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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

Crown, cop lied: Stoppel - Claim found 'groundless'

Thomas Sophonow

Two justice officials told the family of murder victim Barbara Stoppel they would introduce false evidence at Thomas Sophonow's third trial indicating she was sexually assaulted, the dead woman's brother states in court documents.

Rick Stoppel made the allegation in testimony behind closed doors on May 1 during Sophonow's wrongful conviction hearing. The public had been barred from the room because lawyers for the two justice officials feared the testimony -- regardless of whether the allegation of misconduct was true -- would damage their reputations.

"I think it's fair to suggest to you, sir, that those of us in the room all know that the media will immediately pound upon and report that allegation, whether it be true or not," Randolph McNicol, lawyer for Crown attorney Stuart Whitley, told commission head Justice Peter Cory.

The in-camera transcripts were released Tuesday after none of the lawyers involved objected to them being made public.

In the closed-door session, Rick Stoppel testified Whitley and lead police investigator Ken Biener told his family evidence would be introduced at Sophonow's third trial indicating Barbara Stoppel was sexually assaulted -- even though officials knew it wasn't true.

"And what reason were you given?" Stoppel's lawyer Jay Prober asked him.

"Two reasons," Stoppel replied. "The first reason was to make Tom's life harder when he was in jail at the time, and after that he was found guilty. The second reason would have been to ensure, or help ensure, that the case was going to be successful this time, not like the other times."

Whitley and Biener told the inquiry the conversation about the sexual assault theory probably happened -- although they couldn't remember it. But both denied they knew it to be false, and certainly would never have resorted to fake evidence to convict Sophonow.

"If I didn't believe it happened I wouldn't have advanced it," Whitley said under in-camera cross examination by Prober on May 9. "I wouldn't say such a thing to these people."

Police investigated the allegation of misconduct at the request of inquiry commissioner Peter de Cory, but found it groundless.

Barbara Stoppel

"It makes no sense that this veteran Crown attorney and police officer would do something both illegal and highly improbable and announce it ahead of time to people who are essentially strangers," McNicol said yesterday.

Biener testified he always believed Barbara Stoppel (right), 16, had been sexually assaulted the night she was killed at a St. Boniface doughnut shop on Dec. 23, 1981.

Whitney said the sexual assault theory was brought up in the third trial based on a review of the evidence, the time Stoppel and the killer were in the washroom and the opinion of the police a sexual assault had taken place.

Prober said yesterday Rick Stoppel's allegation supported the aspect of tunnel vision in the prosecution of Sophonow, who was tried three times for Stoppel's murder and spent almost four years in jail.

Sophonow was exonerated by police last year and is seeking up to $10.2 million in compensation for his ordeal.


Issue of compensation for Thomas Sophonow now in hands of Manitoba judge

WINNIPEG (CP) - The relatives of a teenager murdered in 1981 still suffer from the miscarriage of justice that sent Thomas Sophonow to jail for the killing, their lawyer said Tuesday. "They continue to be victims in this matter," Jay Prober said at the end of a judicial inquiry into Sophonow's wrongful conviction for the murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel.

"The Stoppels have had their confidence and trust in the administration of justice seriously shaken by what they've seen and what they've heard in this inquiry."

Terry Arnold

For one thing, he said they must live with the knowledge that the real killer has escaped justice for almost 20 years.

Winnipeg police have named Terry Arnold in court documents as a suspect, but they have yet to lay any charges. Terry Arnold (right) has said he is innocent of the killing.

Police questioned and dismissed him as a suspect in 1982 because he had an alibi.

Arnold has served time in a British Columbia prison for the murder of Christine Marie Brown, 16, although his conviction was recently overturned by the B.C. Appeal Court and he now faces a new trial.

Sophonow, 47, attended most of the eight-month inquiry - which has already cost the province almost $3 million - but elected to skip the last few days to remain at his Vancouver area home.

His lawyer Lyle Harris said the opening of old wounds has been painful for his client, who has only been able to afford counselling since the Manitoba government started picking up the tab last year.

"I'm kind of hoping that Mr. Sophonow will eventually heal as a result of this (inquiry)," said Harris. He had earlier told Peter Cory, the retired Supreme Court justice who led the inquiry, that it appears Sophonow will need counselling for the rest of his life.

Barbara Stoppel's mother, brother and sister attended the last day of the inquiry.

Rick Stoppel said in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press Tuesday that he's unsure if his family will ever see justice done in the case.

"So much time has passed and witnesses memories have faded and evidence has been destroyed."

Sophonow is seeking between $8.4 million and $10.2 million in compensation from the province for his wrongful conviction and the almost four years he spent in prison.

Prober said the Stoppels also deserve something.

He refused to name a figure and said he's hoping only that Cory will urge the province to at least consider compensation for the family when it pays Sophonow for his ordeal.


Cory must now decide what the province should pay Sophonow

Provincial lawyer Bill Olson claims Sophonow deserves less than $300,000 because his reputation and actions were partly to blame for his fix almost 20 years ago.

Sophonow had a criminal record in 1981 that Olson said justified withholding bail. As well, he kept details of an alibi from police initially and at one point even confessed to the murder, apparently to escape from what he described as a gruelling 412-hour interrogation.

But all involved in the inquiry admit that police and Crown attorneys at Sophonow's three trials made their share of mistakes. The Manitoba Court of Appeal turned Sophonow loose in 1985 because of the many foul-ups, although the province didn't admit his innocence until last June.

Police didn't fully investigate some leads and relied heavily on jailhouse informants who were testifying in exchange for various rewards.

Crown attorneys didn't disclose evidence to defence lawyers that might have helped them keep Sophonow from being convicted twice for the murder. His first jury failed to agree on a verdict.

Lawyer Evan Roitenberg, representing the Association In Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, said the justice system can learn a lot from the mistakes made in the Sophonow case that were revealed during the inquiry.

"It was an eye-opening experience for everybody involved," he said.

"I don't think the commissioner can help but see there was a problem."

Cory said he hopes the report he must write before Sept. 30 can help improve the justice system in the rest of Canada as well as in Manitoba.


Sophonow seeks $10M: Province says wrongly convicted man deserves only $263,000

Thomas Sophonow wants up to $10.2 million for the pain and losses he suffered as a result of a wrongful murder conviction, but the province is prepared to pay only $263,000.

Sophonow's lawyer, Lyle Harris, said his client should be paid between $8.4 million and $10.2 million to compensate him for prison time, emotional suffering and counselling costs associated with being falsely accused of Barbara Stoppel's 1981 murder.

Bill Olson, the lawyer acting on behalf of the province, said Sophonow should receive $263,000 at most for his ordeal because his own behaviour helped put him behind bars.

"It's the reputation the individual has and not the one he wishes he had that the law will protect,'' Olson said, arguing that Sophonow was a petty criminal with a bizarre personality before the wrongful conviction.

He also said Sophonow's case was not handled any differently than any other criminal case at the time.

"There was no attempt by any person or party to cause (Sophonow) undue pain or hardship,'' he said. "While (Sophonow) is deserving of an apology this is not a case which should attract any recommendation of a significant award of compensation."

Harris, however, outlined a different scenario for inquiry commissioner Peter Cory.

As a result of the nearly four years he spent behind bars, Sophonow has suffered from depression, psychotic episodes, family problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Harris said Sophonow should be paid $2 million in general damages and nearly $4 million in punitive damages.

Sophonow should also receive payments to cover interest, lost wages, medical costs and the money his family spent to visit him in prison.

Harris invited Cory to choose between two interest calculations that account for the range in compensation being sought.

In making his submissions, Harris said he was seeking $3,942,000 in punitive damages to account for the misconduct of police officers and Crown attorneys who investigated and prosecuted Sophonow for Stoppel's murder.

"Some of the actions of some of the people made things immeasurably worse for (Sophonow) and contributed to the certainty of his conviction," Harris said.

Harris told Cory that Sophonow needs to be compensated for the fact that the arresting officers lied to him during an initial interrogation in an effort to elicit a confession.

Those same officers acted improperly when they subjected Sophonow to a strip search and invasive body-cavity search midway through the interview, Harris charged.

Police also failed to alert Crown attorneys that Sophonow's alibi involving handing out Christmas stockings to sick children in hospital had essentially checked out.

Sophonow was denied the right to a fair trial, Harris said, because the prosecutors involved in the case did not tell Sophonow's lawyers about information that supported the man's defence.

And, Harris said, police and Crown attorneys were wrong when they used three jailhouse informants to testify against Sophonow at his second and third trials.

One of those informants was blackmailed by police into testifying and another had 26 fraud-related charges dropped in exchange for his testimony against Sophonow.

Harris also noted that after Sophonow was acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1985, high-profile politicians continued to question his innocence.

Bill Norrie, mayor of Winnipeg at the time, then attorney general Roland Penner and Winnipeg's chief of police Herb Stephen all publicly announced they felt the right man had been prosecuted for Stoppel's murder.

"Those comments were the same as saying a guilty man walked,'' said Harris. "They stigmatized him."

But Olson countered that while errors may have been made in the original investigation and prosecution, Sophonow's actions helped seal his fate.

Because Sophonow lied to police and did not quickly disclose his alibi to them, he should not be entitled to any compensation, Olson said.

Olson argued that Sophonow was not granted bail before and between his three trials because he had an old police record for minor offences.

If Cory does decide to compensate Sophonow he should adhere to the existing cap attached to personal-injury claims, Olson said.

At most, Olson said, Sophonow should be given $150,000 in general damages and $113,000 to cover lost earnings.

Olson also conceded Sophonow should receive "several thousand dollars" a year to cover counselling costs.

Manitoba Justice officials announced yesterday that Cory's final report -- originally expected by the end of this month -- will now be tabled by Sept. 30 to allow for delays early in the inquiry associated to the ongoing police investigation of Stoppel's murder.


Jail informants shouldn't be used in trials, lawyer tells Winnipeg inquiry

WINNIPEG (CP) - Jailhouse informants are notorious liars and should almost never be used in criminal prosecutions, the inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Thomas Sophonow was told Thursday.

"It is clear from all who have dealt with them - the rat, as they're affectionately known - that jailhouse informants are inherently unreliable," inquiry counsel Richard Wolson told commissioner Peter Cory.

"Without absolute corroboration, the use of jailhouse informants ought to be abandoned."

Sophonow spent nearly four years in jail, wrongly convicted of the 1981 murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel in Winnipeg. He is but one of many who have been convicted, at least in part, on the evidence of informants who are simply not credible, said Wolson.

Three men testified at Sophonow's various trials that he had confessed to them while in custody. One faced deportation to Hong Kong until police dropped 26 fraud charges against him in exchange for testifying.

When given a lie detector test, the man's eagerness to get out of jail was noted as his main motivation in snitching. The other two informants had testified against numerous cellmates - police threatened to expose one as a rat unless he testified against Sophonow while the other was a convicted perjurer.

Wolson and co-counsel Aaron London made numerous other recommendations, many which would force police to videotape their investigation.

Interviews with suspects, eyewitnesses and anyone who may be able to confirm or deny an alibi should all be taped, preferably on videotape, they said.

Eyewitnesses cause even more miscarriages of justice than informants, the inquiry heard. Many initially have trouble identifying a suspect in a lineup, but end up convinced they've fingered the guilty culprit, said Mel Green of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.

"They appear to be most reliable, the most convincing, the most compelling witnesses at trial," said Green.

"It's that honest self-delusion of their conviction and the rightness of their finger pointing at the accused in the (prisoner's) box that leads to wrongful convictions."

Green argued hat juries should always be told how unreliable eyewitnesses can be, prompting Cory to wonder aloud if too many safeguards would make it impossible to convict anyone.

Four eyewitnesses placed Sophonow at the scene of Stoppel's 1981 murder.

Three failed to positively identify Sophonow in police lineups, but later became key witnesses against him. One still maintains he's the killer.

The fourth witness, who claimed to have chased and grappled with the killer as he fled the doughnut shop where Stoppel was attacked, later identified several men as the murderer, including a newspaper reporter covering the case.

Sophonow has frequently come under attack for being his own worst enemy. He failed to initially disclose his alibi, made damning admissions to police, and hindered efforts of a string of lawyers who defended him.

But Wolson laid the blame of the wrongful conviction squarely on the police and Crown attorneys in the case.

Police knew their eyewitnesses were unreliable, their informants untrustworthy, and that Sophonow had an alibi which seriously undermined their case, he charged.

They bullied Sophonow and hid key information from Crown attorneys, while the Crown failed to inform defence lawyers of critical evidence, said Wolson.

The final stage of the eight-month-long inquiry began with Manitoba's former chief prosecutor heatedly denying charges that he raised sexual assault allegations in Sophonow's third trial, even though he knew he couldn't prove them.

"We did have evidence," said Stu Whitley. "My job was to put forward the argument."

In defending his reputation, Whitley revealed previously sealed evidence from Rick Stoppel, Barbara's brother. Stoppel told the inquiry during in-camera testimony last month that Whitley had admitted he couldn't prove sexual assault allegations but was going to raise them in court anyway.

Whitley suggested Rick Stoppel may have been confused because what he had been told was that there was no evidence Barbara Stoppel invited a sexual attack.


Inquiry must put price on Sophonow suffering: It's time to tally cost of injustice

What is four years behind bars worth for an innocent man in his 20s?

After eight months of testimony exploring how it was that Thomas Sophonow was charged, convicted and jailed for the 1981 murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel, inquiry arguments this week will finally turn to money.

The compensation amounts being sought will likely vary wildly.

On one side are lawyers representing the province of Manitoba, who are expected to argue the pain and suffering, loss of family relationships, loss of liberty and loss of reputation that Sophonow suffered are similar to those endured by workplace or car accident victims.

As a result of the similarities, the province has said compensation payments to Sophonow should be capped at $265,000, according to guidelines established in personal injury claims.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sophonow's lawyers are expected to argue for a dollar amount significantly higher.

The Sophonow inquiry marks the first time in Canadian history where a judge will address the issue of compensation for a wrongful conviction as part of the inquiry process. Usually, compensation is negotiated separately and in private.

As a result, inquiry commissioner Peter Cory's final determination is expected to set a legal precedent that would be used in similar cases in the future.

Jay Prober, the lawyer acting for the Stoppel family, said he may ask Cory, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, to provide compensation to his clients as well.

Lyle Harris, Sophonow's compensation lawyer, would not reveal how much he will ask Cory to award his client, who not only was assaulted in jail but has suffered over the years since his release.

Earlier testimonyin the inquiry likened Sophonow to a prisoner of war. He has suffered mental breakdowns, depression and has required time away from his job as a machinist. His parents died before he was acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1985 and formally exonerated last year.

Harris will also argue Sophonow deserves compensation for the loss of income he incurred as a result of being obsessed with proving his innocence over the last 20 years.

Harris will also ask Cory to consider awarding aggravated or punitive damages to Sophonow as a result of the "egregious conduct" of those involved in his arrest and prosecution.

As well, lawyers involved in the inquiry will use their final submissions to suggest recommendations to improve the justice system.

Sources close to the inquiry said they suspect Cory will ultimately recommend that all police interviews and interrogations be taped. And Cory might also consider recommending that police lineups and photo galleries be administered by officers with no knowledge of who the suspect is to avoid the possibility of influencing witnesses.

Cory may also make recommendations aimed at curbing the use of jailhouse informants.

In recent years, a handful of high-profile victims of wrongful murder convictions have been awarded compensation for their years wrongfully imprisoned and to reimburse them for lost wages, pain and suffering.

[See sidebar for the following stories... and more]

Most recently, David Milgaard -- who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit -- was awarded $10 million in a wrongful-conviction settlement from the Saskatchewan government in 1999.

Donald Marshall Jr., the Nova Scotia native jailed for 11 years for a murder he did not commit, was awarded payments and annuities totalling about $1.1 million.

Guy Paul Morin, wrongly convicted of murdering a nine-year-old Toronto girl, was awarded $1.2 million for his ordeal.

But in each of those cases compensation was determined outside a public inquiry.

Final submissions at the inquiry are set to begin Thursday.