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Jack King is NACDL's Public Affairs Director.
The acquittal, the conviction, and then the exoneration of an innocent man led the Province of Ontario to conduct an unprecedented top-to-bottom examination of its criminal justice system.
Staggering in its scope, the investigation uncovered significant concerns, many of which are familiar to defense counsel in the United States, but which were never thought of as Canadian problems. The inquiry found perjured testimony by prosecution witnesses, incompetence and cover-up in the country's premier center for forensic sciences, suppression of exculpatory evidence by police and prosecutors, a possibly contaminated crime scene, poor evidence handling, and lost evidence.
"On July 30, 1992, an innocent person was convicted of a heinous crime," a voluminous 1400-page report on the investigation begins. "The man was Guy Paul Morin and the crime was the first-degree murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, abducted from Queensville, Ontario, on October 3, 1984. It was not until January 23, 1995, almost 10 years after he was first arrested, that Guy Paul Morin was exonerated as a result of sophisticated DNA testing not previously available."
An innocent man caged as a murderous monster, while somewhere a killer walks free disguised in the shape of a man. Police, forensic experts and Crown prosecutors were so confident -- so smug -- that they built their case backwards, manipulating and creating evidence to prove the guilt of a suspect who could not possibly be innocent. But he was.
Immediately after Morin's exoneration, the then-Deputy Attorney General of the Province of Ontario, speaking on behalf of the Attorney General, issued a statement:
The minister is deeply committed to maintaining the public's faith in the system, and to ensuring that the ministry takes whatever steps are necessary that such a situation does not reoccur. To accomplish this . . . a public airing into the justice system's handling of Mr. Morin's case is required.
Investigation's Staggering Scope
The result was The Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin. The Honorable Fred Kaufman, former judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal, was appointed commissioner on June 26, 1996. The commission's exhaustive investigation culminated in a two-volume report which Toronto's The Globe and Mail called "hard-hitting" and in which Kaufman is said to have described "the tunnel vision that pervaded the Morin investigation and prosecution as 'staggering.'" Completed in March 1998 and released in April, it is an unparalleled examination of the dark side of police and prosecutors and a system that heretofore has accepted their evidence and representations uncritically. As a result, a number of other cases may be reopened and new trials ordered.
Announcing the formation of the commission, Attorney General Charles Harnick said, "An inquiry cannot wipe away the years of pain and turmoil Mr. Morin suffered, but it can examine the complex circumstances surrounding the case, and allow us to learn from it and prevent any future miscarriage of justice."
What few people, if anyone, suspected then was that Morin's case may not be unique.
The investigation and hearings proceeded in discrete phases: Most disturbing, and yet probably most helpful to the cause of justice, were Phase I -- Jail House Informant Testimony -- and Phase II -- Forensic Evidence and the Centre of Forensic Sciences. Other phases dealt with the police investigation of Christine Jessop's disappearance in the York Region and the hand-off investigation to a neighboring police department, following the discovery of her remains nearly three months later in the Durham Region; the two trials (Morin was acquitted at the first trial, but the Crown successfully appealed); "systemic" issues -- criminal justice issues that transcended the facts of the Morin case; and written and oral submissions of parties affected by the investigation.
Christine Jessop's Disappearance
Guy Paul Morin, then 23, and Christine Jessop were next door neighbors. A clarinet and saxophone player with a high school diploma, Morin was employed by a furniture manufacturer and lived with his parents. The extent of contact between the Jessops and the Morins was a contentious issue in the case, particularly as it was relevant to the weight to be given to fiber comparisons relied upon by the prosecution at trial.
On October 3, 1984, Christine's school bus dropped her off at the end of her driveway at about 3:50 p.m. Her parents weren't home. In their early accounts to the police, the first on the evening of October 3, they indicated they arrived home at 4:10 p.m.; ultimately, they testified they returned home between 4:30 and 4:35.
When they arrived, Christine's school bag was on the pantry counter and the mail and newspapers had been brought inside. Her pink jacket, which she may or may not have worn to school that day, may have been hung on a hook that was beyond her reach. At 4:49 p.m., Janet telephoned her husband's lawyer in Toronto (on an unrelated matter) and then drove to the park and other places to look for Christine. Between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m., she telephoned the police.
York Regional Police responded immediately. According to the commission's report, over the next seven hours, some 15 police cars and emergency vehicles and 17 police officers, including a dog handler, were dispatched to the Jessop home. At the second trial, Constable McGowan testified that he visited the Morin residence that evening and interviewed Ida Morin, Guy Paul's mother, to ask if she had seen Christine that day or noticed anything unusual. According to McGowan, Guy Paul silently "stared straight ahead" during the conversation. The Crown argued his behavior as evidence of guilty knowledge, part of what is known in some U.S. courts as "substantive profile evidence." The defense countered that the evidence was false, manufactured after the first trial, and meaningless.
About the same time, a dog team arrived to search the Morin property. Constable Robertson testified at the second trial that he was given Christine's sweater to give his dog Ryder her scent, and that when he and the dog approached Morin's beige Honda, the dog "began sniffing in a pronounced way" and put its front paws up against the glass on the passenger side. Robertson testified that the dog had detected Christine's scent in the car. The defense vigorously challenged the dog handler's account and his qualifications as a tracker.
The York Regional Police investigation continued until December 31, 1984, when Christine's body was found 56 kilometers (some 3312 miles) away on Ravenshoe Road in the Durham Region. She was found face up with legs spread, wearing a beige turtleneck, a blue pullover sweater, a blouse, and white socks with blue stripes. Blue corduroy pants and a pair of running shoes were found near her feet. Her panties were found at her right foot. A necklace with some hairs attached, later identified as Christine's, was also found at the site.
New Year's Day 1985, dental records confirmed Christine's identity.
The Jessop investigation -- now a murder case -- was handed off to Durham Regional Police Service because the body had been found in their jurisdiction.
An autopsy, January 2, found multiple stab wounds as the cause of death. Due to decomposition, it could not be determined whether Christine had been sexually assaulted. The body's condition was consistent with death having occurred three to four months before the autopsy.
While a constable would later testify that "everybody in Queensville" was considered a suspect, the investigation quickly focused on Guy Paul Morin. Inspector John Shephard made an entry in his notebook February 20, 1985, referring to Morin as "Suspect Morin," two days before Shepherd interviewed Morin.
Morin agreed to speak to Shephard and another officer in their police cruiser, where he was interrogated for some 212 hours. The detectives attempted to surreptitiously tape the interrogation, but the tape ran out after 45 minutes. (They later testified that they thought the tape would auto-reverse and run 90 minutes.) During that time, the prosecutors suggested that many of Morin's (unrecorded) comments evidenced guilt. For example, Morin told the detectives that Christine was a very innocent child; later he allegedly said that, "All little girls are sweet and beautiful, but grow up to be corrupt." At another point, Morin allegedly said, "I'm innocent," although the detectives later said that they had not suggested he was a suspect.
On April 22, Inspector Shephard arrested Morin while he was driving the family Honda to band practice. The car was seized and delivered to the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto. A search warrant was executed at the Morin family home about 10:20 p.m. that evening. Although some 81 items were seized, only one dark gray fiber proved to be of any use to the prosecution.
Throughout a six-hour interrogation Morin declared his innocence. A penknife was taken from him and later introduced into evidence as a possible murder weapon, but prosecutors did not offer his statement into evidence. (At the second trial, the trial judge ruled it inadmissible.)
Pre-trial media coverage was extensive. For example, press releases both before and after Morin's arrest detailed the "psychological profile" of the killer prepared by an "FBI profiler." At a press conference following Morin's arrest, police superintendent Doug Bullock was quoted as saying that Guy Paul Morin matched the profile better than the other four suspects investigated. The defense successfully moved for a change of venue to London, Ontario.
The trial began January 7, 1986, and lasted about four weeks. Morin was represented by Clayton Ruby and Mary Bartley. John Scott and Susan MacLean appeared as Crown prosecutors.
The report summarizes the Crown's case against Morin:
[I]t was the Crown's theory that Morin left work on October 3, 1984, arrived home about 4:30 p.m., lured Christine Jessop into his car and took her to the site in Durham Region where he sexually assaulted and killed her before returning home to Queensville. At that trial, the Crown relied mainly on:
1. Evidence of Morin's opportunity to commit the crime;
2. Statements made by Morin to police in February 1985, allegedly demonstrating his guilt;
3. Hair and fibre [sic] evidence, including evidence of a hair found embedded in Christine Jessop's necklace which allegedly 'matched' Morin's hair, evidence of three hairs found in Morin's car which allegedly 'matched' the hair of Christine Jessop, and the 'matching' of other fibers and animal hairs found at the murder scene and in Morin's home and car;
4. The evidence of undercover police officer, Sergeant Gordon Hobbs, who testified that while in the Whitby Jail, Morin had made stabbing motions toward his own chest, allegedly demonstrating the means by which he had murdered his victim;
5. Statements made to the undercover officer which allegedly showed consciousness of guilt;
6. Morin's alleged confession to a cell mate, Robert Dean May, which was allegedly overhead by Mr. X.
The defense showed that Morin's itinerary that day essentially amounted to an alibi. He left work northwest of Toronto at 3:32 p.m., stopped at a shopping mall lottery booth, a grocery store and a gas station, then two other stores before arriving home between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. He then took a nap, had dinner, and then went outside to do some home renovations.
The defense also argued that even if Morin had arrived home at 4:30 that afternoon, he still would not have had enough time to commit the offense. But complicating matters for the second trial, the defense also offered psychiatric evidence that Morin suffered from schizophrenia, arguing that if he did commit the crime, he would not have appreciated the nature and quality of his act. In the end, after 13 hours of deliberations, the jury acquitted Morin on February 7, 1986.
After 50 weeks in custody on first-degree murder charges, Morin was free. Four months later, June 5, 1987, he was in custody again.
In Canada, the prosecution has the right to appeal an acquittal in an effort to show that the trial judge made a fundamental error prejudicing the Crown's right to a fair trial. The prohibition against double jeopardy is not one of the rights ensconced into Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, their equivalent of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. On March 4, 1986, the Ontario Attorney General filed notice in the Ontario Court of Appeal alleging two errors fatal to the acquittal.
The first was that the judge misdirected the jury on reasonable doubt, instructing that if it had a reasonable doubt with respect to individual items of evidence, it should give the benefit of the doubt to the "accused."
The second ground of appeal was that the jury had been incorrectly instructed as to the evidence of Morin's psychiatric condition: that the psychiatric evidence of Morin's schizophrenia could only be assessed as to the issue of Morin's sanity and could not be used as evidence of his guilt. On June 5, 1987, the Court of Appeal reversed the jury's verdict and ordered a new trial on the charge of first-degree murder. Morin was re-arrested a few days later, but Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Brooke ordered him released on bail two weeks later.
Morin appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. November 17, 1988, Morin prevailed in part, but his victory was bitter -- the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Ontario Court of Appeal decision granting the Crown a new trial, but only on the reasonable doubt instruction.
Retrial and Conviction
Retrial was scheduled several times after the Supreme Court's mandate, but the defense obtained continuances. Morin, out on bond, waived his right under the Canadian Charter "to be tried within a reasonable time" to permit his defense team time to prepare and litigate pretrial issues.
The defense filed many motions, including a disqualification request to the Ontario Attorney General on gross misconduct grounds, alleging prosecutor John Scott had committed, and was committing, numerous disclosure (discovery) violations. At the same time, the defense was also filing application for rehearing of Morin's appeal in the Supreme Court, or alternatively a stay of the mandate based on fresh evidence of material non-disclosure and misleading disclosure which made the Crown's case appear stronger than it really was. The motion to stay was dismissed, in part on the ground that the trial court was the proper venue to litigate the disclosure allegations.
The motion to stay was based on the alleged suppression of exculpatory evidence primarily relating to:
evidence relevant to Morin's opportunity to commit the offense;
evidence relating to other suspects, suspicious vehicles, and suspicious sightings;
non-disclosure that hair samples obtained from Christine Jessop's classmates for elimination purposes with regard to the "necklace hair" were as consistent with the "necklace hair" as Guy Paul Morin's;
a "laundromat test," conducted by police at the insistence of prosecutors to counter any allegations of contamination between the Jessop and Morin households and showing obvious transfer of fibers between the two homes, was suppressed. The trial judge found that the defense's general request for "all evidence tending to show innocence" did not compel the Crown to disclose plainly exculpatory evidence -- the defense requests had to be specific. Police loss of evidence did not arise to the requisite level of "bad faith." The "laundromat test" was held to be pretrial preparation and not discoverable. And so on.
Motions and hearings dragged on for months. At long last, November 13, 1991, nearly six years after the acquittal, the Crown gave its opening statement to the second jury. The second trial lasted nearly nine months and 120 witnesses were called.
The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of the two jail house informants who had testified at the first trial, on expert forensic evidence relating to hair and fibers linking Morin to the murder, and on evidence allegedly relating to Morin's "consciousness of guilt."
At the second trial, Morin's alibi defense was amplified and the insanity defense discarded. In support of his alibi, Morin called his father and his mother as witnesses. The Crown argued that the family fabricated the alibi in order to allow the son to get away with murder.
After a week of deliberations, the jury found Morin guilty of first-degree murder on July 23, 1992.
While Morin's appeal was pending before the Ontario Court of Appeal, a forensic DNA test unavailable to either party during the first two trials eliminated Morin as the perpetrator. On January 23, 1995, Guy Paul Morin's appeal of his conviction for murder was allowed based on the DNA report, his conviction was set aside, and a directed verdict of acquittal was entered.
Guy Paul Morin was free at last.
Systemic Issues Abounded
The real shock was yet to come. As appalled as Canadians were that an innocent man could be convicted of such a heinous crime after such ample proceedings -- more process than was due, some thought, until the DNA test -- the Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin shook the entire Canadian justice system to its roots.
Public hearings were held from February 10 to December 18, 1997. During the hearings, which were covered extensively by the print and broadcast media, especially Kirk Makin, a reporter with The Globe and Mail (Toronto), a number of problems were identified. But none, perhaps, were so important to the Canadian and U.S. criminal justice systems than the problems of prosecutorial subornation of perjury, from jail house informants particularly [see sidebar], and forensic fraud by police experts.
"My approach at this inquiry was to receive such evidence primarily where it related to systemic issues, rather than findings of personal or institutional misconduct," Judge Fred Kaufman said. Yet the components comprise the system, and that was where the case of Regina v. Guy Paul Morin failed, as when the simultaneous failure of a few parts causes a plane to crash. The difference here was that, until the results of the DNA tests, prosecutors and the courts insisted that the plane had landed safely at last with Guy Paul Morin's conviction, and that all was well that ended well!
What, Me Lie?
After his arrest on April 22, 1985, Guy Paul Morin was placed in custody in the Whitby Jail (and his application for bail denied). Two Whitby inmates, Robert Dean May and an individual referred to in official proceedings only as "Mr. X," claimed to have made his acquaintance; jails being small communities of forced intimacy, there is no reason to doubt their accounts on that point. According to the report, May already had 11 prior convictions by the time he made Morin's acquaintance. Mr. X had juvenile and adult records for multiple offenses involving child sexual abuse. Robert Dean May and Mr. X had undergone forensic psychiatric assessments at various times while in custody regarding their antisociability and reliability, and both were admitted liars.
Morin apparently was placed in a cell with Robert Dean May in late June 1985. Mr. X allegedly resided in the adjoining cell. On July 1, 1985, May and Mr. X contacted the police with some information to share. After negotiations were out of the way, May told authorities that Morin had confessed to him the night before that he had "killed that little girl." Backing May to the hilt, X said it was true, that he had overheard the confession.
Both May and X testified for the prosecution at the first trial. Morin denied the confession, and the defense argued that the jail house informants were lying to save their own skins.
At the second trial, May and X were again called as witnesses for the prosecution. Only this time, both told the jury that the prosecutors had offered them each the right to refuse to be a witness for the Crown, and that if they chose not to testify, there would be no adverse consequences to them. Both testified that they had refused the Crown's offer and that therefore their testimony was voluntary. The prosecution argued that May's and X's "voluntary" appearances as witnesses bolstered their credibility. The defense challenged the bona fides of the witnesses' claims, but apparently to little avail.
At the commission hearing, Martin Weinberg, a name partner in the Boston, Massachusetts, firm Oteri Weinberg & Lawson, was called as an expert on jail house informant testimony [see sidebar]. Weinberg's own bona fides were impeccable. A criminal defense lawyer for 25 years, admitted to many federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, he received his LL.B from Harvard Law School in 1971 and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Moreover, Weinberg had recently appeared as defense counsel in United States v. Falcon, a major federal drug conspiracy case in Miami in which some 28 jail house informants bargained decades off their sentences in exchange for testifying against the defendants, who were ultimately acquitted.
In the United States' federal court system, no entity controls the sentence of a defendant as does the federal prosecutor -- not the judge, not the probation officer, and certainly not the defendant's lawyer. The federal prosecutor determines a defendant's sentence with his charging decisions and is the only person who can reduce that sentence should the defendant be convicted. Thus, pressure to cooperate with authorities, under "substantial assistance to authorities" provisions of federal Sentencing Guideline 5K1.1 or Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 (both of which can only be granted by a prosecutor for the United States), can be huge. A term of life in the federal system means just that -- life -- but defendants who cooperate and testify against other defendants in federal court, if they are lucky, will be given a choice by prosecutors: they can offer "substantial assistance" and walk out of prison to their families someday, or they can be carried out to them in a box.
"So this combination of heavy sentences, no parole, 85 percent [good time credit] and only one ticket to freedom which essentially [is] within the complete control of the prosecutor, creates an historic imbalance in our justice system," Weinberg told the commissioners. "Before 1987, this imbalance didn't exist. I consider it to promote unreliable testimony, not through the fault of our fine jurists who are required to implement this system; they have no discretion under minimum mandatory sentencing."
The commissioners wanted to know if perhaps the temptation to lie in order to get out of jail might be too much for a system interested in the truth. Weinberg replied, "[I]t's simply a system that, in answer to your original question, I don't think should be duplicated in any respect, by the Canadian justice system.
"For the prosecution -- and for the cooperating witnesses themselves -- there's no downside to use of jail house informers testimony," Weinberg told The Champion in June during a break in a lengthy federal conspiracy trial. "If their testimony is accepted, they get a benefit. If the jury dismisses them as perjurers, nothing happens to them. They go back to their cell no worse off."
Judge Kaufman, in his final report, called Weinberg "a valuable witness, whose objectivity was commended by counsel for prosecutors and defense counsel alike." From evidence adduced at the hearings, it turns out that Robert Dean May and X were at least implicitly encouraged, if not told outright, to lie about their deals in the second trial (a point which still has the Crown's cheeks burning). Kaufman recommended, inter alia, that "the Attorney General should establish a policy which sets limitations on the kinds of benefits that may be conferred on jail house in-custody informers or appropriate preconditions to their conferral." Other recommendations include creation of a database of jail house informers, access by the defense to confidential informer records, stringent jury admonitions regarding the reliability of informant testimony and, perhaps most important, prosecution of informers for false statements. In other words, the report recommends that Canada learn from our mistakes -- and the case of Guy Paul Morin.
Whistleblower Exposes Crime Lab Fraud
The Crown's forensic testimony, especially the hair and fiber analysis supposedly linking the Morin family car and the body of Christine Jessop, was abysmally flawed. Aside from revelations of disclosure (discovery) abuse which abounded in the spring of 1997, it became ever more clear during the hearings that assertions that the necklace hair "matched" Guy Paul Morin's and that several fibers supposedly proving that Christine had been in the Honda, teetered on the edge of perjury, with further exaggeration by the Crown in closing argument. But an anonymous letter written by a whistleblower in the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences (CFS) toppled it over that edge the last weekend of April 1997, when it revealed that contamination in the hair and fibers unit of the CFS was a source of constant gossip in the lab as far back as 1985, when the Jessop and Morin samples were analyzed.
According to The Globe and Mail, Stephanie Nyznyk, a former CFS examiner who did the examinations in the Jessop investigation, told the commission in early April 1997 that she was under pressure from police and prosecutors to overstate her evidence. She admitted during the inquiry that sets of similar fibers on Christine's remains and in the Morins' Honda did not necessarily mean Christine had been in the vehicle. At first she denied that she told the jury in no uncertain terms that the fibers "matched," then she admitted under intense questioning several days later that she never told the jury -- or Crown prosecutors -- that her evidence was of little value because no one ever asked her that.
"As far as I can recall, I don't think that type of question came up," Nyznyk testified. But under pressure from lawyers at the inquiry, Nyznyk admitted that she may have misled authorities -- who then unwittingly misled the court -- about the value of the hair and fiber samples. Shortly after Nyznyk gave police her conclusions about hairs and fibers linking the Honda to Christine's body, Morin was arrested. (Former Durham Regional Police detective Bernie Fitzpatrick agreed, months later in July 1997, that it was the hair "match" that led him to finally arrest Morin. He testified that examiner Stephanie Nyznyk even let him look at the hairs under the microscope in early 1985 and explained to him that they "matched.")
Around April 15, 1997, a senior forensic scientist testified that he would have been "shocked, to say the least," to learn that prosecutors in the Morin case intended to rely heavily on hairs and fibers supposedly linking Morin to the crime. The evidence was weak, at best, testified Norman Erickson, retired head of CFS's biology section. (Hair and fiber samples will typically have points of similarity, dissimilarity, or both. The more they share similar characteristics, the theory goes, the more likely they came from the same source. But it is highly misleading and patently unfair to testify that two such exhibits "match" as though they are identical.)
The bomb dropped two weeks later when Erickson, confronted with a letter from the anonymous CFS whistleblower sent to the commission a few days earlier, admitted he may have known as far back as 1985 that samples from the Honda and Christine's body were contaminated with foreign fibers within his lab. At Morin's 1986 and 1992 trials, the prosecution relied heavily on several red wool fibers purporting to link the car and Christine's body. Lab employees were already gossiping about the microscopic red "animal fibers" showing up on microscope slides and adhesive sample mountings tapes. They speculated about two lab examiners known to wear red wool sweaters who refused to wear lab coats as far back as 1985. When the Morin evidence was re-examined in preparation for retrial in 1990, the problem could have been common knowledge for at least five years.
The anonymous whistleblower revealed that Erickson telephoned Lynn Sedgewick, an analyst who worked closely on the Morin case several years ago, to ask whether she owned a red wool sweater, The Globe and Mail reported. Such a call would mean that Erickson was far more concerned than he previously testified about the red fibers that contaminated the sticky evidence tapes. Acknowledging that he phoned Sedgewick about her clothing, Erickson added that he visited another analyst involved in the Morin case at her new job to ask the same question. Erickson said that both denied possessing a red sweater -- but James Lockyer, Morin's lawyer, revealed that he had asked Sedgewick the same question the previous Sunday after being informed of the letter, and she told him that she did own a red sweater.
Lockyer "expressed astonishment" that both Erickson and Stephanie Nyznyk managed to testify at both Morin trials while suppressing their knowledge of the contamination problem, The Globe and Mail reported.
"I don't know about suppressing it," Erickson responded. "I just didn't make it available."
"Interesting linguistics," Lockyer said. "So the two of you testified at the 1992 trial while knowing this?"
"It would appear so," Erickson admitted.
Contamination and Cover-Up Continued for Years
As the hearings ground on, refueled by the allegations of fraud in Canada's premier crime lab, Bruce Derno, President of Ontario's Criminal Lawyers Association, told the press that the lab scandal shakes the system to the core.
"The inquiry has cast enormous light -- in some cases, new light -- on the workings of the Centre. In terms of defenses at trial, is this going to be a new avenue? Absolutely."
Derno said that the revelations of cover-up were "shocking on a number of levels."
"When you appear in court presenting evidence, it's a matter of trust. The Centre has been presenting evidence for years. Judges, juries and police have accepted it as gospel -- the Centre of Forensic Sciences has spoken."
In fact, the lab touted its reputation on the "fact" that it was supposedly neutral. Its reputation was that it was devoted to science, favoring neither the Crown nor the defense, but seeking only neutral scientific proof, and its examiners often testified to that reputation in court. But privately, and sometimes publicly, defense lawyers had dismissed the lab's supposed neutrality for years, complaining that in the vast majority of cases, they would never use it because it made the results of defense tests available to the prosecution, sometimes even before the defense received them. And as the Morin Commission found, it would suppress exculpatory results of Crown evidence testing when it suited the prosecutors, and the defense would never know of it.
Although Shirley Stefak protested to her boss, Norman Erickson, that the Morin samples were "frighteningly" contaminated in 1990, the first anyone outside the lab heard of it was when she testified before the commission, May 8, 1997.
Cases May Be Reopened
In mid-May 1997, James Crocker, a senior manager of the CFS, said that in the wake of the lab scandal revealed at the commission's hearings, a "long list of criminal cases" would be re-examined.
"It would be time-consuming, but I don't think it would be particularly difficult," he told The Globe and Mail May 12, 1997. The cases that may have to be thrown out involve the work of Stephanie Nyznyk and Norman Erickson, he said. Moreover, Crocker said he recalled that while sitting in the courtroom during Morin's 1992 retrial he thought how weak the fiber evidence seemed to him. In that respect, he said, the problem was not with the quality of the microscopic fibers purported to link Morin and Christine Jessop, but what few points of similarity he noticed they shared.
Last January, as the hearings were winding to a close, Guy Paul Morin received a full apology from Ontario Attorney General Charles Harnick, and a $1.25 million (U.S. $822,500) settlement payable to him and his parents.
There was a feeling by some following the inquiry, Kaufman said, that Morin's defense counsel in the second trial "contributed to the miscarriage of justice primarily by the ill-advised, sometimes hostile, approach taken to witnesses and the undue prolongation of the trial, resulting in jury alienation." Such sentiments are not uncommon, particularly when it seems there is guilt and blame enough to go around. After all, how could a competent lawyer allow an innocent man to go to prison? Don't the Crown prosecutors depend on defense lawyers to test their evidence?
Any such notions of ineffective assistance are dispelled by the commission report. Let it be noted: Morin's defense lawyers won an acquittal at the first trial February 7, 1986. Errors by the court, which seem trivial in retrospect, enabled the Crown to take its successful appeal in June 1987 (upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in May 1990 and March 1991). Morin's new trial team litigated pre-trial motions over seven months of hearings (and 7000 pages of transcripts) from April 2 to November 13, 1991. The second trial, with over 120 Crown witnesses, lasted from November 13, 1991 to July 30, 1992.
"However well or ill-founded this criticism [of the defense lawyers] might be," Kaufman found, ". . . there is no doubt that a disquieting number of witnesses for the prosecution in this case gave evidence which could justifiably be regarded as suspect."
Fully convinced of Morin's guilt and blind to ample available evidence to the contrary, the Crown confidently built a dubious case on coached and perjured testimony from police, experts, and citizens; and it expended a great deal of resources to convict an innocent man.
When prosecutors and police violate citizens' rights under the delusion that it is for a greater good, when the state itself becomes a lawbreaker, or uses lawbreakers to achieve an aim, the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis take on new life: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachments by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding."
In a rush to judgment, there is equal danger that men of ill-will may never be brought to justice.
"The criminal proceedings against [Morin] represent a tragedy not only for Mr. Morin and his family, but also for the community at large: the system failed him -- a system for which we, the community, must bear responsibility," Kaufman writes. "An innocent man was arrested, stigmatized, imprisoned and convicted. The real killer has never been found. The trail grows colder with each passing year. For Christine Jessop's family there is no closure."
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