Morin Inquiry Report

Guy Paul Morin can finally get on with his life. For more than 10 years, and throughout two first-degree murder trials in which he was first acquitted and then convicted, he had to endure the stigma of being guilty in the eyes of the law of the 1984 sex slaying of his nine-year-old neighbor, Christine Jessop. Even after DNA evidence exonerated Morin in January, 1995, some still believed he was the perpetrator. But last week, former Quebec Appeal Court Judge Fred Kaufman, head of a judicial inquiry into the miscarriage of justice, declared Morin innocent "beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Kaufman's 1,380-page report makes it clear that virtually everyone involved in the system - from the police and prosecutors to forensic scientists to government representatives - has plenty of work to do to make sure those mistakes are not repeated. Speaking directly to Morin, Kaufman noted that one of the major tasks of the inquiry was to determine how an innocent man was convicted of a crime he did not commit. But, he added, the inquiry also served to demolish any lingering doubts anybody might have had about Morin's role in the still-unsolved murder. "Though this was not one of the stated purposes of the inquiry, I am pleased that it has served to explain and demonstrate your innocence." Speaking to reporters later, the 38-year-old Morin, now married, expecting a baby and pursuing a career as a piano tuner, said: "This closes a chapter - a big chapter - in my life."

Not so for others. The Jessop family must continue to live with the awful uncertainty of not knowing who killed Christine, who disappeared from their home in Queensville, Ont., 60 km north of Toronto in October, 1984. Her remains were found in December in a farmer's field 55 km to the east. "This inquiry was not about Christine," said her mother, Janet Jessop. "It was about Mr. Morin." In February, 1995, the Ontario attorney general's office transferred the case from the Durham Regional Police to the Toronto police. But after interviewing more than 300 suspects, a special, nine-man task force disbanded in March. While the case officially remains open, homicide detectives concede they will need a lucky break if the little girl's killer is ever to be apprehended.

As for the justice system's failures, Kaufman said he believed no Crown counsel or police officer "ever intended to convict an innocent person." Rather, he said, they developed a "staggering" tunnel vision regarding their belief in Morin's guilt that led to a lack of objectivity and serious errors in judgment. "The intent may not have been there," Morin observed calmly, "but the blunders sure were." Many of Kaufman's 119 recommendations deal with ways in which police and prosecutors can avoid a narrow mind set. They range from better interviewing techniques and improved methods of gathering and storing evidence from a crime scene, to continuing education of officers.

The timing of the report raised a few eyebrows: mid-afternoon on the day before a long weekend is traditionally a time when governments and corporations release information they hope will get little notice. But commission officials said April 9 was simply the earliest date that the massive, two-volume report, originally scheduled for release on March 31, could be translated into French and printed. And reporters, in fact, did turn out in droves. Most of the parties involved in the Morin saga received copies of the report only a few hours ahead of its general release. And while they all said their initial reaction was positive, they still had to study the contents more carefully. One exception: Ontario Attorney General Charles Harnick, who promised to implement all recommendations affecting his ministry, even without knowing how many there were or how much it would cost. "Money," he said, "is not the object in ensuring we have a justice system that works."

Ken Jessop, 28, who was 14 when his sister disappeared, said he, too, was generally pleased with the report. He and his mother have reached a reconciliation with Morin, after having initially been convinced of his guilt. But he no longer speaks with his father, Bob Jessop, who broke ties with the family after the investigation process uncovered evidence that Ken and two other boys had sexually abused Christine. During the media scrum after the report's release, Ken and Janet Jessop posed and exchanged hugs with Morin and his mother, Ida.

Morin and his lawyer, James Lockyer, also said that they were satisfied with the commission report. Several of Kaufman's recommendations, in fact, appear to be lifted from Lockyer's written submission to the inquiry. These include: calling the person on trial by name, instead of "the accused"; allowing the person - in the absence of a proven security risk - to sit with counsel, rather than in the prisoner's dock; and limiting the ability of a trial judge to express personal opinions on issues of credibility to the jury. Still, Kaufman did not go as far as Morin and Lockyer wished in one particular area: banning jailhouse informants. Said Lockyer: "When you get 99 per cent of the recommendations you were looking for, you focus on the 99 and not the one per cent." The testimony of two snitches, Robert Dean May and a convicted pedophile who can only be identified as Mr. X, who claimed they heard Morin confess to the Jessop murder, proved crucial in the second trial. Whether police should rely on informants then became a key issue at the inquiry. Although he did not suggest banning snitches outright, Kaufman made 33 recommendations that would more stringently govern their use, including better guidelines for determining their reliability, restrictions on the benefits they can receive for their testimony, and creation of an informer registry.

Kaufman also took a hard look at the role forensic science played in Morin's ordeal. "Science helped to convict him, science exonerated him," said the judge. "We will never know if Guy Paul Morin would have been exonerated had DNA testing not been available." In particular, Kaufman concluded that Ontario's Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto made a "substantial" contribution to Morin's troubles. The centre hid the fact that some samples it analyzed were contaminated at the lab, lost other samples, and came to conclusions about fibre and hair samples that could not be supported by the science. Kaufman dedicated 32 of his recommendations to avoiding a repeat scenario, suggesting that forensic opinions be acted on only when they are in writing, that scientists use easily understood language, and that the centre monitor the courtroom testimony of its employees. Dr. James Young, Ontario's chief coroner, said the centre has already started working on many of the suggestions that came out at the inquiry, including the installation of a new $750,000 hair and fibre analysis lab. "It was not our best work - we make no bones about that," says Young. "But we haven't stood still over the last 14 years. There are major differences in the lab of today."

For the Jessops, Recommendation 32 - calling for the establishment of a national DNA data bank - may hold the key to apprehending Christine's killer. A bill now before Parliament would do just that, providing a catalogue of DNA samples of people convicted of certain violent offences, as well as setting up a crime-scene index for DNA profiles obtained from unsolved crime scenes. "Realistically, the only way we are going to find Christine's murderer is through a DNA match" says Tim Danson, the Jessop's family lawyer. "A person who commits this kind of an offence is going to do it again."

Maclean's April 20, 1998