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Vigilante Tidsbury's soft ride to retirement

Defence says police committed perjury during murder trial of Shannon Murrin, one of several problems with Crown's case

RCMP Sgt Gary Tidsbury

VANCOUVER (CP) -- The lead officer investigating eight-year-old Mindy Tran's murder lied while he testified at the accused killer's trial, the defendant's lawyer said Thursday. "Somebody in the RCMP picked up the Bible and lied and the defence suggests that (RCMP Sgt. Gary) Tidsbury was untruthful in his testimony and he got caught," said Peter Wilson in his final arguments.

Wilson told the jury at the first-degree murder trial of Shannon Murrin that the police investigation was biased and involved "dishonest police officers." He also said some evidence was tampered with and DNA evidence was contaminated. The charge against the 49-year-old Newfoundland native came three years after eight-year-old Mindy disappeared while looking for a playmate in Kelowna, 450 kilometres east of Vancouver, in August 1994. Her body was found two months later in a park, buried in a shallow grave.

Crown discounts defence theory of police bias in Mindy Tran investigation

VANCOUVER (CP) -- The defence theory that RCMP investigators conspired against accused murderer Shannon Murrin is a red herring and the jury only needs to view all the evidence with common sense, the Crown said Friday. "The real issue is who killed Mindy Tran, not what happened on the night of Jan. 5," Crown prosecutor Josiah Wood said in his closing argument. Wood was referring to a major part of the defence's theory and its closing argument -- that the police were biased and conspired in their investigation to get a murder charge against Murrin. Murrin, 49, was charged three years after Mindy disappeared while looking for a playmate in Kelowna, 450 kilometres east of Vancouver, in August 1994.

Her body was found two months later in a park, buried in a shallow grave. The defence contends Murrin did not have time to commit the murder and was with friends at the crucial time. It also says lead RCMP investigator Sgt. Gary Tidsbury, since retired, lied on the witness stand about events leading up to the Jan. 5, 1995, beating of Murrin in a park by three of Murrin's acquaintances.

Integrity of detachment defended

Hindsight has proven to be 20-20 for investigators probing how the Mindy Tran murder investigation was handled.

RCMP officials admit that a review of how the case was handled was carried out using criteria not in use in Kelowna at the time.

"That may be a little unfair to the officers involved," said RCMP spokesman Const. Garth Letcher, "but we want to learn from this and move on."

According to police, the Canadian Police College's Major Crime Investigative Techniques course and the Major Crime Management course were introduced in March, 1994, five months before eight-year-old Mindy disappeared from her Rutland home.

Her body was found in Mission Creek Park in October of that year.

A drifter from Newfoundland, Shannon Murrin, was charged with her murder in January, 1997 and acquitted January 2000 by a B.C. Supreme Court jury in Vancouver following one of the longest and most expensive murder trials in B.C. legal history.

The latest report, which reviewed every piece of paper and every piece of evidence associated with the investigation-enough to fill 11 full-sized filing cabinets -determined mistakes were made handling the case that threw the integrity of the investigation into question.

According to police, old-style investigative techniques were used by local officers in the case. The new techniques did not start being taught here until 1995.

Based on that, the current officer in charge of the Kelowna detachment, Insp. Don Harrison, is standing by his officers, both past and present.

Harrison said based on the standards of the day, the Kelowna investigators did a very good job.

And despite the report's criticisms of the way they handled the investigation, Harrison said he stands by the investigators some of whom, like lead investigator Sgt. Gary Tidsbury, quit the force before Murrin was acquitted.

"Two reports have been released that indicate we did a quality job," said Harrison, putting his own spin on the Alberta RCMP report that blames investigators and senior RCMP officers for compromising the integrity of the investigation.

Harrison was not stationed in Kelowna in 1994 when Mindy disappeared.

Calling the administrative review a validation of the local officers' work, he also pointed to the recently released report by Victoria police that looked at allegations of witness-coaching by the RCMP in connection to the Murrin trial and allegations that information was withheld from Murrin's lawyers.

That report says there was not enough evidence to make a case in either allegation.

Harrison said the public should have confidence in the local RCMP as it investigates crimes such as the recent murder of a young woman in Kelowna's north end.

There are, however, several murders in Kelowna that remain unsolved.

"I think the public has confidence in the RCMP and this community thinks we do an outstanding job," said Harrison. He added that, despite the claim in the review report that a rift among officers stemming from the Tran murder investigation existed as recently as April 2000, he is not aware of any rift now.

And unless any new evidence comes forward, the Tran case is closed.

As far as Harrison is concerned, he agrees with detachment officials who have previously said they believe the right person was charged despite the jury's decision to acquit Shannon Murrin.

Censored report on Tran murder investigation is released to media

One of the internal investigative reports that clears the Kelowna RCMP of any legal wrongdoing in the Mindy Tran investigation has finally been released to the media.

Kelowna RCMP Supt. Don Harrison told the Capital News last November that the report had exonerated the local detachment of allegations of witness tampering and withholding of evidence.

But the report was not released to the media at that time despite freedom of information applications from the Capital News to see the report.

On Monday, the report was released in a heavily censored format, with all third party names referred to in the report blanked out to protect their privacy rights under the the Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

A final investigation into the handling of this case, an administrative file review by senior RCMP staff in Alberta, has yet to be released.

Tran disappeared Aug. 17,1994, and was last seen placing her bike on the front lawn of a home near her Taylor Street residence and walking towards the front door.

She was never seen again until her body was discovered Oct. 11 in Mission Creek Park.

Shannon Murrin, who was staying as a guest at the house Tran was last seen approaching, was eventually charged with her murder and was acquitted of the charges following a trial in February 2000.

The fallout from that verdict raised several allegations both from a VTV television news report and Murrin's legal counsel about how the case was handled by the lead investigator, former Staff. Sgt. Gary Tidsbury.

Among the allegations were of evidence being intentionally destroyed, discrepancies about where Tran's bike was found and that a jailhouse informant and proven liar was used to testify in the trial.

The informant said Murrin told him while both were incarcerated that he carried out the crime

It was also alleged that police turned a blind eye while allowing three friends of Murrin to try and beat a confession out of him at Mission Park and that one Kelowna officer on the case admitted privately to a superior that he had done something wrong during the course of the Tran investigation that he could go to jail for.

All of those accusations were addressed in the report and determined to be absent of any legal wrongdoing.

"In considering all the facts surrounding the allegation of the parties involved, we, the investigators are of the opinion that there is no substantive evidence that would indicate any turth or validity to the allegations set forth," states the final conclusion of the report.

RCMP conduct in Murrin case stays a secret

The RCMP has again nixed the public release of a report into key aspects of Kelowna detachment's handling of evidence in the case against Shannon Murrin, who was accused of killing eight-year-old Mindy Tran in 1994.

The department was absolved of any wrongdoing by a criminal investigation prepared by Victoria Police Department and local officers say they would prefer the report was made public to clear the air.

RCMP censors in Ottawa refused to give the Capital News any information earlier this year, saying the report was the VPD's, not theirs. Victoria police said in February they would release most of an executive summary but it was delayed while the RCMP censored it.

Now, a letter from VPD disclosure analyst Debra Taylor says that blacking out parts of the report has "rendered it incomprehensible" and it wouldn't be released.

Taylor refused to say why the report was so heavily censored.

Les Rose, a lawyer for the RCMP said his department has little power to force another department to release or not release information.

He called the process, which in this case was the investigators asking the investigated to approve release of a report, "a consultative courtesy."

Pedophile-Snitch Doug Martin

Convicted pedophile-turned-snitch Doug Martin dubbed 'Father Confessor' who Police used dozens of times including to convict Thomas Sophonow and Shannon Murrin

The investigation was based on allegations from some media and Murrin's lawyer that a witness statement which claimed evidence contrary to the findings of the RCMP investigation into Shannon Murrin never materialized.

The witness said she saw Mindy's bike on the road-not on Murrin's lawn.

The Victoria Police Department investigation also looked at conversations between Doug Martin, a jailhouse informant and former Staff Sgt. Gary Tidsbury.

Martin testified that Murrin admitted to the crime.

Despite that, Murrin was found not guilty of murdering Mindy.

Review critical of RCMP

An internal review of the 1994 Mindy Tran murder investigation has slammed the Kelowna RCMP for its handling of the case.

The review, by a team of 14 Alberta RCMP officers led by Insp. Ray Ambler of the southern Alberta major crimes unit, said the investigation lacked a "formal case management system that ensured a quality and a timely investigation through proper management supervision, direction and accountability.

"The review team found that the investigation was not well structured and that lack of a case management system contributed to the loss of the best evidence through time delay and poor technique," states the report.

But while it says the handing of the investigation alone was not enough to put the case against the man accused of the murder in jeopardy, coupled with the actions of some investigators the report says it caused the case to fail.

"There were a few, whose bad judgment, loss of objectivity and a failure to live up to one's duty as a member of the RCMP, contributed to the downfall of this file," says the report.

"The absence of a cohesive team approach, compounded by a lack of an objective overview and a lack of shared vision by (the) detachment and senior management, served to further impede the resolution of the problems unidentified in this review."

The individual officers were not identified in the heavily censored report by the privacy commissioner's office that was released to the media on Tuesday.

Shannon Murrin

Shannon Murrin was acquitted of the murder of eight-year-old Mindy Tran of Rutland in January 2000, five years after the little girl's body was found in a shallow grave in Mission Creek Park.

She disappeared Aug. 17, 1994, sparking a huge search throughout the community.

Murrin, who was first identified by the RCMP as its prime suspect before being charged, was staying at a nearby house at the time of Mindy's disappearance.

Mindy Tran's website states: "Murrin is a monstrous child killer; not the lovable falsely accused rogue"

Despite the acquittal, the Kelowna RCMP continue to maintain that the right person was charged and say the case is now closed.

On Tuesday, the police took the unusual step of releasing the internal police report to the media, holding a technical briefing and a press conference.

While many parts of the report are deleted, what's left still paints an unflattering picture of an investigation that was found to be poorly handled from the start.

"The downfall of this case was the integrity of the investigation," says the report. "Defense at trial was able to successfully attack the integrity of the investigation and thereby weaken the evidence to the point that the jury arrived at a verdict of not guilty."

One of the biggest problems was the beating of Murrin by three men described by RCMP spokesman Cpl. Grant Learned as controlled by the police. While the trio claimed they were put up to the beating by investigators, subsequent investigations into the incident showed police were not directly involved and no disciplinary or criminal action was ever taken.

The review team said the integrity question centred on the beating and how it was handled by senior officers in Kelowna.

The report says the lead investigator, Sgt. Gary Tidsbury, should have been removed from that position at that time. Tidsbury has since retired from the force and is living in Alberta.

"The action taken by senior management was not adequate. They failed to ensure the integrity of the investigation by dealing quickly and decisively with the issues that the beating raised," the report says.

As a result, says the report, the rift developed within the local RCMP, including among plain-clothes general investigation officers and among uniformed officers. The schism was still observed in April 2000, five years later.

"At a time when team work and cooperation were needed most,the detachment fragmented into acrimonious division," says the review team's report.

It goes on to say that there is also evidence to suggest that actions taken by senior officers in respect to other officers, served to only "further destroy team cohesion, certain individuals and to further intensify the problems."

Neither the individual officers nor the senior officers are identified in uncensored portions of the report released to the media.

While the report is critical of the way the investigation was handled, it says there was no lack of hard work, dedication and investigative skill by some officers involved in the case.

But incidents like the washing of clothing evidence, not taping all critical interviews, not disclosing all information to or seeking input from the Crown prosecutors, and delaying photographic line-ups all impacted on the case.

Despite the report's findings, the current Kelowna detachment commander, Insp. Don Harrison, who was not stationed in Kelowna at the time of the Tran murder investigation, called the report a validation of what was done right in the investigation.

Harrison said he has the highest regard for all the officers associated with the case.

Harrison would not be drawn into criticizing the report's authors for their comments about individuals as opposed to the investigation itself.

Of the report's 23 recommendations, he said all have been adopted by the Kelowna detachment.

However, because of the privacy office censoring of the report, none of the recommendations were made public.

Learned called the Tran murder the "single most demanding challenge faced by officers at the Kelowna detachment."

"As one of the officers put it, we were handed a bomb with the fuse already lit," said Learned.

Both he and Harrison said the public should have confidence in the abilities of the RCMP despite the criticisms contained in the report.

They said the public should recognize the fact the report was made public, albeit in censored form, is evidence the RCMP have learned from this particular investigation and are ready to move on.

Local RCMP spokesman Const. Garth Letcher said the Tran family was informed of the report's findings but declined to comment.