pitt stabbed Samantha in the chest. The girl is screaming. The little girl is fighting him off hard. All of this and the babysitter and a friend are asleep on the couch. Never heard the stabbing, the screams or the cleanup that followed. In all of this time, the mother also said there was music playing in the $400-a-month apartment. So, she told police, after watching her girl being raped, then murdered, she started cleaning up the bedroom floor.

The detective later asked about the truck. She said she might have just "heard" about it, same with the rape. Essentially, her story was starting to fit with what police were finding out on their own. Then, after pinning the murder on George Pitt and his friend, Steven Miller, she said it might just be her imagination. Her story is hard to believe. Nothing fits, notably the absence of stab wounds.

These days, almost 11 years later, Gloria Toole, now 36, pays the bills slinging coffee at a Tim Horton's in Saint John. In an interview with the Citizen, she said the police liked her boyfriend as a suspect early on, and spoke of her regret for feeding them lies about how her daughter had been killed.

"I do (regret it), because I allowed their pressure to ... I allowed their suspicions to torment me. "It was my impression that even before he was arrested, that they thought he did it. Of all the names that they brought up, they always seemed to come back to him. They kept wanting to know information about him. They didn't seem to be looking anywhere else. They always kept coming back to him. That's how it dawned on me that they suspected he did it. That he killed her.

"And after awhile, when it dawned on me that they believed he was the killer, I started imagining, how he could do this and how he did this?" She also said that if George Pitt didn't kill her daughter, then, at the very least, he must know who did. Mr. Pitt has always said he didn't kill Samantha, and since his conviction, doubt has swirled around the case -- from some unlikely places.

In August 1994, two months after Mr. Pitt was convicted of first-degree murder, Saint John police were still quietly investigating the case, according to a federal prison report obtained by the Citizen. Brian MacKenzie, Mr. Pitt's case-management officer, wrote the report after interviewing Clarence "Butch" Cogswell, now the city's police chief.

This report bolsters Mr. Pitt's hopes of one day clearing his name. After all, the interview with the police chief took place more than a year after authorities had declared the case solved. Mr. MacKenzie decided to call the police chief after Mr. Pitt had requested a transfer from the Maritime region, saying his life was in danger -- a claim the police chief backed up during the conversation.

Remarkably, Mr. Cogswell, then deputy chief, revealed that Mr. Pitt may be innocent, and went on to name another possible suspect. "(Mr. Cogswell) believes that Pitt may not have committed the murder ... and stated that information did not come out in court and (Mr. Pitt) refused to take the stand as he felt he would never be found guilty," Mr. MacKenzie wrote.

"The Saint John police are still investigating this murder and (Mr. Cogswell) feels that (one of Mr. Pitt's friends) may be responsible for the murder."

In the report, the prison officer details the inmate's limited work and education history, and concludes: "In my opinion, subject cannot remain in the Atlantic Region to serve his sentence due to the heat on him." The corrections officer recommended Mr. Pitt be transferred to Millhaven Institution in Kingston.

Today, 10 years after that recommendation, Mr. Pitt is still serving his life sentence in the Maritimes, at Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B. And the possible suspect named in the report, Steven Miller, has not been charged with any crime linked to the murder.

The Citizen has learned that Mr. Miller was under police surveillance after Mr. Pitt's arrest. The surveillance, according to police reports, was carried out one weekend in the fall of 1993, the same weekend they had another officer tail Gloria Toole.

The brief surveillance operation yielded nothing other than what time Mr. Miller headed out for a beer run. It was Mr. Miller who perjured himself at Mr. Pitt's three-week trial in June 1994. He testified that when police came looking for Mr. Pitt, at his father's apartment, the suspect ran out the back door.

He told a different story at the preliminary inquiry, saying that when police came calling, his drinking buddy wasn't even at the apartment. He also lied to police when they asked him his whereabouts the night before the girl went missing. He originally told police that he went straight home after spilling beer with Mr. Pitt and another friend, Joe Levesque, a convicted killer on parole for life. He later admitted he had gone to a nightclub with Mr. Pitt. The truth is, he said, he couldn't remember much at all about that night.

Mr. Levesque and Mr. Miller, both heavy drinkers, said they suffer from blackouts and the night seemed a blur. One day ran into the next, and aside from heavy drinking, the men, including Mr. Pitt, didn't do much of anything else. - - - To believe George Pitt's story, that he didn't kill the girl, you'd first have to see nothing unusual about doing laundry at 4 a.m., then completely dismiss the prosecution's inference that he took flight out of guilt once the police got involved.

They called several witnesses to make their case, but the jury never heard from the accused. According to Mr. Pitt's version of events, on the morning in question, he got home around 1:15 a.m., just minutes after Gloria Toole walked in the door. Both had spent the night drinking, at times together and at times apart. One of the babysitters was still up. Ms. Toole didn't stay long, deciding to go to a friend's house for three more hours of drinking. The two babysitters, both teenage girls, were still at the apartment. Their boyfriends had left around 11 p.m. after a night of drinking. The boys had brought vodka and Ms. Toole had bought them rum, which she had delivered by cab.

Mr. Pitt stayed up, spoke to one of the babysitters for 30 minutes, then started frying burgers and waiting for his drinking buddy, Steven Miller, to show up, hopefully with an armload of beer.

Mr. Miller showed up at close to 2 a.m. with four bottles of beer. The babysitter, in another room, talked on the phone with a boyfriend, off and on, until around 2:30 a.m. She recalled hearing Mr. Pitt's voice from one of the bedrooms but did not see Mr. Miller, at least not that time. had been at the apartment earlier in the night, at 9:45 p.m., to share a bottle of vodka with Gloria Toole. Mr. Pitt says he and Mr. Miller began drinking the beer and Mr. Miller wanted to listen to music, but Mr. Pitt refused for fear of waking up the children or the sitters. He says the men went into the master bedroom, where they propped a chair against a back patio door to keep it open.

Mr. Pitt says he dozed off with a bottle of beer in hand. He maintains that around 3:30 a.m. Mr. Miller woke him up, saying he had spilled beer on the comforter and it had to be washed right away. Mr. Pitt says he told him the washing would have to wait because it might wake everyone up, but Mr. Miller didn't want to upset Ms. Toole.

Two weeks earlier, after a night of drinking, Mr. Miller had fallen asleep in bed next to Ms. Toole and he didn't want any more trouble. Mr. Pitt says he gave in and put the comforter in the washing machine, and he didn't notice any bloodstains on it. They drank the rest of the beer in the kitchen, and Mr. Miller, who usually slept on the couch, left for home after complaining that the babysitters had taken his spot. He says he never checked in on Samantha and Ruthie, her 14-month-old sister, before going to bed.

Minutes later, he says, Ms. Toole returned home, and after arguing a bit about ignoring one another earlier in the night, they had sex and fell asleep. Mr. Pitt says he woke up around 10 a.m. and he went to Joe Levesque's home and had beer for breakfast. He learned that Samantha was missing after a telephone call with Ms. Toole. She said the girl wasn't around when she got up and that she had called the police.

Mr. Pitt then went back to the north-end neighbourhood to help look for the missing girl. He never stepped inside the apartment and, by day's end, he ended up in a rooming-house apartment, where he drank Moosehead Dry with Steven Miller. They listened to the radio and kept the television on for news about Samantha.

Mr. Pitt also used a pay phone and called home from time to time to find out about the latest, and the last time he checked in, a police officer answered. It was now Sunday morning, and the police officer was asking a lot of questions, so Mr. Pitt said he'd come over shortly.

But he didn't -- and that's what's hard to believe. His girlfriend's six-year-old girl was missing and he was at a rooming house with another alcoholic, drinking beer. Instead of heading down to the apartment he shared with Ms. Toole, he returned to the rooming house, told Mr. Miller about the police officer on the phone, and then, minutes later, Mr. Miller looked out the window and started shouting about there being police outside.

Mr. Pitt was on probation after being convicted of assault causing bodily harm, and thought that if police caught him boozing they wouldn't think twice about jailing him. He grabbed a couple bottles of beer and ducked into another room one door down.

The next morning, Monday, the most wanted man in Saint John walked uptown to a drugstore to buy some Gravol. Two women at the counter were talking about the dead girl and how police were looking for a man named George Pitt.

"What?" he shouted. But again, instead of calling the police, or at the very least, going to the apartment, the wanted man went to his father's apartment to catch the news on the radio. Then, he took the medicine and headed out for more beer, this time at a bar.

Then it was on to Burger King for a Whopper and some fries. He then hit another tavern, and later made the beer store just in time. He drank the rest of the night away by the railroad tracks. He thought about going to the police, about calling a lawyer, about calling his friends, about sobering up and facing everything the next day. But he figured it'd just be easier to go to Tim Horton's for a coffee.

So, through the rain, he walked up to Tim Horton's, where he ordered an apple dumpling and a coffee. He paid for it with a soaked $10 bill. It was around 4 a.m., the same time he had been doing laundry two days earlier. He took a seat near a table of uniformed jail guards.

It was a Brink's guard who spotted him and called police. The guard had gone to school with Mr. Pitt and had heard news reports about the manhunt. It was at this moment that Mr. Pitt dug deep for some change and headed outside to the phone booth in the parking lot. He was finally going to call home. He had doughnut icing on his lower lip and a quarter in his hand when the police caught up with him.

In the lock-up, one officer made a trip to see if it was the same man who had appeared drunk on the couch the day the young girl went missing.

He said it was, but it wasn't. The man on the couch was Steven Miller.

Prosecutors at Mr. Pitt's trial successfully argued that there was no rational explanation why he left and couldn't be located for days. His friend, Mr. Miller, testified that it was not unusual for Mr. Pitt to avoid police when he was drinking.

The jury also heard that Mr. Pitt had been collecting his welfare cheque from another address in some scam, another reason to stay away that was raised by an appeal lawyer.

The jury also had one more thing to think about: a surprise witness who said Mr. Pitt had been at the riverbank around 9:30 a.m. on the day the girl went missing. She said she hadn't come forward earlier because she had problems of her own, but wanted to get it off her chest. Susan Cummings said she spotted a soaking-wet George Pitt coming up from the riverbank. She said she was sure of the date, Oct. 2, 1993, because her daughter had to go to a birthday party the next day. She could not say, however, whose birthday it was or where the party happened. She also said that she did not notice if Mr. Pitt had a moustache, but initially told police he didn't.

He did.

- - - The only thing certain about George Pitt's story is that he is a natural-born loser. Three sisters. Two brothers, one also a convict. His father, Ron Pitt, beat them hard and drank even harder. Young George had turned seven when his home burned down. With the family home in ashes, his mother, Elizabeth, saw a fresh start, one without the abusive husband.

She put the children in the care of the government, but instead of finding foster homes, they were shipped to an orphanage, where young George was beaten and molested. He moved back in with his mother at a new place almost a year later.

He stopped going to school when he was 11, and was charged with truancy. The court placed him on probation. Months later, he was charged again for skipping school and, before his court appearance, was charged for breaking a window.

His mother didn't want to bring her son to court on the truancy charge because she wanted to avoid her abusive husband, who was appearing in courthouse the same day on another matter. So the police came to their home, scooped up young George, and the judge sentenced him to three months at a youth jail outside Fredericton, an hour away from home.

The young boy was raped at least 15 times by one of the guards. When he was released, still 11 years old, he started drinking. I was lost and I found alcohol, he says. Then drugs, then overdoses, then suicide attempts.

He became a father at 14, fathered a second child at 17; he has at least five children that he knows about. His criminal record got longer, from underage drinking to break-and-enter to assault, but he avoided serving federal time.

He took on odd jobs as a carpenter and a cabbie, but his steadiest income would always be welfare. He met Gloria Toole, a single mother on welfare. They moved in together and she says that it felt like a real family. He said he wants to adopt the children after only three months.

He had no job, and his best effort was always put toward securing his next bottle. He paid the rent and she covered everything else. That monthly rent payment was the only structure in George Pitt's life before he was consigned to Unit 3, Range B, Cell 18.

Worse, he mumbles, it's for something he didn't do. He can't find one thing to be happy about. There's not much to his cell, but he's got a 14-inch colour television with remote for Channels 2 to 31. He watches hockey -- he's a big Leafs fan -- and he's seen almost all of Jackie Chan's work. He spends most of his days working on his case alone in his cell, trying to clear his name, and now some folks, namely a legal team known for freeing wrongfully convicted men, are poking around, reviewing the case and pushing authorities to test key evidence from the case.

It is his last resort. He has lost all of his appeals, including one to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. The high court did not grant leave to appeal. For three weeks at the 1994 trial, George Pitt didn't say a word. He never testified and never lost control (he has a bad temper), not even when the prosecutor concluded his summation to the jury, waving a photograph of the dead girl.

"This is a picture of Samantha Dawn Toole, you're going to take that with you to the jury room as well. It was a saying that the police had in the course of their investigation that 'someone has to speak for Samantha' ... it's going to be your turn to speak for Samantha." The jury thought about it for eight hours spread over two days.

The verdict tore him apart. He says it was like watching someone jump in to steal his life. His mother screamed and his sister yelled: "He's innocent."

Police Chief: Wrong Man Convicted in Girl's Murder
Police doubted George Pitt's guilt even after his murder conviction

Prison files show police chief named someone else as suspect in sex killing of 6-year-old Samantha Toole. Was the wrong man convicted?

Months after a jury found George Pitt guilty of murder in the first degree, city police were still quietly probing the 1993 rape and murder of six-year-old Samantha Toole.

Canadian prison files obtained by the Dimmock Report shows that this city's police chief believed that Mr. Pitt, condemned to life in prison, may in fact be innocent.

The report, dated August 1994, was drafted two months after Mr. Pitt was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Mr. Pitt, now 36, has always said he did not rape and kill his girlfriend's daughter.

In fact, minutes after a jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree, Mr. Pitt spoke for the first time at his trial, a trial absent of eyewitness accounts.

"I made the mistake of picking bad friends, he said. I did not do this crime. That's all I have to say."

Months later, a federal prison officer filed a report after interviewing then-deputy police chief Clarence (Butch) Cogswell, since promoted to chief of police for his impressive record.

"[Mr. Cogswell] believes that Pitt may not have committed the murder, federal corrections official Brian MacKenzie wrote of the deputy police chief's professional opinion, and stated that information did not come out in court and [Mr. Pitt] refused to take the stand as he felt he would never be found guilty.

In the interview, the police chief also disclosed that city police were still investigating the high-profile slaying, a crime widely believed to have been solved at the time.

More, deputy police chief said a drinking buddy of Mr. Pitt's may in fact be responsible for the killing of the North End girl.

"The Saint John Police are still investigating this murder and [Mr. Cogswell] feels that [a friend of Mr. Pitt's] may be responsible for the murder, the federal prison official wrote.

It was a drinking buddy of Mr. Pitt's who admitted to committing perjury at the three-week long trial last year.

Steve Miller testified that on the morning after young Samantha's body was found, his friend Mr. Pitt dashed out the back door when police arrived at his late father's apartment.

But at the preliminary inquiry, Mr. Miller had told the court that Mr.Pitt was not even at the apartment when police began pounding at the door. Mr. Miller also lied to police about where he was on the evening of Oct. 2, 1993, the night before the little girl was discovered to be missing.

That was the night Mr. Miller spent hours drinking with Mr. Pitt and Joe Levesque, a convicted murderer on parole for life.

In a statement to police, Mr. Miller said he went straight home after drinking with his buddies.

It would be days before Mr. Miller told police that, in fact, he went to a nightclub with Mr. Pitt, not home. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Levesque told the court they suffered from blackouts and could not remember the night's events clearly. According to the August 1994 prison report, two drinking buddies were prepared to pay money and drugs to have [Mr. Pitt] killed. Information for the report was gathered to assist prison officials in a review of Mr. Pitt's application for a voluntary transfer out of Canada's Maritime region.

"Writer spoke to Deputy Chief Butch Cogswell of the Saint John City Police by way of a telephone conversation initiated by myself, the prison official wrote.

"Deputy Chief Cogswell indicated he has known subject [Mr. Pitt] since subject was 10 or 11 years old and has always had a good relationship with him. In the interview, Mr. Cogswell said he believed Mr. Pitt's life was in danger. He indicated that when he heard this, he phoned staff at the Saint John jail and [Mr. Pitt] was placed in protective custody," wrote Mr. MacKenzie.

Feeling his life was in danger, Mr. Pitt applied for a transfer to Ontario. Mr. MacKenzie wrote, He feels he cannot serve his sentence in the Atlantic Region because of the nature of his offence and the large amount of publicity in this case and the fact he has given a statement to the police implicating two people.

That statement, according to Mr. Pitt, was requested by Saint John police about 10 days after his conviction.

In the report, the prison official gives a brief background of Mr. Pitt's case, the inmate's education and his employment history.

The report recommended that Mr. Pitt be transferred to Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont.

"In my opinion, subject cannot remain in the Atlantic Region to serve his sentence due to the heat on him," the corrections officer wrote.

Today, seven years after that recommendation, Mr. Pitt is still serving his first federal sentence at Atlantic Institution in Renous, New Brunswick.

In its circumstantial case against Mr. Pitt, the prosecution relied on one small but crucial piece of evidence: a one-cubic-centimetre stain of the little girl's blood.

DNA testing wasn't perfect, prosecutors conceded, but crime lab technicians were able to unearth the sample from a larger stain on the comforter.

The slain girl's mother, Gloria Toole, testified that upon returning home from a night of drinking, she found her live-in boyfriend washing this comforter.

It was 4 a.m. on Oct. 2, 1993, she said nine hours before she reported her girl missing.

But another witness, the woman who had introduced Ms. Toole to Mr. Pitt months earlier, testified that Ms. Toole checked on young Samantha at 4 a.m. and said she was alive and well.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police crime lab experts in Halifax, Nova Scotia also discovered plant material on the comforter and in the dryer.

At the trial, experts testified that the samples matched those of plants growing on the river's edge behind the family's North End apartment where the girl's beaten and drowned body was found that evening.

Police investigators also discovered four hair follicles on the body but DID NOT send the samples for DNA analysis.

On June 24, 1994, after eight hours of deliberation, an 11-member jury decided Mr. Pitt was a child killer, not a victim of circumstance. Now he faces life in prison for the killing of a six-year-old girl he had one day hoped to adopt.

Found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, Mr. Pitt has no chance of parole for 25 years.