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Evidence hangs by a thread

the guy-paul morin story

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By Donna Laframboise, Toronto Star, 2 November 1992

Donna Laframboise

This is a column about laundromats. Those of us who use public laundromats know it isn't unusual to find strange pieces of lint or hair on our clothing; that sometimes bits of fluff remain in the washers or dryers and then get transferred to whatever garments are put in next.

While this is a trivial matter, it can nevertheless be a crucial factor in criminal investigations. One of the ways in which suspects are connected to crimes is through hairs and fibres. If fuzz from a sweater owned by the accused has been deposited on the victim's clothing, or if a couple of hairs clinging to the slacks of the accused are similar to the victim's, this is considered significant evidence in a court of law.

In the eight years since Guy-Paul Morin was first arrested for the murder of his 9-year-old neighbour, Christine Jessop, hairs and fibres have been central to the largely circumstantial case against him. In the opinion of Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences, five of the more than 800 fibres collected from the Morin family car and home are similar to five of the nearly 400 fibres removed from the victim's clothing.

It's worth noting that these findings were disputed by a U.S. forensic expert called by the defence. But even if there are five similar fibres, any scientist worthy of the name must still ask how else they could have got where they did. Are there any other logical explanations?

In this case, we know that the Morin and Jessop families were in contact with one another. That Morin's father accompanied the Jessops, in their car, to help them search for their daughter. That Morin's parents paid the Jessops a condolence visit after Christine was buried. That Morin himself assisted the Jessops with their furnace. All of these occasions provided an opportunity for miscellaneous fibres to be transferred back and forth between the families.

But perhaps even more significant, is the fact that the Morins and the Jessops used the same laundromat. While Morin's lawyers have suggested that this makes any fibre matches meaningless, the forensic analyst responsible for the case has disagreed. Under oath she has repeatedly dismissed as remote the possibility that the fibres were transferred from one family to the other via the laundromat.

“hairs or fibres aren't likely to be "of much value"”

This is indeed curious. Because, less than two weeks ago, the director of the forensic centre wrote a letter to a Toronto lawyer (about an unrelated case, involving a resident of a penitentiary) in which he says the centre refused to examine certain articles of clothing because "inmates use common equipment to do laundry." In the letter, Douglas Lucas says that any hairs or fibres aren't likely to be "of much value" because of this fact.

Surely there's a blatant contradiction here. Are shared laundry facilities an important scientific consideration or not?

But matters don't end here. The issue of the laundromat was first raised in court by Morin's lawyers on January 22, 1986. A police officer has testified that, on the following day, he conducted a test in the laundromat shared by the Jessops and the Morins on the instructions of the crown attorney, John Scott.

Having been provided with a red angora sweater as well as clothing similar to the victim's, the police officer first washed and dried the sweater on its own. Then, using the same machines, he washed and dried the other clothing. This test revealed an unmistakable transfer of lint from the sweater to the other items. The officer reported his findings, but was never called to testify about them.

In fact, despite frequent requests from Morin's lawyers that the prosecution share all of its information, this incident never came to light until May of 1990 when - prior to the beginning of the second trial - the defence methodically grilled numerous police officers who'd worked on the case.

This, then, is the length to which the prosecution was apparently willing to go in order to convict Guy-Paul Morin. They conduct a fibre transfer test. They discover that laundromat transfer is not only possible but probable. Then they suppress the information.

Do you suppose, if the test had had the opposite result, they'd have kept it so quiet?