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Steven Murray TRUSCOTT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide?
Characteristics: Juvenile (14) - Miscarriage of justice
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: June 9, 1959
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: January 18, 1945
Victim profile: Lynne Harper, 12
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Clinton, Ontario, Canada
Status: Sentenced to death on September 30, 1959. Commuted to life imprisonment on January 22, 1960.  Released on parole, 1969.  On August 28, 2007, the court declared that Truscott's conviction was a miscarriage of justice
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 
 
 
 

Court of Appeal for Ontario

 

Truscott (Re) (August 28, 2007)

 
 
 
 
 
 

Steven Murray Truscott (born January, 1945) is a Canadian who was convicted of murder in 1959. Since his release on parole in 1969, he has maintained that he was wrongfully convicted, and has recently campaigned to have his name cleared.

Although no court has overturned Truscott's conviction, the government has made some moves to review the case.

On June 9, 1959, 12-year-old Lynne Harper disappeared from the air force base near RCAF Clinton in Ontario, Canada. (The former base was renamed Vanastra, Ontario after the air force decommissioned it.) Two days later, her body was discovered on a nearby farm.

Truscott, then 14 and a classmate of Harper's, gave her a ride on his bicycle shortly before she was reported missing. Truscott stated that he had seen Harper get into a car as he was riding away after dropping her off, but on June 12, Truscott was charged with Harper's murder.

On September 30, Truscott was found guilty and sentenced to death. Several months later, however, the government of John Diefenbaker commuted his sentence to life in prison.

In 1966, journalist Isabel LeBourdais published a book about the Truscott case, championing his innocence of the crime. The Supreme Court of Canada held hearings to review the case and upheld the original verdict.

On October 21, 1969, Truscott was released on parole and began living under an assumed name in Guelph, Ontario. He maintained a low profile until 2000, when an interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's the fifth estate revived interest in his case. The fifth estate segment and a subsequent book, by journalist Julian Sher, both suggested that significant evidence in favour of Truscott's innocence had been ignored in the original trial.

On November 28, 2001, lawyers for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, led by James Lockyer, filed an appeal to have the case reopened. On January 24, 2002, retired Quebec Justice Fred Kaufman was appointed by the government to review the case.

On October 28, 2004, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler sent the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal to review whether new evidence would have changed the 1959 verdict.

On April 6, 2006, the body of Lynne Harper was exhumed by order of the Attorney General of Ontario, in order to test for DNA evidence. There was hope that this would bring some closure to the case, however, no useful, useable DNA was recovered from the remains of Lynne Harper. She was interred again in a private ceremony on April 10, 2006.

On June 19, 2006, the Ontario Court of Appeal began hearings that are scheduled to continue, off and on, through January of 2007. A decision is expected in the spring of 2007. In one of the most notable days of testimony so far in the hearings, two women separately testified that one of the key witnesses in the original trial had privately confided to them that she lied in her original testimony.

Cultural Aspects

The plot of Ann-Marie MacDonald's 2003 novel The Way the Crow Flies is based on a fictionalized version of the Truscott case, and the surrounding community's reaction to the incident. (MacDonald herself was raised in the same region, during the same time period as the Truscott case.)

As well, Canadian rock band Blue Rodeo recorded a song about the case, "Truscott", on their 2000 album The Days in Between.

 
 

Steven Murray Truscott (born January 18, 1945 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) was at the age of 14 found guilty in 1959 of the murder of his 12-year-old schoolmate Lynne Harper, and sentenced to death. In 2007, his conviction was declared a miscarriage of justice, and he was formally acquitted of the crime.

Truscott was scheduled to be hanged on December 8, 1959; however, a temporary reprieve on November 20, 1959 postponed his execution to February 16, 1960 to allow for an appeal. On January 22, 1960, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Truscott was the youngest person to be sentenced to death in Canada, and his case was a major impetus toward the abolition of the death penalty in Canada.

Truscott maintained his innocence. On November 29, 2001, Truscott filed a section 690 Criminal Code application for a review of his 1959 murder conviction. Hearings in a review of the Truscott case were heard at the Ontario Court of Appeal.

On August 28, 2007, after review of nearly 250 fresh pieces of evidence, the court declared that Truscott's conviction was a miscarriage of justice. As he was not declared factually innocent, a new trial could have been ordered, but this was a practical impossibility due to the passage of time. Accordingly, the court acquitted Truscott of the murder.

Lynne Harper

On June 9, 1959, 12-year-old Lynne Harper disappeared near RCAF Station Clinton, an air force base that was located south of Clinton, Ontario (approximately 180 kilometres west of Toronto). Two days later, on the afternoon of June 11, searchers discovered her body in a nearby farm woodlot. Harper had been strangled with her own blouse, and raped.

Truscott and Harper attended Grade 7 at the A.V.M. Hugh Campbell School located on the north side of the Air Force base. In the early evening of Tuesday, June 9, 1959, Truscott gave Harper a ride on the crossbar of his bicycle and they proceeded from the vicinity of the school northbound along the County Road. The timing and duration of their encounter, and what transpired while they were together, have been contentious issues since 1959.

In court the Crown contended that Truscott and Harper left the County Road prior to reaching the bridge over the Bayfield River and, in a wooded area beside the County Road (known as Lawson's Bush), Truscott raped and murdered Lynne.

Truscott has maintained since 1959 that he took Harper to the intersection of the County Road and Highway 8, where he left her unharmed. Truscott maintains that when he arrived at the bridge, he looked back toward the intersection where he had dropped Harper off and observed that a vehicle had stopped and that she was in the process of entering it. At 11:20 that evening, Lynne's father reported her missing.

Arrest and trial

On June 12, shortly after 7:00 p.m., Truscott was taken into custody. Later that night (at about 2:30 a.m. on June 13), he was charged with first degree murder under the provisions of the Juvenile Delinquents Act. On June 30, 1959, Truscott was ordered to be tried as an adult; an appeal on that order was dismissed.

On September 16, 1959, Truscott's trial began at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Goderich, Ontario before Mr. Justice Ferguson and a jury. Steven Truscott was represented by Frank Donnelly; Glen Hays appeared for the Crown. On September 30, 1959, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation for mercy. Mr. Justice Ferguson, as was then required under the law, sentenced Truscott to be hanged.

On January 21, 1960, Truscott's appeal, put forth by John G.J. O'Driscoll to the Ontario Court of Appeal was dismissed. Immediately afterwards the Government of Canada commuted Truscott's sentence to life imprisonment. An application for leave to appeal to The Supreme Court of Canada was denied on February 24, 1960. On that date, Truscott did not have an automatic right to appeal to this court.

Incarceration and parole

From his arrest until the commutation of his death sentence, Truscott was imprisoned at the Huron County Jail in Goderich. The Huron Historic Gaol is currently open to visitors as a museum.

After the commutation of his sentence he was transferred to the Kingston Penitentiary for assessment and he was incarcerated at the Ontario Training School for Boys in Guelph from February 1960 to January 1963. On January 14, 1963, he was transferred to Collins Bay Penitentiary.

Truscott was transferred on May 7, 1967 to the Farm Annex of Collins Bay Penitentiary. He had served over 10 years in custody. He had an unblemished institutional record.

On October 21, 1969, Truscott was released on parole and lived in Kingston with his parole officer and then in Vancouver for a brief period of time before settling in Guelph, Ontario, under an assumed name. He married and raised three children.

On November 12, 1974, Truscott was relieved of the terms and conditions of his parole by the National Parole Board. He has been gainfully employed and free from any criminal involvement since his release.

At the Supreme Court: the 1960s

Truscott's case was the focus of considerable public attention. In early 1966, Isabel LeBourdais argued in The Trial of Steven Truscott that Truscott had been convicted of a crime he did not commit, rekindling public debate and interest in the case. On April 26, 1966, the Government of Canada referred the Truscott case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Five days of evidence were heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in October 1966, followed by submissions in January 1967. That evidence included the testimony of Truscott (who had not testified at the 1959 trial).

On May 4, 1967, the Supreme Court (Hall J. dissenting) held that, if Truscott's appeal had been heard by the Court, it would have been dismissed.

At the Ontario Court of Appeal: 20012007

Truscott maintained a low profile until 2000, when an interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's the fifth estate revived interest in his case. The fifth estate segment and a subsequent book, by journalist Julian Sher, both suggested that significant evidence in favour of Truscott's innocence had been ignored in the original trial.

On November 28, 2001, lawyers for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, led by James Lockyer, filed an appeal to have the case reopened. On January 24, 2002, retired Quebec Justice Fred Kaufman was appointed by the government to review the case. On October 28, 2004, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler directed a Reference pursuant to section 693.3(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code to the Ontario Court of Appeal to review whether new evidence would have changed the 1959 verdict.

On April 6, 2006, the body of Lynne Harper was exhumed by order of the Attorney General of Ontario, in order to test for DNA evidence. There was hope that this would bring some closure to the case, but no usable DNA was recovered from the remains.

Truscott's conviction was brought to the Ontario Court of Appeal on June 19, 2006. The five judge panel, headed by Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and including Justice Michael Moldaver, heard three weeks of testimony and fresh evidence.

On January 31, 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeal began hearing arguments from Truscott's defence in the appeal of Truscott's conviction. Arguments were heard by the court over a period of 10 days, concluding February 10, 2007. In addition to the notoriety of the case itself, the hearing is also notable for being the first time that cameras were allowed into a hearing of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

On August 28, 2007, Truscott was acquitted of the charges by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Truscott's defence team had originally asked for a declaration of factual innocence, which would mean that Truscott would be declared innocent, and not merely unable to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Although they issued the acquittal, the court said it was not in a position to declare Truscott innocent of the crime. "The appellant has not demonstrated his factual innocence," the court wrote. "At this time, and on the totality of the record, we are in no position to make a declaration of innocence."

Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario, apologized to Truscott on behalf of the government, stating they were "truly sorry" for the miscarriage of justice.

Cultural aspects

The plot of Ann-Marie MacDonald's 2003 novel The Way the Crow Flies is based on a fictionalized version of the Truscott case, and the surrounding community's reaction to the incident. MacDonald herself was raised in the same region, during the same time period as the Truscott case.

In protest of the harsh sentence, notable Canadian writer Pierre Berton wrote a poem, Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old.

Canadian rock band Blue Rodeo recorded a song about the case, "Truscott", on their 2000 album The Days in Between.

Laurier LaPierre, co-host of a CBC news show, This Hour Has Seven Days, was fired after shedding a tear in response to an interview with Truscott's mother. The popular show was cancelled, and the other co-host, Patrick Watson, also fired over the incident.

 
 

Murder acquittal a 'dream come true': Truscott

Tue. Aug. 28 2007

CTV.ca News Staff

Steven Truscott finally won a battle he has been fighting for nearly half a century, winning an acquittal in the 1959 rape and murder of young neighbour Lynne Harper.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm clear," Truscott, 62, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday, something he described as a "dream come true."

Earlier, five senior judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal deemed his conviction a "miscarriage of justice" in a unanimous decision.

Truscott has always maintained his innocence, while Crown prosecutors have fought to have his guilty verdict upheld.

"The conviction, placed in the light of the fresh evidence, constitutes a miscarriage of justice and must be quashed," the 303-page judgment from the Ontario Court of Appeal concluded. "The fresh evidence related to the issue of the time of Lynne Harper's death is sufficient to quash the conviction."

The court had the option to order a new trial, stay the proceedings or dismiss Truscott's appeal outright.

Harper was a 12-year-old neighbour of Truscott's in Clinton, Ont., about 80 kilometres northwest of London. She was last seen getting a ride on Truscott's bicycle. Her body was found in a wooded area near CFB Clinton.

Truscott always claimed he dropped her off then saw her get into a car. The Crown argued he veered down a path, then raped and strangled the girl.

A jury convicted Truscott of the murder on Sept. 30, 1959 when he was 14 years old. Sentenced in adult court, he became the youngest Canadian to ever receive the death penalty.

"We came this close to putting a 14-year-old to death by putting a noose around his neck," Julian Sher, author of a book on the Truscott case.

The fresh evidence

Testimony by coroner Dr. John Penistan in 1959 put Harper's time of death at before 7:45 p.m. on June 9, 1959. The time of death was crucial because it made Truscott the prime suspect.

The appeal court heard evidence last year that Penistan's original autopsy conclusions allowed for a time of death much later than 7:45. The new evidence raised the possibility that Harper could have died as late as the next day -- at a time when Truscott would have been in school.

"Armed with the two unofficial and earlier versions of the autopsy report, the defence may have secured an admission by Dr. Penistan that he had changed his mind as to the likely time of Lynne Harper's death," the court ruled.

"We agree with the appellant's contention that the documents could have had a dramatic impact on the jury's assessment."

While the court issued the acquittal, it also said it was not in a position to declare Truscott innocent of the crime.

"The appellant has not demonstrated his factual innocence," the court wrote. "At this time, and on the totality of the record, we are in no position to make a declaration of innocence."

Truscott's lawyers had argued that if he was acquitted of the crime he should also be found innocent by the court.

Reaction

"On behalf of the government, I am truly sorry," Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant said Tuesday. The Crown has no plans to mount an appeal, he said.

Regarding compensation, Bryant said the government has asked Justice Sydney Robins for advice on compensation for Truscott and will comply with whatever decision is made.

Truscott was critical of the Crown, saying it fought his lawyers "every step of the way" for years despite having the fresh evidence.

"I know (Bryant) apologized on behalf of the government, but I don't really feel that the apology was sincere. For the past four-and-a-half years they had the same evidence as what the judges have had, and they chose to fight us every step of the way. I don't feel the apology was sincere,'' said Truscott.

Truscott went public with his bid to clear his name in 2000.

Bob Lawson, who owns the land where Harper's body was found, saw the day's outcome as overdue.

"I could never believe he was guilty. Even when the trial was on, I thought they are going to come up with somebody or something," he said.

Tuesday's ruling also means Harper's murder remains unsolved, possibly forever.

"There's always that lesson to learn from a wrongful conviction, if you get the wrong chap, you didn't get the right one," said James Lockyer, Truscott's lawyer.

The Harper family, which has always believed Truscott is guilty, has asked Bryant for input into any compensation decision. Bryant said he's agreed to that.

Lockyer said there should be a generous settlement for his client.

"My own view is that Steve should get every penny he can out of the government after what he's been through," he said.

Truscott, who lived under an assumed name after being paroled in 1969, can now offer his family a name free of taint, Lockyer said.

"We can't bring back Lynne, but we can bring back Steve. Today's judgment from the Court of Appeal does just that."

 
 

TIMELINE

June 9, 1959:Steven Truscott, 14, takes Lynne Harper, 12, on a short bicycle ride near an Air Force base outside Clinton, Ontario, about 180 km west of Toronto.

June 11, 1959:Searchers find Lynne Harper's body in a nearby wood. She has been raped and strangled.

June 12, 1959:Police arrest Truscott.

June 13, 1959: Police charge Truscott in Harper's murder.

Dec. 8, 1959: After a 15-day trial, Truscott is found guilty and he is sentenced to death by hanging.

Jan. 22, 1960:Truscott's death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment.

Spring of 1966:Isabel LeBourdais' The Trial of Steven Truscott is published. The author questions the quick police investigation and trial procedures. The book sparks a public uproar. The Liberal government of Lester Pearson requests a Supreme Court review.

1966:The Supreme Court of Canada hears Truscott's case, but rules 8-1 against a new trial. Read more about the decision.

1969:Truscott is released on parole and moves to Guelph, Ont., where he adopts a new identity, marries, and raises three children.

March 29, 2000:Truscott breaks decades of silence and anonymity, proclaiming his innocence, in a documentary broadcast on the fifth estate. The program reveals new evidence to suggest that police may have been hasty in arresting Truscott.

November, 2000: A team of legal advocates from the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, a group that includes lawyers who helped establish the innocence of Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard and Donald Marshall, agree to take his case. AIDWYC lawyers--James Lockyer, Marlys Edwardh, Hersh Wolch (Alberta), and Philip Campbell make up Steven Truscott's legal team in the Court of Appeal.

November 2001: Truscott and his AIDWYC lawyers file an application for retrial under section 690 (which became section 696.1 in 2002) of the Criminal Code of Canada. Under the section, applications for retrial are submitted to the federal Minister of Justice (at that time Anne McLellan), who decides whether a new trial should be ordered. The Minister only considers whether the question as to whether or not a miscarriage of justice has occurred a miscarriage that could necessitate a judicial review of the conviction.

The grounds advanced in support of the application are new documents (including police and Crown briefs and notes from the police investigation) that were not disclosed to the defence during the original trial in 1959, nor to the Supreme Court of Canada during its review of the case in 1966.

The application for retrial is not, however, based on any new forensic evidence pertaining to DNA; AIDWYC was unable to locate any exhibits that could be tested. They argued that the police used tunnel vision to zero in on Truscott, ignoring important witnesses and other suspects.

January 2002: Having conducted a preliminary assessment of Steven Truscott's application, the department of Justice recommends that an outside agent be retained to assist in the review of the case. Minister of Justice, Martin Cauchon, selects the Honourable Fred Kaufman to assess the claim under Section 690 of the Criminal Code.

Kaufman, who headed an inquiry into the wrongful murder conviction of Guy Paul Morin, is limited to making recommendations to the Justice department. He could recommend that the case be retried or reviewed by an appellate court or he could recommend a pardon.

April 20, 2004: Justice Kaufman delivers a 700-page report and thousands of pages of appendices to the Minister, now Irwin Cotler, regarding the Truscott application.

The report confirms that, in his opinion, sufficient new evidence had been found. He also recommends that the Minister of Justice order the Ontario Court of Appeal to hear the case as if it were an appeal of the original conviction.

Kaufman said in his report that there is now substantial consensus in the medical community that stomach contents - as well as body decomposition and the state of rigor mortis, which the coroner at Truscott's 1959 trial, Dr. John Penistan also looked to - are "highly unreliable" methods for determining time of death with such precision. "Simply put, modern science has removed the time of death as a piece of circumstantial evidence favouring Truscott's guilt." Kaufman said that taken together, with other undisclosed evidence in the case, this new forensic evidence may provide a basis for concluding that a miscarriage of justice occurred. Kaufman, however, lacked the legal power to cross-examine witnesses. It is largely for that reason that he recommends the case be referred to the Court of Appeal.

In the final stage of the conviction review process, the Minister of Justice reviews the investigation report, along with the legal advice from the investigating lawyer or agent and the materials submitted by the applicant. The Minister also carefully considers the opinion of his Special Advisor, Mr. Bernard Grenier. The Special Advisor oversees the review of an application made under s.696.1 and advises the Minister of Justice directly on matters related to the criminal conviction review process.

When making a decision on a wrongful conviction application, the Minister has three options. He can:

  • refer the case to the Court of Appeal

  • order a new trial

  • dismiss the application

The Minister cannot issue a pardon or overturn a conviction. Nor can he decide guilt or innocence that is within the Court's authority.

October 28, 2004:Federal Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, refers the Truscott case to the Ontario Court of Appeal for review. "I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice occurred in this case," Cotler said. He went on to say: "We have a legal and I believe moral obligation to see if the new evidence would have affected the verdict."

The Minister based his decision on the recommendations of Justice Kaufman, Justice Bernard Grenier (the Minister's Special Advisor on the criminal conviction review process), and the submissions of both Steven Truscott and the Attorney General of Ontario.

The Minister could have ordered a new trial altogether instead of referring the conviction to the Court of Appeal. However, Cotler stated that a reference to the Court of Appeal was the appropriate decision to take because it presented the opportunity for Steven Truscott to be officially found not responsible for Lynne Harper's death . The Minister stated: "We have a legal, and I believe, moral obligation to determine whether the existence of new evidence would have affected the verdict. The appropriate way to make this determination and to serve the ends of justice is to refer the matter to the Ontario Court of Appeal."

January 18, 2005: Steven Truscott's 60th birthday.

April 4, 2006: Lynne Harper's body is exhumed from the Union Cemetery last spring in the hope of finding DNA evidence in preparation for the case. No DNA tests can be conducted however, because of the age and condition of Lynne Harper's remains.

June 19, 2006: Steven Truscott's notorious murder conviction finds its way to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The panel is headed by Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and includes Justice Michael Moldaver. The five-judge panel hears three weeks of testimony and fresh evidence.

November 2006: Portions of the Kaufman Report are released to the public. 

January 31, 2007: Hearings in the Truscott case continue at the Ontario Court of Appeal. There are three possible outcomes:

  • dismiss appeal

  • order a new trial

  • acquittal

Judgment is expected by August 2007.

Tuesday August 28, 2007: The long-awaited decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal was delivered. He was acquitted of murder in the death of Lynne Harper 48 years ago. A unamimous five-judge panel said the conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

CBC News
 

 

 
 
 
 
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