The Guy Paul Morin case was the second major wrongful conviction case to occur in the modern era of the Canadian criminal justice system.
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The Guy Paul Morin case was the second major wrongful conviction case to occur in the modern era of the Canadian criminal justice system. The case was a compendium of official error — from inaccurate eyewitness testimony and police tunnel vision, to scientific bungling and the suppression of evidence.
Guy Paul Morin, a 24-year-old furniture factory worker, lived next door to Christine Jessop, a nine-year-old girl who vanished after school on a lovely autumn day, 3 October 1984.
The Morin and Jessop families were both relative newcomers to the rural hamlet of Queensville, Ontario, approximately 50 kilometers north of Toronto. The child’s disappearance resulted in panic. By nightfall, hundreds of York Regional Police, firefighters and community volunteers were searching for her.
Christine’s remains were not found until 31 December 1984, when a farmer located her tattered clothes and decomposing corpse in his field kilometers east of Queensville. The distant location of the body site led to the investigation being transferred from the York police to the Durham Regional Police.
Jealousies and poor communication between the two police forces were to become an unfortunate feature of the case, leading to the suppression or improper transmission of important information. In addition, each of the forces possessed modest experience, with the added internal and external pressure of a homicide case.
Semen stains had been found on the victim’s underwear, however, DNA technology had not advanced enough to render conclusive results from the badly deteriorated samples. Thus, two early attempts to obtain DNA readings failed.
Months of investigation turned up little evidence that was useful. At the same time, police investigators failed to keep an emotional distance from the Jessop family. They held free-ranging discussions with Christine’s parents about suspects and other aspects of the case, apparently unaware that these interchanges could contaminate and ultimately jeopardize the integrity of their recollections and later testimony.
In a notable instance that only came to light many years later, the lead investigators persuaded Christine’s mother and brother to reconsider the time they had arrived home on the day of Christine’s disappearance. Previously, they had pinpointed it as 4:10 p.m. Once the Jessops expanded their estimate to 4:35 p.m., it dramatically changed the window of opportunity Morin would have had in which to arrive home from work and abduct the child.
Perceptions of Morin
Perceptions by police and community members also played a significant role in causing the investigation to go askew. Perceived as black sheep within the Queensville community, the Morin family was reclusive, combative and given to surrounding its partially renovated home with junk and work materials.
In addition, Morin drew suspicion to himself by not joining in the search for the Jessop girl, or attending her funeral in early January 1985. During a routine interview with Durham detectives Bernie Fitzpatrick and John Shepherd, Morin also made oblique references to little girls growing up to be “corrupt,” and indicated — at least, in the view of the investigators — that he had inside knowledge of the body site location.
Morin, an independent soul who loved bee-keeping and a playing the clarinet, was arrested on 22 April 1985 as he drove to a community band practice. He was denied bail and spent ten months in Whitby Jail awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.
Opportunity was a key factor in the case. Morin claimed he could not have had enough time to drive home from work, abduct Christine, drive her to the body site, sexually assault and stab her to death, and still be home for dinner by approximately 5:30 p.m. However, the Crown, with the use of the Jessop family’s reconfigured time schedule, contended that his window of opportunity was sufficient.
At Morin’s 1986 trial, prosecutors John Scott and Susan Maclean portrayed him as a misfit who had become sexually obsessed with his next-door neighbor. The evidence against him included a hair found on Christine’s body which allegedly matched Morin’s, as well as microscopic clothing fibres found in Morin’s car that were used to link him with Christine.
In addition, the Crown put forward two jailhouse informants who claimed to have heard Morin blurt out an anguished midnight confession; and an undercover police officer who spent four days in Morin’s jail cell in an attempt to induce him to confess.
Defence counsel Clayton Ruby attacked the credibility of the jailhouse snitches — exposing Crown offers of leniency with the informants' own legal cases, in return for their testimony. Ruby also made much of a series of investigative shortcomings that included the improper collection and retention of physical evidence from the body site, and police notes that were missing, inadequate or misleading.
In an unexpected development late in the trial, Ruby put forward an alternative theory. He said that if the jury were to conclude that Morin had killed Christine, then they ought to find him not guilty by reason of insanity. Ruby then put two psychiatrists in the witness box who testified that Morin was moderately schizophrenic and could have potentially stabbed Christine to death during a hallucinatory episode in the deluded belief that he was giving her life.
After deliberating for less than a day, the jury acquitted Morin — a verdict that was loudly denounced by the Jessop family, police and the news media. A collective belief had evidently developed that, based on the psychiatric evidence alone, Morin was the killer.
Appeal and Conviction
The Crown successfully appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court of Canada. In its 1988 judgment, the Court reversed Morin’s acquittal based largely on the trial judge having confused the jury with his legal instructions. It ordered a retrial.
The retrial was preceded by ten months of legal motions and applications by Morin’s new defence team, led by lawyer Jack Pinkofsky. In particular, Pinkofsky fought for disclosure of a vast number of police reports that had not been given to Ruby prior to the first trial.
Some of the reports ultimately raised serious questions about the integrity of physical exhibits used at the initial trial. Others pointed to viable alternative suspects who police had not investigated fully. Still more revealed that Christine’s brother, Kenneth, had informed police at one point that when Christine was seven years old, he and two of his friends had induced her into having sex with them on several occasions.
Pinkofsky used these revelations at the re-trial to allege that police had built a fabricated case around a man whose only "crime" was being eccentric. He suggested that other more viable suspects had remained at large — including Ken Jessop — as the police single-mindedly went after Morin.
After hearing nine months of evidence, the jury shocked most observers by convicting Morin on 30 July 1992.
DNA Proves Innocence
Within weeks of the conviction, the news media, a book and a CBC Fifth Estate program were raising grave doubts about the fairness of the proceedings against Morin. In a highly unusual move, he was released from Kingston Penitentiary on bail the following February, pending his appeal.
Virtually on the eve of Morin’s appeal, a third and final attempt was made to obtain DNA results capable of verifying whether Morin was the killer. This time, using advanced technology, scientists at a Boston lab were able to obtain a DNA reading. It was inconsistent with Morin’s DNA, effectively ruling him out as being a viable suspect.
Three days later, the day his appeal was scheduled to commence in the Ontario Court of Appeal, a Crown prosecutor apologized to Morin for his ordeal and joined the defence in asking the court to overturn his conviction and substitute a verdict of not guilty.
Inquiry and Compensation
Simultaneously, the Ontario government struck a public inquiry to delve into the miscarriage of justice and recommend systemic changes. It appointed a retired Québec Court of Appeal judge, Fred Kaufman, to preside over the inquiry, known as the Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin.
Another retired Québec judge, Alan Gold, was hired by the Ontario government to negotiate compensation for the Morin family. He ultimately recommended that the family be paid $1.25 million. The province agreed.
Morin attended every day of the 10-month inquiry into his wrongful conviction before intentionally slipping out of media limelight. Discussing his motivation to be present, Morin told reporters: “No one will ever look at me again and say: ‘He might have done it.’ I had the dagger hanging over my head, all right. But this is like a motion picture ending.”
In a 1,300-page final report, Kaufman concluded that the Morin investigation and prosecution had featured, “tunnel vision of the most staggering proportions.” In his 119 recommendations, Kaufman pointed to a host of problems involving inadequate disclosure of evidence by the Crown; scientific error; and a false theory that led officials to build a case around their main suspect.
Kaufman strongly urged the creation of rigorous measures to maintain the objectivity of scientific testing and that the inherent frailties of scientific evidence be clearly outlined to jurors. He said that jailhouse informants be used in the rarest of circumstances, given their unreliability as witnesses, and that police develop strict protocols for collecting, retaining and disclosing physical evidence.
With the case unsolved, Metro Toronto Police took over the Jessop murder investigation. In 1998, after 300 potential suspects had been probed and eliminated primarily on the basis of alibi or DNA, they gave up and closed down their re-investigation.
The Jessop family came apart soon after Morin’s conviction. Bob and Janet Jessop split up and sold their home in Queensville, while Ken Jessop moved to the Niagara Falls area and worked primarily as a disc jockey. He created a website, Justice for Christine Jessop.
Morin used his compensation payment to purchase a tract of land with a farmhouse north of Toronto. Shortly after his exoneration, he married a member of a support team that had gathered to advocate for his innocence. The couple have two sons. Morin gained certification as a piano tuner, opened a small business named Paul’s Handiworks and later obtained full-time employment at Toronto’s Pearson Airport as a maintenance worker.
Over the years, Morin avoided speaking to the media or making public appearances. “I don’t have any bitterness about the past,” he said in one of his last interviews. “It’s true that I’ve have had my little spurts of anger, but I knew my day of exoneration would come.”