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Explosive: The Mikolajewski Report exposes the shoddy work done on this case and how Jack Ewatski helped block a proper re-investigation to protect a retired inspector and the secrets a warranted search of his premises would reveal.

Thomas Sophonow

City pays $1M for Sophonow compensation

Thomas Sophonow

The Manitoba government will get a cheque in the mail from the City of Winnipeg this week for just over $1 million -- money that stems from the wrongful murder conviction of Thomas Sophonow.

"I think we're quite pleased that the entire matter of Thomas Sophonow and his case has been resolved," Bruce MacFarlane, Manitoba's deputy attorney general, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

A judicial inquiry three years ago awarded Sophonow $2.6 million in compensation for being wrongfully convicted of strangling Barbara Stoppel, 16, at a Winnipeg doughnut shop in 1981.

Following the judicial inquiry by retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, Cory suggested the city should pay half of Sophonow's compensation, the province should pay 40 per cent and the federal government 10 per cent.

The city initially balked at the suggestion it should pay the largest portion of the bill, and negotiations with the other levels of government soon got underway.

By February of 2003, Sophonow received his full compensation, but the Manitoba government paid Winnipeg's share up front. The city indicated it would repay the province after collecting money from its insurance company.

The city put the cheque in the mail last Friday, MacFarlane said.


The Thomas Sophonow story is of great importance to all Canadians. Thomas Sophonow is not the first Canadian to have been framed by lazy police -- who become malicious as they cover up their laziness. There have been a great many murder convictions of innocent Canadians. Each time a Donald Marshall or David Milgaard story hits the news, the refrain is that this is an "isolated case".

Barbara Stoppel

These cases are not isolated. They are part of a trend. And it is not just the police. Prosecutors get into the game -- presenting cases against people they know are innocent -- and then sometimes these cases land in front of a judge who learned his/her ethics as a prosecutor.

Thomas Sophonow has done all Canadians a tremendous service. He has fought for what he himself believed was right every step of the way. He has bravely resisted all efforts to wear him down. Getting the judicial inquiry was a tremendous step forward in this march towards justice. We can be confident that he will stay with this case until justice is finally squeezed out of the stone which is the Canadian Justice system. -- Sheila Steele


Police must release report on Stoppel file

Sophonow commissioner wants lawyers to have access to 'candid' internal review

A "candid" internal police review of the Barbara Stoppel murder investigation must be seen by all involved in the Thomas Sophonow inquiry, commissioner Peter Cory ruled yesterday.

"There can be no doubt (the report is) relevant,'' Cory, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, said from Toronto via a video linkup with lawyers in Winnipeg and Vancouver.

"They are the foundation of this inquiry . . . an essential product for those whose reputations may be at stake."

Barbara Stoppel

Thomas Sophonow spent almost four years in prison for the 1981 murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel (right) before he was released by the courts. He was exonerated by Police Chief Jack Ewatski in June 2000 after a 1998 review of the file by Const. John Burchill, one of three reports under consideration at yesterday's hearing.

Lawyers for the police service and the province argued releasing Burchill's report to inquiry lawyers might derail the ongoing investigation into the new suspect in the murder.

"I don't think there's been a week gone by where I haven't asked for the John Burchill report,'' said commission lawyer Richard Wolson. "The critical point of the inquiry is, what has the re-investigation of the murder turned up? We need to know that and I believe it is contained in the Burchill report."

Police lawyer Marvin Samphir said the report was always meant to remain an internal audit and does not contain information crucial to the inquiry.

He argued that the report was written in a frank and candid way to allow investigators and the chief of police to have a clear picture of where they may have gone wrong.

Samphir said to make it part of evidence would muzzle future cold-case investigators.

"In the future, people in the position of Burchill will be fearful of being candid or of feeling free to put forward their comments to the chief of police,'' he said. "That would be an awful shame."

But after hearing submissions from all lawyers, Cory ruled quickly that the report must be released to all parties at the inquiry within days.

Yesterday's special sitting of the inquiry marks the second time in as many weeks that the Winnipeg Police Service has attempted to put up a roadblock for the inquiry.

On Feb. 26, police asked to have the entire proceedings halted because they feared an inquiry might compromise their ongoing investigation of Terry Arnold, a convicted murderer currently being investigated as the prime suspect in Stoppel's killing.

The second phase of the inquiry -- aimed at uncovering what went wrong during the investigation and conviction of Sophonow -- is to begin March 19.


Ewatski defends review's secrecy

Denies trying to bury info crucial to inquiry

Winnipeg's police chief dismissed claims yesterday he is burying crucial information by attempting to keep an internal review of the Barbara Stoppel murder from being used as evidence at the Thomas Sophonow inquiry.

Police Chief Jack Ewatski

Police Chief Jack Ewatski said yesterday the review -- written by Const. John Burchill after the Winnipeg Police Service reopened Stoppel's murder case in 1998 -- must remain confidential to protect the integrity of future police investigations and strategies.

"It's imperative they aren't brought out into the public,'' he said. "It's not relevant and it wasn't intended to be used in an inquiry or anywhere else."

On Thursday, lawyers involved in the inquiry into Sophonow's wrongful murder conviction in the Stoppel case, approached former Supreme Court justice Peter Cory, who is heading the inquiry, asking him to order that the Burchill report be handed over.

Lawyers for the police service argued that releasing the contents of the report would make it difficult to conduct internal audits of investigations in the future because investigators will feel less free to be candid about problems with cases.

Cory disagreed and ruled the report forms much of the basis on which police exonerated Sophonow last June, so it must form part of the evidence at the inquiry.

Ewatski said he and police service lawyers are considering whether to appeal Cory's ruling.

"If we do appeal, it will be based on the relevance of the report and the need to keep it confidential," he said, adding the service has only until Monday to determine whether to challenge the ruling.

Ewatski said the inquiry is free to call its own witnesses and evidence in order to reach a conclusion as to what went wrong with the 1982 investigation of Sophonow.

He said he expects Cory to delve into the investigation and the whole process that worked to convict Sophonow twice and send him to jail for Stoppel's murder for nearly four years.

"That's their (the inquiry's) role,'' he said. "I have no problem with that. We're not trying to hide anything, but we feel strongly that this report is not necessary to that process."

The second phase of the inquiry, aimed at uncovering what went wrong during the investigation and conviction of Sophonow, is to begin March 19.


Sophonow suggests putting his lawyer beyond his reach at Winnipeg inquiry

WINNIPEG (CP) - Thomas Sophonow, whose problems with lawyers have become legend, suggested Tuesday he shouldn't be directing the next one set to represent him at an inquiry into his wrongful conviction.

Instead, he suggested lawyer Peter Wilson be appointed to act for him but as a friend of the court, so that he would not have to take direction from Sophonow if they disagreed. "I need his attention and his energy channelled at the issue at hand," Sophonow said after returning to testify for a second time at the hearings.

"I'd be really a hindrance to him."

Wilson is supposed to represent Sophonow as the inquiry probing why he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit moves into its next phase starting March 12.

Sophonow, a British Columbia man, was tried three times, convicted twice and spent almost four years in prison for the 1981 murder of Winnipeg waitress Barbara Stoppel before he was set free by the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

Sophonow noted the problems that surfaced repeatedly with Lyle Harris, who has represented him at the inquiry's first phase dealing with the issue of compensation. It wraps up this week.

"Over the last couple of months since this started, there has been a great deal of stress between myself and Lyle . . . You don't know how many times I fired him. I fire him, my wife hires (him.)"

Harris and inquiry counsel Richard Wolson both tried to talk Sophonow out of distancing himself from Wilson.

Retired Supreme Court justice Peter Cory, who is heading the inquiry, also asked Sophonow to think the matter over carefully before making his decision final. The issue may not be resolved publicly until the inquiry resumes in March.

Earlier at the inquiry, Sophonow's scorn and anger at lawyers who represented and prosecuted him at his three trials boiled over frequently. He confessed he has little use for lawyers in general.

As the compensation phase of the hearings winds down - submissions were expected to conclude Tuesday - Harris made a pitch for a generous lump sum payment.

"There's no law that says Thomas Sophonow should be compensated," he said. "All we have are the conscience of society and a sense of what is right and what is just."

Harris didn't provide a specific figure. He said he would do that at a later date.

Some of his calculations hinge on what emerges at the next phase of the inquiry, which will look at the conduct of police and justice officials, but Harris said compensation will help more than just Sophonow and his family.

"There will be closure for the entire province and indeed the entire country."

As for government lawyers who suggest compensating Sophonow would "open the floodgates," Harris said the facts are so specific that is unlikely.

"Our common sense tells us that this is a very exceptional case."

A lawyer representing the City of Winnipeg urged Cory to apply the same cap on Sophonow's compensation that's applied to personal injury claims.

Canada has legal precedents that strictly limit general damages for things that can't be quantified. It's sometimes referred to as the $100,000 rule, although inflation has raised the amount to closer to $300,000 today.

David Milgaard (right) has received the record payment so far in Canada for someone who was wrongly convicted.

The Saskatchewan and federal governments agreed to pay $10 million for the 23 years he spent in prison for the murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller. His innocence was eventually proved by DNA evidence.

Another man, Larry Fisher (right), was convicted in 1999 of the killing but is appealing his conviction.


Sophonow inquiry resumes

WINNIPEG - A public inquiry is scheduled to resume Monday to determine how much money Thomas Sophonow should get for being wrongfully convicted - twice - of murder.

The B.C. man, now 47, spent nearly four years in prison after being found guilty of strangling a Winnipeg teenager in 1981.

He was finally acquitted in 1985 and then released, but his name was not officially cleared until six months ago when the police announced that they had a new suspect.

The hearing, which began in November, is reviewing Sophonow's ordeal - including his arrest, prosecution at three trials, and imprisonment, as well as his shattered life after being released.

It's also looking at the way police officers and Crown attorneys handled the case, especially the way questionable testimony was obtained from prison informants.

"He's been through a tremendous ordeal, he has suffered greatly," says Richard Wolson, the inquiry's lawyer.

When the hearing began, Sophonow testified for two weeks, describing in detail how the wrongful conviction ruined his life.

He said he's had to cope with everything from stress-related medical problems to the humiliation and frustration caused by people who still think he's guilty.

Several psychiatric experts are now preparing to offer their opinions about his condition, and what they think he's owed in compensation.

Lawyers say it's the first time in Canadian history that an inquiry has been asked to determine how much cash to give someone wrongfully convicted of murder.


Hearing will decide compensation for Sophonow

WINNIPEG - Thomas Sophonow, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 murder, fought back tears as he testified at an inquiry that will decide how much to compensate him for his ordeal.

Sophonow served four years in jail for the murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel before he was exonerated this year.

Sophonow, who now lives in Vancouver, testified for more than four hours on Tuesday. He said that while he was being interrogated by police, he became convinced that he strangled Stoppel.

Sophonow said the two officers suggested he had blacked out and killed the girl at a doughnut shop during a short visit to Winnipeg.

He said they told him his fingerprints were in the shop and five witnesses could identify him. Sophonow testified he just wanted the intense interrogation to stop.

He added that his repeated requests for a lawyer were ignored.

Winnipeg police apologized to Sophonow in June.

Police have identified a man serving out a murder sentence in B.C. as a suspect in the case.


Evidence misused: lawyers:
Tunnel vision plagued case

Thomas Sophonow fell victim to a pernicious virus that can plague criminal investigations and prosecutions -- tunnel vision, said two top defence lawyers.

"Tunnel vision occurs when you get an exaggeration of evidence that supports the case of the Crown and the police investigation and a downplaying of what doesn't," veteran criminal lawyer Hersh Wolch said.

This "closed-mindedness" is evident, he said, in many cases that have resulted in wrongful convictions, such as Sophonow and David Milgaard.

Milgaard was convicted in the 1969 murder of Gail Miller. He spent 23 years in prison before the Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict.

DNA testing proved Milgaard didn't rape a 20-year-old nursing aide in Saskatoon, Wolch said.

But investigators, convinced of Milgaard's guilt, said it was possible Larry Fisher had raped her and Milgaard killed her afterwards.

"That's a classic example of tunnel vision, where evidence that points in one direction is forced in another," Wolch said.

Sophonow's three trials were riddled with examples of tunnel vision, said lawyer Greg Brodsky, who represented him in the 1983 trial.

Winnipeg police originally fingered Sophonow for the 1981 slaying of Barbara Stoppel. He was tried three times for second-degree murder -- the first trial ended in a hung jury, and the other two ended with guilty verdicts. The Manitoba Court of Appeal ruled the guilty verdicts couldn't stand and said he could not be retried for homicide.

Yesterday, any doubt of Sophonow's innocence was dispelled when Winnipeg police said he wasn't responsible for Stoppel's death. Sophonow spent 45 months in jail for the crime he didn't commit.

"What I still find so sad about all this is that it took so long," Brodsky said.

Brodsky said a side effect of tunnel vision in this case was the Crown's reliance on jailhouse informants.

"The use of jailhouse informants is a terrible, terrible way to secure a conviction. How can information from someone who has an obvious interest in the outcome be considered reliable?" he said.

Brodsky and Wolch praised the Winnipeg Police Service for having the "courage" to reopen the case and expose some of its "warts" to the public.


Sophonow …continued