Saturday, June 2, 2018

Steven Truscott; Canada's ever-haunting Steven Truscott murder case lands on the stage (Innocence Lost; Playwrite Beverly Cooper; Soulpepper) decades after 12-year-old Lynne harper was murdered in a small Ontario town: Maija Kappler notes how, in part, Steven Truscott was wrongly convicted - and sentenced to death - on "science that has since been debunked..."Dr. John Penistan, the pathologist who examined Harper’s body, said he could isolate the time of her murder to between 7:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., which a doctor named John Butt told The Fifth Estate is an impossible deduction. (Stomach contents tell doctors “nothing precise,” about the time of death, Butt said.) But at the time of the trial, it was enough."...(I can't wait to see the play! HL);

STORY: "Telling the Story of the Murder Trial that Changed the Country," by Maija Kappler, published by Intermission Magazine on May 17, 2018. (Maija Kappler  is the co-editor of Intermission, a reporter with The Canadian Press.  Intermission is an online theatre arts magazine based in Toronto, created by The Company Theatre.) Thanks to my Friend Win Wahrer of The Association in Defence of The Wrongfully Convicted (AIDWYC) now called   Innocence Canada - who, along with her organization, fought so valiantly, if not heroically,  for years,  to secure Steven Truscott's  exoneration, and for bringing this compelling story to our attention. Bravo Win!  HL.

GIST: "Lynne Harper was a middle child: she had one older brother and one younger. She was small for her age. She was born in New Brunswick, but because her father was in the Air Force, she moved around the country a lot. In 1959, when she was twelve, Harper lived on an Air Force base in Clinton, Ontario, a small town near London. She made lots of friends there—she was an energetic kid, a quality that led some people, looking back later, to describe her as a live wire. Others called her bossy. She was a Girl Guide, and she liked playing baseball. She had crushes on boys in her class and was occasionally self-conscious about a scar on her face from a childhood accident. Sometimes she argued with her parents. In June of 1959, two months before her thirteenth birthday, Harper was found dead in the woodlot of a farm in her neighbourhood. She had been raped. Her body was covered in cuts and bruises, and the cause of death was strangulation. Four days later, Harper’s schoolmate Steven Truscott, a soft-spoken and well-liked fourteen-year-old, was arrested for her murder and sentenced to death by hanging. His sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison, and he was later released on parole before his conviction was overturned in 2007. Harper’s murder remains unsolved. Murder trials boil down to observable facts—concrete certainties that have been witnessed and recorded to the satisfaction of a judge and jury. The kind of minutia that otherwise gets lost in the course of an average day—the exact time you left your house (down to the minute!) or the exact colour of car you think you saw your friend walk up to—is elevated to the realm of vital importance. The words we use to describe a conviction or an alibi are words of substance and solidity: strong, bulletproof, iron-clad. The way we talk about a murder charge is at odds with realm of fiction, which is often about ambiguity, emotional states that can’t be easily defined. But when Beverley Cooper wrote Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott, ambiguity was her chief concern. She believes Truscott was innocent, but the play isn’t really a story about that. It’s about how the community changed after a child was killed and another child was charged with her murder. Cooper says her friend Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Giller-nominated novel The Way the Crow Flies, also loosely based on Harper and Truscott, served as an inspiration for her when Eric Coates at the Blyth Festival asked her to write a play about the case. She also says she enjoyed the Netflix show Manhunt: Unabomber, a fictionalized take on the FBI’s search for Oklahoma City bomber Ted Kaczynski. “I’m kind of fascinated and yet cautious of that genre,” Cooper says. Fiction about a real-world tragedy risks sensationalizing the events that remain painful for a lot of people. But they also provide the opportunity to explore human behaviour, to directly address the impacts of violence and trauma. “I think what interests me is not necessarily the crime—I’m not really interested in gruesome crime—but what I am interested in is the social implications,” Cooper says. What fascinated her about this case, she explains, is the effect it had on the community: a small town rocked by unexpected violence, trying to cope with grief and tragedy, divided by what many people saw as competing loyalties to two families suddenly at odds with one another. The charges against Truscott were laid in large part because everyone agreed he was one of the last people to see Harper alive. He had given her a ride on the handlebars of his bike on the warm June night she disappeared; an immaculate illustration of childhood innocence for two people who didn’t know their childhoods were about to end. (In a rare televised interview from 2015, producers on The Fifth Estate got Truscott to ride by the same area as that fateful bike journey decades earlier. The image was haunting in its mundanity: there’s nothing shocking about a middle-aged man riding a bike until you think about who is no longer there.)  Much of the testimony in Truscott’s murder trial came from children, a detail that seems directly lifted from Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour. Many of them gave conflicting accounts, either because they were vindictive or just plain mistaken. The prosecution’s “star witnesses” were Jocelyne Gaudet and Arnold “Butch” George, schoolmates of Harper and Truscott. Both were preteens and both changed their stories to police several times, but neither of those facts stopped prosecutors from putting them on the stand. Neither one has spoken to the press as an adult. But several nurses who trained at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal in the 1960s say they knew a woman who called herself Kim, but who everyone knew was actually Gaudet. One nurse said in a signed affidavit that Gaudet had lied on the stand and knew Truscott to be innocent. The fact that so many kids were involved in the trial was another element that was deeply interesting to Cooper. Her son was fourteen when she started writing the play, and she says she remembers looking at him and thinking: How could it happen? “If you think back on a summer night when you were thirteen or fourteen, could you remember exactly where you were or what you did the night before?” she asks. “Something like sixty-one kids were interviewed that night. ‘Where were you, and what did you see?’ The impact of that on the kids, that one of their classmates could be found raped and murdered, and then the guy that they looked up to as the popular jock is charged with her murder—that kind of fascinated me.”The other big driver of Truscott’s conviction, besides child testimonials, came from science that has since been debunked. Dr. John Penistan, the pathologist who examined Harper’s body, said he could isolate the time of her murder to between 7:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., which a doctor named John Butt told The Fifth Estate is an impossible deduction. (Stomach contents tell doctors “nothing precise,” about the time of death, Butt said.) But at the time of the trial, it was enough."

The entire story can be found at:

Read Wikipedia entry at the link below: "On November 28, 2001, James Lockyer led the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted to file 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 Court of Appeal for Ontario 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. Blow flies, maggots and insect activity on Harper's body were capable of raising a "reasonable doubt" whether she died before 8 p.m. – and could suggest she died as late as the next day, although the court said there was no realistic possibility that entomology could have assisted in solving the murder in 1959. However, samples of insects and maggots were collected from the body at the time, and the science has since evolved. By knowing when insects deposit their eggs or larvae on a corpse, experts can estimate time of death. The evidence did not rule out that Lynne died at the time stated by the Crown.........
Truscott's conviction was brought to the Court of Appeal for Ontario 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 Court of Appeal for Ontario began hearing arguments from Truscott's defence in the appeal of Truscott's conviction. Arguments were heard by the court over a period of ten days, concluding February 10. 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 Court of Appeal for Ontario.[4] The Court of Appeal heard evidence, including earlier versions of draft autopsy reports, that contradicted the supposed narrow window for Lynne's time of death. Pathologist Dr. John Penistan had in fact provided three different estimates for this time period, the first two of which would have excluded Truscott as a suspect. Only after the police had narrowed on Truscott as the prime suspect did Penistan provide "forensic proof" that Lynne had died exactly around the time that implicated Truscott. His original estimates and draft autopsy reports were concealed from the defence and the court.[9] On August 28, 2007, Truscott was acquitted of the charges."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.