Friday, 11 July 2008

Canada - Truscott to get $6.5-million for conviction

'This is a bittersweet moment for us ... the stigma of living for almost 50 years as a convicted murderer'


With a report from The Canadian Press

July 8, 2008

Lynne Harper's brother said he would meet with his lawyers to discuss yesterday's $6.5-million compensation to Steven Truscott, but acknowledged his chances of blocking the award were slim.

Barry Harper said his family considers the compensation to the man charged as a youth with murdering his 12-year-old sister "a real travesty."

"I don't think there's many options open," Mr. Harper said from Ohio, where he lives.

The $6.5-million is by far the largest compensation for a wrongful conviction in Ontario, and reflects what provincial Attorney-General Chris Bentley called the "extraordinary" circumstances of the case: the fact that Mr. Truscott was convicted and sentenced to death, that prison psychiatrists gave him LSD and sodium pentothal in an apparent attempt to elicit a confession and the decades Mr. Truscott has fought to clear his name since Lynne was killed in 1959.

Mr. Truscott's wife, Marlene, will also receive $100,000 for income lost while she helped her husband's legal efforts.

"This is a bittersweet moment for us," the Truscotts said in a joint statement from Guelph, Ont. "Although we are grateful for the freedom and stability this award will provide, we are also painfully aware that no amount of money could ever truly compensate Steven for the terror of being sentenced to hang at the age of 14, the loss of his youth or the stigma of living for almost 50 years as a convicted murderer."

The Truscotts added they now hope to live the rest of their lives in "peace and tranquillity."

Retired Ontario Court of Appeal judge Sydney Robins was appointed last August to study the compensation issue after the court found Mr. Truscott not guilty in Lynne's killing.

Mr. Robins, whose report was released yesterday, said that while the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment after several months, "the sheer terror" of the stint on death row had a "uniquely traumatic" impact on Mr. Truscott.

His report confirmed that while Mr. Truscott was at Collins Bay penitentiary, prison psychiatrists gave him LSD and sodium pentothal, a so-called truth serum, in an apparent attempt to elicit a confession. Although such treatment was not uncommon in the 1960s, Mr. Robins said that "such an experience would be extremely distressing for a person who had been incarcerated for a crime that he did not commit."

For decades after his release in 1969, Mr. Truscott lived under tight parole restrictions and an assumed name. Fearing bad publicity, parole officials forced him to hold his 1970 wedding in secret, with no relatives allowed to attend.

In all, Mr. Robins argued, Mr. Truscott's death sentence, psychiatric treatment, years living undercover and other circumstances - such as spending what would have been his high school and university years in prison - "forever altered his life," and entitled him to particularly significant compensation.

Mr. Truscott's legal team had suggested a payment even greater than the record $10-million given to David Milgaard, who was cleared of involvement in a brutal rape and murder in Saskatchewan by DNA evidence after 23 years in jail. That package included $750,000 for Mr. Milgaard's mother, who had led the campaign to free him.

While the pace of exonerations of convicted killers in Canada has quickened since the widespread introduction of DNA testing, Mr. Truscott is unusual in one particular respect: He has been acquitted, but cannot be called "factually innocent" since DNA evidence was never recovered from Lynne's body and no one else has been convicted in her death.

Mr. Robins wrote that due to the passage of time, Mr. Truscott "would face insurmountable hurdles to establishing his factual innocence" with absolute certainty, even though the great bulk of evidence now suggests he was not Lynne's killer.

The price of justice

Wrongfully convicted people who received compensation:


David Milgaard: convicted in 1969, at the age of 16, in the murder of Saskatoon nursing aide Gail Miller. Spent 23 years in prison before his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1992. DNA evidence helped catch Ms. Miller's real killer, Larry Fisher, who was convicted in 1999.


Steven Truscott.


Thomas Sophonow: spent nearly four years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in the 1981 killing of 16-year-old doughnut shop clerk Barbara Stoppel in Winnipeg. Mr. Sophonow was cleared in 2000 after three trials.


Randy Druken: convicted of the 1993 murder of his girlfriend in Newfoundland. He spent almost six years in prison before he was granted an appeal. The Crown stayed the charges after a jailhouse informant recanted his testimony.


Donald Marshall: convicted in 1971 of murdering Sandy Seale. The Nova Scotia man spent nearly 19 years in prison before being exonerated by a royal commission report in 1990. Compensated with a lifetime pension.


Greg Parsons: convicted in 1994 of killing his mother. He served six weeks before he was granted bail pending appeal. The Newfoundland man was later exonerated by DNA evidence and formally acquitted in 1998. Province gave him an apology and $1.3-million.


Guy Paul Morin: was tried twice for the 1984 killing of nine-year-old Christine Jessop north of Toronto. Acquitted in 1986, he was convicted at retrial in 1992 and imprisoned. Mr. Morin was exonerated in 1995 on the strength of DNA evidence.


Ronald Dalton: convicted in 1989 of strangling his wife, Brenda. The Newfoundland government agreed to pay $750,000 in compensation. Mr. Dalton spent more than eight years in prison but was later acquitted.

The Canadian Press

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