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 riddled with official errors — from inaccurate eyewitness testimony and police tunnel vision, to scientific bungling and the suppression of evidence. Morin had been acquitted of the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop in 1986, only to be found guilty at a retrial in 1992. He was cleared by DNA evidence in 1995 and received $1.25 million in compensation. In 2020, DNA evidence identified Calvin Hoover, a Jessop family friend who died in 2015, as the real killer.
Christine Jessop Murder
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 3 October 1984. The Morin and Jessop families were both relative newcomers to the rural hamlet of Queensville, Ontario, about 50 km 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 Jessop’s remains were finally found on 31 December 1984. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. A farmer located her tattered clothes and decomposing corpse in his field near Sunderland, Ontario, about 55 km east of Queensville. Due to the distant location of the site of the body, the investigation was transferred from the York police to the Durham Regional Police.
Jealousies and poor communication between the two police forces became an unfortunate feature of the case. This led 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 Jessop’s underwear. However, DNA technology at the time was 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 useful evidence. 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. They were apparently unaware that these exchanges 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.” He also indicated — at least, in the view of the investigators — that he had inside knowledge of the location of the body.
Morin, an independent soul who loved beekeeping and 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 first trial in January 1986, 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. They also presented testimony from an undercover police officer who spent four days in Morin’s jail cell trying to induce him to confess.
Defence counsel Clayton Ruby attacked the credibility of the jailhouse snitches; he revealed that the Crown had offered the informants leniency in their cases, in return for their testimony. Ruby also made much of a series of investigative shortcomings; these included the improper collection and retention of physical evidence from the body site, as well as police notes that were missing, inadequate or misleading.
In an unexpected development late in the trial, Ruby put forward an alternate theory. He said that if the jury were to conclude that Morin had killed Christine Jessop, then they ought to find him not guilty by reason of insanity. Two psychiatrists then 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 found Morin not guilty on 7 February 1986. The verdict 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.
The Crown successfully appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court of Canada. On 5 June 1987, the Court reversed Morin’s acquittal based largely on the trial judge having confused the jury with his legal instructions. It ordered a retrial. Morin’s appeal of the decision was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 17 November 1988.
Second Trial and Conviction
The retrial began on 28 May 1990. It was preceded by 10 months of legal motions and applications by Morin’s new defence team, led by lawyer Jack Pinkofsky. He 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 retrial 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 of first-degree murder on 30 July 1992.
DNA Proves Innocence
Within weeks of the conviction, the news media, a book and a CBC Fifth Estate investigation raised grave doubts about the fairness of the proceedings against Morin. In a highly unusual move, he was released from Kingston Penitentiary on bail on 9 February 1993, 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 a viable suspect.
On 23 January 1995, 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 Quebec Court of Appeal judge, Fred Kaufman, to preside over the inquiry; it was known as the Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin.
Another retired Quebec 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 the 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 called for the creation of rigorous measures to maintain the objectivity of scientific testing, and for the inherent frailties of scientific evidence to be clearly outlined to jurors. He said that jailhouse informants should be used in the rarest of circumstances, given their unreliability as witnesses. He also said that police should 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 due to alibi or DNA, they gave up and closed 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. 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 advocated 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.”
On 15 October 2020, Toronto police announced that they had identified Calvin Hoover, a friend of the Jessop family who was 28 at the time of Christine’s murder, as the man responsible for her murder. Using genetic genealogy tracing, an advanced form of DNA testing, police linked a semen sample from Jessop’s remains to Hoover, who died by suicide in 2015. Hoover was never a suspect in Jessop’s murder but had been considered a person of interest. In announcing the DNA findings, Toronto Interim Police Chief James Ramer told media that, “if he were alive today the Toronto Police Service would arrest Calvin Hoover for the murder of Christine Jessop.”
In a statement released by his lawyer, Morin said, “I am grateful that the Toronto Police stayed on the case and have now finally solved it. When DNA exonerated me in January, 1995, I was sure that one day DNA would reveal the real killer and now it has.” He also said, “I am relieved for Christine’s mother, Janet, and her family, and hope this will give them some peace of mind.”