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John Chalmers

No injusticebusting in Justice Joe Donohue's courtroom!

If the Crown calls it evidence, that's cool with him even if it's just a product of the Crown's imagination

John Chalmers

In this case, an expert claimed injuries on a skull which had been buried for fifteen years "… could not be consistent with falling from a horse, being kicked by a horse or falling on farm machinery…"

inJusticebusters say this is not "clear and convincing evidence" which disproves the original coroner's report. Experts who have been paid by the Crown use credentials which may have been legitimately earned to add credibility to theories for which there is no real evidence. Louise Reynolds is suing two experts and the Kingston police for $7M in the wake of expert opinion that a dog was the likely killer.

The Reid Technique of interrogation, designed to obtain confessions where there is reasonable and probable cause to believe the accused is guilty, is being abused by crafty police to get innocent people to confess…

Diane Foster

Improper interrogations were among the reasons today for two more murder convictions being quashed by the supreme Court December 12, 2003. See Duguay and Taillefer

Chalmers sentenced to life without eligibility for parole until 2017. Prosecutor tells media:

"Well, obviously a lot of the evidence that might have been available at the time was no longer available so we had to rely on a lot more ingenuity and creativity I think in trying to solve this case". -- Prosecutor Diane Foster on CTV/CKCO News 6:00pm and 11:30pm, December 9, 2003.

Read the Gemini winning Disclosure piece Inside the Interrogation Room [CBC link]. Then consider that this is exactly the technique which was used on John Chalmers. A Manitoba judge, when he threw out the case against Mike St. John called the technique "repugnant to society's sense of decency and shouldn't be condoned." See also Brenda Campbell, from whom a false confession was extracted in Winnipeg.

As the improprieties in the Jim Driskell case are surfacing in Manitoba, this Ontario case shows that police and Crown prosecutors are still up to the same dirty tricks which have resulted in wrongful convictions.

Katherine Scott

John Chalmers: Tricked by improper interrogation and railroaded to a conviction of murder

(Note: This piece is in progress. It is being written from a distance, but I have full access to John Chalmer's sister. A previous version attibuted more involvement to Officer Dew.-- Sheila Steele)

Mr. Chalmers was convicted November 13 and will be sentenced December 9.

On March 15, 1986, Jane Chalmers was found dead in a ditch. The coroner ruled her death was accidental, caused by falling from her horse. Police officer Mark Dew was suspicious and raised his concerns with his superior officer. The concerns were dismissed and the death was accepted as accidental. Mark Dew kept some of the pictures of what he believed to be a crime scene in his drawer for fifteen years. The rest of the file, including the original coroner's report were destroyed.

In 2001, Mark Dew passed the pictures on to an officer who was also experienced with horses. The original file was gone. Based on the partial set of pictures, the case was re-opened. The body was exhumed and looked at again. A new expert found dents in Jane Chalmer's skull and which could not have been caused by a falling from a horse.

Murder. Just as Dew suspected. But how did it happen? Since the files from 15 years ago had been destroyed, because those in charge of destroying files were confident this cases was closed, an accident, the new investigators were at a disadvantage.

In October, John Chalmers was picked up and a "confession" extracted from him in living colour video as he was coached to "re-enact" his "crime". They also did a polygraph. Two days later he was charged and released to his family, his wife Celia and his children, aged 10 and 12. Disoriented and confused, he managed to communicate that he had signed a statement after being told that this would save his family from grief and embarrassment. He was in terrible shape.

In August, 2002, before the pretrial, he underwent a psychiatric assessment at which it was determined that his statement could not be considered voluntary. He also underwent a polygraph. The pretrial judge accepted the "confession," ruling that the psychiatrist was not an expert in law, and that if Chalmers could "feed himself and wasn't wetting himself" he was competent to be interrogated. While he would not allow into evidence the results of the polygraph test, he allowed a conversation, where the polygrapher told Chalmers "I have absolutely no doubt that you killed your wife" to be tendered.

He went to trial this fall. Justice Joseph Donohue allowed the evidence from the pretrial.

The jury was shown the videotaped movie made by police. I call it a movie because it was edited and fictional, with several takes necessary because of the reluctance of the principle actor. They gave the piece a rave review and took five hours to convict John Chalmers.

This shoddy conviction would seem to be the product of deliberately malicious police work, over-zealous prosecution. During his instructions to the jury, the judge noted that Chalmer had made 28 denials during his "confession".

Use of the Reid method of interrogation has been covered by CBC's Disclosure Inside the interrogation room [CBC link] and was also responsible for the wrongful conviction of the five teen-agers in the Central Park Five in New York City. (The five were freed after the real rapist confessed and this confession was matched with DNA evidence.) A supreme Court ruling on the Oickle case from Nova Scotia clearly shows that reckless use of the Reid technique is not acceptable.

Chalmers sentenced: Courtright man gets life and will not be eligible for parole for 14 years

Still professing his innocence, convicted killer John Chalmers will have the next 14 years, locked away in a federal penitentiary, to consider his role in his first wife's death.

The 55-year-old Courtright man, convicted last month of second-degree murder in the March 15, 1986 death of 31-year-old Jane Chalmers, maintained his innocence yesterday as he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no possibility for parole for the next 14 years.

"Janie's death devastated me as much as anybody," Chalmers told the court. "I think anybody that knows me knows I didn't do this. It was a mistake in 1986 and it's a mistake now."

In 1986, provincial police deemed her death a horseback riding accident. Officers reopened the investigation in 2001, later charging Chalmers with murder after he provided police four detailed confessions over a two-day period in October.

In setting the parole eligibility term to the "unique" case, Justice Joseph Donohue told Chalmers he needed to reassess his role in his first wife's tragic death. She was bludgeoned and left for dead in a deep ditch along a stretch of lonely, rural Waterworks Side Road.

Donohue said deterring other men from committing the same crime against their wives was his utmost priority.

He admonished Chalmers, a remarried father of two, for showing no remorse and breaching the ultimate trust between husband and wife. Donohue likened Jane Chalmers' demise to the steps a farmer might take to destroy a diseased farm animal.

"With no forewarning you heartlessly dispatched five blows to her head . . . You would have lived out your life under false pretenses (were) it not for some pretty astute police work."

During sentencing proceedings Crown attorney Diane Foster asked for a 15-to-17-year period before Chalmers would be eligible for parole.

Defence lawyer Donald Elliott called for 12 years, arguing that aside from this "isolated, violent and swift act of passion," his client had led an exemplary life.

Following their Nov. 13 verdict, 10 of 12 jurors recommended the minimum 10-year designation.

However, Donohue settled on 14 years, telling Chalmers he clearly acted in "cold-blooded" fashion.

"You killed her and you know it," Donohue said, as Chalmers' stunned and teary-eyed family members looked on. Holding up a picture of Jane Chalmers on her wedding day, Donohue told Chalmers he broke the promise he made that day to take care of her.

"Your public remorse lasted less than a day."

As part of his sentence Chalmers will also have to provide a sample of his DNA for the national databank for violent offenders. He was also handed a lifetime firearms prohibition.

Outside the courthouse, Foster called the sentence just and appropriate. She credited OPP investigators for their work in solving the case.

However, the same could not be said for Chalmers' family members, who picketed outside the court building prior to the proceedings.

In a statement prepared by Ken Tuckey, Chalmers' current father-in-law, he said his "biggest concern and regret in this case is the fact that in 1986, if the police would have done a complete and proper investigation and closed this case properly this family would not be going through the hell and financial and emotional burden that it has caused for the past two years." Chalmers' sister Katherine Scott was also critical of the investigation.

"My brother was sentenced for a crime he did not commit," she said, before falling into the arms of her supporters.

She said an appeal is in the works, focusing on the Reid Interrogation Method that police used to obtain a "false confession" from her emotionally fragile brother.

Banned in the U.K., the nine-step police interrogation method has come under some fire in Canada. CBC's Disclosure program focused one of its segments on Reid, which it reported had resulted in some false confessions.

"My brother has never shown any signs of violence at all," Scott continued. "I know my brother and I know that this is about something that was done to him and not about something that he did."

Scott said she will continue to work with a group called Injustice Busters, which fights for the wrongfully convicted. She appealed to the public in a letter to the editor that appeared in Monday's Observer to attend the court, to show support for change in "our antiquated judicial system."

That letter raised Donohue's ire.

Prior to the beginning of sentencing procedures before a half-filled courtroom, Donohue cautioned there would be "no justice busting" during the proceedings. Any outbursts would result in removal from the court and a possible charge of contempt, he warned.

But, following the sentencing Scott took aim at the justice system, saying her dying father asked her to continue to fight for the truth.

"And his words to me were 'Kathy, if you don't stand up for the truth, no matter what your reasons, all hell breaks loose.' And this is what happened in our justice system. It's the truth that has to matter . . . and these methods blind us."

However, what was missing from the proceedings was some show of remorse, said Jane Chalmers' sister Vivien Synnott.

Synnott, who sat silently throughout her former brother-in-law's trial, was allowed to read a victim impact statement in court, detailing the tragic effect her sister's death had on the family.

"That life was stolen away, not only from Janie but also from the people who cared for her, family and friends," Synnott read.

She said she not only lost a sister in 1986 but part of her mother as well, as her health slowly deteriorated over the years.

After the sentencing concluded, a relieved Synnott said she didn't believe Chalmers' plea of innocence.

"I really don't think that's the truth and the next 14 years he's going to have to live with it.

"I'm happy it's all over ... and we're going to the cemetery now to say goodbye to Janie."

Husband found guilty of second-degree murder

SARNIA -- A jury took five hours yesterday to find a Courtright man guilty of second-degree murder in his wife's death 17 years ago, ending a five-week trial. John Chalmers, 55, will be sentenced next month.

His lawyer, Donald Elliott, expressed disappointment in the verdict, but said he wasn't surprised given the Crown's strong case against his client.

An appeal is possible on the grounds a taped confession Chalmers gave police should not have been allowed in evidence, the lawyer said later.

"That's been discussed," Elliott confirmed.

As the verdict was announced yesterday, several people in the courtroom burst into tears, including the victim's sister, Vivien Synnott, and about a dozen supporters of Chalmers.

The body of Jane Chalmers, 31, was found March 15, 1986, in a ditch. Ontario Provincial Police originally deemed her death the result of a freak horseback riding accident.

But police reopened the investigation in February 2001. Eight months later, Chalmers was charged with her murder, having confessed his guilt repeatedly over a two-day period in October.

Chalmers pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

He testified he falsely confessed to killing his first wife because he wanted to take the easy way out.

He said he was being selfish, wanting to give up on his family after suffering serious injuries in a June 1, 2000, car accident that left the family's financial future uncertain.

Yesterday, Crown attorney Diane Foster said the jury used common sense to arrive at the right conclusion, considering the detailed confessions Chalmers provided police, describing how he clubbed his wife with a heavy, metal object and left her for dead.

Suspect changes testimony

SARNIA -- A man accused of beating his wife to death offered contradictory testimony yesterday about an apparent confession to police -- at first acknowledging he seemed to admit to the crime, but then later saying he was misunderstood. John Chalmers, 55, is charged with second-degree murder after his 31-year-old wife, Jane Chalmers, was found dead in a ditch following an apparent horse-riding accident in 1986.

During questioning yesterday, Chalmers told the court he wasn't lying during an investigation in 2001, when he told police he hit his wife and left her for dead.

But later, Chalmers tried to distance himself from the police statement, saying that although it was truthful, it was also frazzled and confused.

Victim was having an affair, Chalmers murder trial told

SARNIA -- A woman whose death was initially attributed to a horse-riding accident was having an affair before she died, a witness testified yesterday at the murder trial of the woman's husband. Jane Chalmers "wasn't happy at home" in the months before she was found dead in a ditch in 1986 after taking a horse ride, Barb Foster told the court.

She said Jane Chalmers, 31, told her that her husband John Chalmers was boring and they weren't compatible.

Foster, a neighbour who began a friendship with Jane in the years prior to her death, said she suspected John Chalmers, 55, murdered his wife and had reported her suspicions to police.

Jane Chalmers was found dead March 15, 1986. Although her death was originally attributed to a horse-riding accident by provincial police, the case was reopened in 2001 and a charge of second-degree murder was laid against John Chalmers.

Foster said Jane Chalmers began socializing and going out more after making the comments about her marriage, Foster said.

"She must have been looking for attention because she found it from (Don) Moore. The two started having an affair."

Foster also testified that a few days after Jane Chalmers' death she told John Chalmers, ". . . Everybody thinks you killed her."

In an interview with police played in court, John Chalmers told police he never suspected his wife was having an affair.

"As far as I knew, she was happy," he said.

Woman 'likely' died from blows to head

SARNIA -- A Sarnia woman found dead near her wandering horse was "most likely" killed by multiple blows from an object such as a metal pipe, court heard yesterday at her husband's murder trial. For 15 years the death of Jane Chalmers, 31, was deemed accidental -- the result of a horseback riding accident near Waterworks Road in the former Sarnia Township.

Two years ago, police reopened the case, charging 55-year-old John Chalmers with second-degree murder in his wife's death March 15, 1986.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Yesterday, pathologist Dr. S.W. Williams testified the dead woman's injuries were not consistent with being thrown from a horse, kicked by a horse or falling into any type of farm machinery.

"I'm not aware of any object that could produce these types of injuries if you fell on it," he said under questioning by assistant Crown attorney Diane Foster.

"The best fit would be a linear object."

Foster produced a large metal pipe and asked if multiple blows from such an object might cause the fatal injuries.

"Yes, that's the kind of object," he replied.

Williams conducted the autopsy on Chalmers the day after she was found dead in a ditch.

The cause of death was "fracturing at the base of the skull and cerebral contusions," he testified.

Chalmers had several two-centimetre gashes on the right side of her forehead, one on the left side and more lacerations behind her left ear.

Her skull was fractured and her brain was bruised -- injuries that could have resulted from blows that caused the lacerations, said Williams.

The testimony came during the second week of what's expected to be a five-week jury trial in Superior Court in Sarnia.

Stories of the couple's marital trouble became an issue at the trial last week, when a man claiming to have been Jane Chalmers' lover testified.

Don Moore said he was unsure whether his lover's husband knew about the affair.

Another witness said she had heard the Chalmers discussing "one-night stands" in the past.

In court yesterday, John Chalmers displayed no emotion. Frequently he closed his eyes while listening to testimony by medical experts.

Jane Chalmers' sister was among a handful of spectators in the court.

Court heard from Williams' assistant and an auxiliary OPP officer who observed the autopsy on Chalmers. Both testified Chalmers' head had not been dropped during the autopsy.

But under cross-examination by defence lawyer Donald Elliott, both men had trouble remembering exact details from the post mortem.

Taped confession heard at trial
Second-degree murder trial finishes second week

Upset with his wife's late-night partying and having rumours of her infidelity thrown in his face, accused murderer John Chalmers admitted something inside him snapped.

"She got off the horse with me and I just started hitting her," Chalmers told police during an interview following a polygraph test that he granted OPP police at the Petrolia detachment on Oct. 5, 2001.

The majority of the five-hour taped interview and lie-detector test was shown in court Friday, as John Chalmers' second-degree murder trial finished up its second week.

Jane Chalmers was found dead in the east ditch on Waterworks Side Road, between Confederation and Churchill lines, in the early afternoon on March 15, 1986.

Having been out horseback riding at the time, her death was initially ruled accidental, the result of falling off her horse and being trampled.

However, police reopened the investigation in early February, 2001, charging Chalmers with his wife's death following the interview with police.

"I wanted to talk to her," Chalmers told Det. Edward Murray during the interview.

Prior to his confession, Murray of the OPP's behavioural sciences unit, told Chalmers there was "absolutely no doubt" in his mind Chalmers had caused his wife's death after scanning the results of the polygraph test.

Justice Joseph Donohue instructed the jury that while polygraph tests and their results are not admissible in court, statements and exchanges between Chalmers and the detective are.

Asked how he caused his wife's fatal head injuries, Chalmers said he had picked up an object from the ditch and hit her about five times.

"I grabbed her. I think I just threw her."

The two fell in the ditch, Chalmers explained. That's when he located the object he used to strike her.

"I think I just threw (the weapon) when I left . . . She could have still been alive when I left her."

As the six-man and six-woman jury focused on the projection screen displaying the video, Chalmers frequently stared down at the floor, while seated in the prisoner's box.

Asked by Murray during the interview what made him so angry, Chalmers said it was his wife's "staying out so late, then not caring."

Later, Chalmers said he had heard his wife was having an affair with people at the horse barn, specifically Don Moore.

His neighbour Barb Foster and her sister Connie were "throwing it in my face," he said.

After assaulting his wife, Chalmers said he left the area and returned home, where he fed his wife's dogs. Then he returned to the Spitzig farm where he was to pick up his wife and acted "just like nothing happened.

"And when police said it was an accident, I just accepted it. I closed it out."

Chalmers then agreed to write a letter explaining his actions to his dead wife's mother and return to the crime scene to re-enact what had happened 15 years earlier.

When asked by Murray why he decided to confess, Chalmers stated during the interview, "To get this settled. I was hoping to save my family."

Court previously heard that Chalmers, a former city hall employee, was engaged to a woman named Cecilia three months after Jane Chalmers' death. The two were then married on Oct. 3 that same year. They have two children together.