Thursday, May 14, 2020

Laureena Hill: RIP: A great lady of biblical strength: (Mother of William Mullins-Johnson - whose story is well known to the readers of the Charles Smith Blog.)

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: CBC journalist John Chipman understood the tragic dimensions of the wrongful conviction  of William Mullins-Johnson for molesting and murdering his four-year-old niece, Valin.  As Chipman wrote in now classic book 'Death in the family,' referring to William, Valin's uncle and Paul, her father. "His story was almost biblical: two brothers turned against each other, each convinced the other had committed an unspeakable crime, only to realize years later that the crime had never happened." The 'biblical' aspect was intensified by the prophet-like role  played by the brother's mother 'Laureena - the grieving mother - caught in this hellish conflict between her sons, but unwavering in her belief that neither son had harmed her beloved grand-daughter. Her experience in life had taught her tragically some children become sick and die. Sometimes we understand why, other times,  as with Valin's death, we don't.  But to Charles Smith  and his colleagues at the  Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto it was murder, to the police (even before receiving all of the forensic reports) it was murder, and to many of the members of the family's tiny community, it was murder. Why would the police have charged William with murder if he hadn't committed the crime? But, like a Prophet, Laureena, who sadly passed away this week, did not waver in the face of all of the hatred, ignorance and  bigotry generated by the emotionally charged situation  - and in the face of a justice system  which had somehow lost its bearings. 
Author Helena Katz  summoned up Laureena beautifully in her book called 'Justice Miscarried: Wrongful Convictions in Canada. "Throughout his incarceration, he would phone his mother Laureena Hill at least once a week to let her know that he was still alive. She would write him lengthy letters every week sharing details of her life, such as local weather and gossip. Meanwhile Mullins-Johnson spent his life behind bars reading, taking correspondence courses and learning about Aboriginal culture. The conviction tore his family apart. He had no contact with his brothers, including Valin's father. Other family members shunned his mother for sticking by her son and fighting for his release. "What gave me hope was mom. She would not let me give up;" he said. "There were times when I literally wanted to smash my wrist and be done with this." 
Win Wahrer, of Innocence Canada, who worked closely with Laureena in her bid to free and exonerate her son of this crime that never happened had this to say about her dear friend: "Laureena epitomised  the true definition of mother and friend. She was unconditional in her love of her sons and remained focused on proving Bill's innocence despite the negativity, ostracisation and cruelty directed at her. No sacrifice  was too big,  and no heartbreak too painful to deter her.  The greatest trauma and tragedy of her life called upon her to step out of her comfort zone and take the position of warrior. Her true essence was revealed for all too see, to experience, and yes even to fear if you weren't on the side of truth and fairness. Laureena was armed for the fight of her life with great wisdom, incredible courage, dogged determination, a caring and loving heart as well as a fantastic sense of humour. She was a remarkable woman and someone I deeply respected and loved.  Laureena inspired and touched my life and has and always will always hold a special place  in my heart and thoughts. Laureena rest in  the peace that you so craved and deserved."
One story Laureena told  me has always stayed with me as it exemplifies her dogged determination and devotion to her son.   Bill had asked her  to bring some  books to the prison - mainly works  on  subjects such as sociology, philosophy,  political science and whatever else might challenge his curious mind. However, Laureena ran into an obstacle: Prison policy prohibited the  provision of books to inmates. On her next visit, Laureena returned to the prison with the same box of books, announcing that  she would like to donate them to the prison library. All the books made it through! That was pure Laureena!

 Laureena Hill: A great, wise  lady of biblical stature. She will be missed. My condolences Bill.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.