ST. JOHN'S, NFLD - A childhood friend of Gregory Parsons will be charged Monday with murdering Parsons' mother.
Catherine Carroll was found dead in her home in 1991. Parsons was convicted of killing her, but later cleared through DNA testing.
Last Friday, police arrested another man for Catherine Carroll's murder. Brian Doyle, 31, was picked up in Ontario.
Sources says Doyle and Parsons knew each other well. They were childhood friends who lived in the same neighbourhood in St. John's.
The following statement was issued today (November 5, 1998) by Chris Decker, Newfoundland Minister of Justice, at a news conference held at Confederation Building:
Today an acquittal has been entered at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland in the murder charge against Gregory Parsons. Based upon further investigation and the results of DNA analysis received in the past 10 days, investigators and officials responsible for the prosecution of this case are now fully satisfied that Mr. Parsons did not have any involvement in the killing of his mother, Catherine Carroll.
I will take just a moment to give you a brief history of this case. In 1991, Mr. Parsons was charged with the murder of his mother. In 1994, he was convicted by a judge and jury and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent a total of 68 days in jail. Subsequently, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal overturned his conviction and a new trial was ordered. Before that trial, new DNA methodology allowed previously untested samples of evidence to be tested.
The results of the new DNA tests indicated that the samples had not come from Mr. Parsons. The Crown then entered a stay of proceedings while further investigation and DNA testing was undertaken by police to provide further clarification. As a result of those tests and investigation, police and prosecutors have concluded, on the basis of the evidence now available, that Mr. Parsons is innocent.
As Minister of Justice, and on behalf of government and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, I wish to offer sincere apologies to Gregory Parsons and his family for the disruption to their lives and the extreme anguish they have had to endure over the past eight years.
Government has requested retired Supreme Court Justice Nathaniel Noel to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of the investigation and prosecution in this case.
In undertaking his review Judge Noel will have the full cooperation of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Office of the Crown Prosecutor, and full access to all police and Crown prosecution records. As well, he can receive such submissions and conduct such enquiries as he sees fit.
Judge Noel has also been asked to recommend whether government should pay compensation to Mr. Parsons, and if so, to indicate what constitutes appropriate compensation. Government will make a decision on this issue when it receives Judge Noel's report. Judge Noel's report will be made public.
In conclusion, I would again like to apologize to Mr. Parsons for all he has been through in the last eight years.
Almost five years after a horrified Gregory Parsons was convicted of killing his own mother, Newfoundland authorities intend to exonerate him today at an unpublicized special court proceeding in St. John's. The 26-year-old will be acquitted on the basis of DNA evidence, putting him in the burgeoning ranks of the wrongly convicted, defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy said yesterday. The DNA test result arrived last winter, on the eve of a retrial ordered by the Newfoundland Court of Appeal.
The test proved that blood found on a towel at the murder scene and under the fingernails of victim Catherine Carroll did not come from her son.
But a stay of proceedings at the time left Mr. Parsons under a continuing cloud of suspicion. Rejected in his community as an unemployable, dangerous pariah, he embarked on a legal fight to win exoneration. It has been a horrible situation," he said in an interview yesterday. "I felt like a monster. There are people in this city who are afraid of me. It is a terrible thing to have people afraid of you." Mr. Parsons said his wife, Tina, lost her job soon after his conviction, and he has lived in fear of not seeing his three-year-old son grow up.
In a stroke of good fortune, Mr. Parsons spent only three months behind bars, coupled with six months of virtual house arrest. This was the result of a highly unusual decision by the Newfoundland Court of Appeal to grant him bail pending his appeal and retrial. Still, Mr. Parsons was prohibited from leaving the province to look for work. His attempts to start small businesses failed. And scores of job applications failed to get him a single interview, forcing his family onto welfare. "It got to the point where I couldn't walk through a mall," Mr. Parsons said. "People would point and stare. I have always been a fighter, but after all this, I am a very tired person right now. Once I have that acquittal in my hand, the comfort level will go up." He said he will seek compensation for hundreds of thousands of dollars that his family and friends have sunk into his defence. He also hopes there will be a public inquiry to help prevent more miscarriages of justice.
His ordeal began Jan. 2, 1991, when he found his mother dead in the bathroom of her home with numerous stab wounds to her face, head and upper torso. He rushed outside, screaming to his wife that his mother was dead. Mr. Parsons spoke to police and readily provided hair samples, but became a leading suspect within 24 hours. A week later, he was charged with first-degree murder. His four-month trial in 1994 consisted of a parade of more than 30 witnesses who recalled Mrs. Carroll voicing fears that her son some day would stab her to death. Some recalled her saying he had punched her or threatened her.
The defence explanation for this was that Mrs. Carroll was a lonely alcoholic who abused prescription drugs and would say practically anything that would bring her attention. "What we had was a man being convicted on rumour, innuendo and gossip," Mr. Kennedy said. "It was referred to at the trial as 'hearsay from the hearse.' "
Mr. Parsons was emphatic yesterday that he "never laid a hand on my mother." He said that as a single mother she did her best to raise him and his brother despite having few financial or emotional resources. There was turmoil in their relationship, he conceded, and it became more pronounced as his mother's mental balance eroded. "My mother was a very lonely woman. I'm not knocking her, but she simply wasn't up to par." In a remarkable mid-trial event, jurors sent a note to the trial judge expressing concern about a bloody footprint they had spotted in a photograph of the crime scene. A police witness examined the photograph, later testifying the print was made by an RCMP officer's boot. The defence refuted this by calling a former FBI agent to say it came from neither an RCMP officer nor from Mr. Parsons. The Crown had no eyewitnesses, no murder weapon, no physical evidence and no self-incriminating statements.
Its only other evidence was a tape of a song that Mr. Parsons -- a would-be rock drummer -- had co-written in 1988 with a group of shaggy friends. It was titled Kill, Kill, Kill and included the lyrics: "Kill your fuckin' mother, kill your fuckin' father. Stab once. Stab twice. Kill your parents. Ha, ha, ha, ha."
When Mr. Parsons's conviction was eventually overturned in late 1996, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal said the song was unduly prejudicial. It also noted evidence that it was a rather typical example of "trash music" and was written by Mr. Parsons and his friends as a lark. The court also concluded that the sheer bulk of repetitious hearsay dominating the case was highly prejudicial and could easily have overwhelmed the jury.
In his legal bid to have the stay of proceedings set aside, Mr. Kennedy referred to it as "oppressive, abusive and founded on improper motives." He said yesterday he has not changed his mind. "They expected Mr. Parsons to be very happy, say 'Thank you' and go home."
At the same time, Mr. Kennedy and lawyer Robert Simmonds -- who represented Mr. Parsons at his first trial -- praised the Crown for finally agreeing to acquit their client. "If they also apologize, it will show significant gumption and fortitude," Mr. Simmonds said in an interview. "It would mean a great deal to Mr. Parsons." Mr. Kennedy said the acquittal would be a personal vindication for Mr. Simmonds, who was so convinced of his client's innocence that the conviction crushed him. "Bob Simmonds had to take three months off after the conviction," Mr. Kennedy said. "He didn't even know if he was going to practice criminal law any more. The system certainly [wreaks] havoc on an accused and his family and friends, but as lawyers we are not immune to the emotional devastation." Mr. Kennedy said a crucial lesson arising from the miscarriage of justice is that the Supreme Court of Canada made a terrible mistake several years ago when it interfered with hundreds of years of jurisprudence to allow a broad spectrum of hearsay evidence to be admissible in a trial.
He said the Parsons case shows how unreliable such evidence can be and how unfair it is when the purported source is dead and cannot be cross-examined.
We aren't referring to the case of Richard Ryan, the dangerous sexual offender who was supposed to be shackled and guarded by two officers while on escorted release, and instead was left unshackled and guarded by only one officer -- at which point he escaped. (To general relief, he was recaptured Monday after 25 days at large.) That was the product of a monumental goof by Newfoundland's Corrections Department.
No, the greater problem seems to be systemic. As The Globe's Kirk Makin reported yesterday, a province that prosecutes about four murder cases a year has seen three of them collapse in the past two years.
In 1998, Gregory Parsons, who had been convicted in 1994 of the 1991 murder of his mother, was officially exonerated after DNA samples proved he wasn't the killer. Three months ago, the jury in a retrial found Ronald Dalton not guilty of the murder of his wife in 1988, a crime for which he had spent 8 years in prison. On Wednesday of this week, the Crown stayed a murder charge against Randy Druken, who was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend.
Mr. Parsons was convicted on the hearsay evidence of people who said his mother had worried that he might one day kill her. There was no physical evidence; there were no witnesses or incriminating statements. An independent commissioner found that a constable in the case had "conducted himself in a manner that can best be described as overzealous and devoid of police professionalism." Even when the DNA evidence cleared Mr. Parsons in February of 1998, prosecutors merely stayed the proceedings against him; it took another nine months for the cloud to be officially lifted.
Ronald Dalton won his acquittal after two forensic experts testified that his wife, far from being strangled to death, choked to death on food. They raised questions about the way the forensic pathologist at the first trial had conducted his investigation.
Randy Druken received his stay after DNA tests found that a cigarette that burned a hole at the murder scene was not his. The Newfoundland Court of Appeal had earlier ordered a retrial because a key witness recanted his testimony, saying the police had bullied him into lying.
Gregory Parsons is now suing the police and the province. Mr. Dalton said in June that he would call for a public inquiry into his case. Mr. Druken is left under the cloud of his stay (which means the charge will remain live for another year) instead of receiving the acquittal his circumstances appear to warrant.
As well as reminding us of the wisdom of not executing prisoners, these cases must have Newfoundlanders wondering what flaws in the provincial justice system produced these three injustices, and how many other injustices have yet to see the light. An independent public inquiry stands the best chance of finding out.