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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.)
Canadian rock band Blue Rodeo recorded a song about the case,
"Truscott", on their 2000 album The Days in Between.
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
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
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
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
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
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: 2001–2007
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
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
Michael Bryant, Attorney
General of Ontario, apologized to Truscott on
behalf of the government, stating they were "truly
sorry" for the miscarriage of justice.
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
Truscott has always maintained his innocence,
while Crown prosecutors have fought to have his guilty verdict
"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
"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
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
While the court issued the acquittal, it also
said it was not in a position to declare Truscott innocent of
"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
"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
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,''
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,"
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
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
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.
Court of Canada hears Truscott's case, but rules 8-1
against a new trial. Read more about the decision.
released on parole and moves to Guelph, Ont., where he
adopts a new identity, marries, and raises three
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
Portions of the Kaufman Report are released to the
January 31, 2007:
Hearings in the Truscott case continue at the Ontario
Court of Appeal. There are three possible outcomes:
order a new trial
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.