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Morin trial raises questions of fairness in judicial system

the guy-paul morin story

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By Donna Laframboise, Toronto Star, 3 August 1992

Donna Laframboise

Suppose you're going about your business one day, when suddenly the police arrive, arrest you, and charge you with murder.

Suppose you're then refused bail and spend the next mine months in jail. After a five week trial, you are acquitted by a jury and think your nightmare is over.

But it isn't. Two-and-a-half years later, the Supreme Court rules that the judge who heard your case erred while giving instructions to the jury. In a rare move, it orders a retrial.

suppose your second trial reveals:

  • that the Ontario government's Centre of Forensic Science has lost over 200 slides of hair and fibre samples connected to your case;
  • that a cigarette butt submitted as evidence at your first trial was planted by police. This is formally admitted by the Crown, which concedes that the one actually retrieved from the murder scene can't be located;
  • that five months after the victim's body was discovered and police searched the area, the victim's family found more of her bones at the site;
  • that the province's chief pathologist failed to detect a number of significant injuries when he performed the autopsy. These were only discovered during a second autopsy - which was made necessary largely because proper records weren't kept the first time;
  • that a hair, similar to your own, which was found on the victim also matches samples taken from two other people. But these samples weren't even examined by the lab until long after your first trial was over;
  • that a button discovered near the body is now missing;
  • that crucial wiretap tapes have been erased by police;
  • that the senior officer responsible for collecting and maintaining the physical evidence was charged with perjury and obstructing justice in connection to your first trial. However, the charges were stayed due to his poor health.

Suppose it's your life hanging in the balance. And that, despite all of these appalling irregularities, the second jury finds you guilty.

This is what has happened to Guy-Paul Morin, who was convicted last week of murdering his 9-year-old next door neighbour, Christine Jessop, in 1984.

I know it's unwise to second-guess a jury, to criticize from afar a decision that followed a nine-month trial, eight days of deliberation, and was doubtless made in good conscience by decent, honest people. But something feels terribly wrong here.

This case has revealed shameful inadequacies in the day-to-day operation of our criminal justice system. Many of the police and associated personnel have come out looking downright incompetent. They seem not to be very concerned about the fact that theirs isn't just any job. That when they get careless, the innocent may be convicted and murderers may go free.

To be fair, the judge specifically told jurors that it wasn't their responsibility to establish guidelines for criminal investigations. Their role was simply to decide Guy-Paul Morin's guilt or innocence.

But now that the jury has made its decision, some hard questions remain:

  • How and why has so much evidence disappeared?
  • If police missed a number of the victim's bones at the murder scene, what else did they miss?
  • Why did the lab not examine all the samples it received?
  • Since the criminal charges against the police officer haven't been pursued, how do we know the extent to which the evidence has been tampered with? How do we know, for example, that evidence which might have cleared Morin was not disregarded or even deliberately destroyed?
  • And, most important, can a person be said to have received a fair trial under these circumstances?

As long as these issues remain outstanding, we should all pray that we're never accused of having committed a serious crime in this country.