Morin Inquiry Revelations
Ken Jessop leaned forward in the witness stand, stared across the courtroom at the man he once fervently believed had killed his sister - and apologized. For Jessop and Guy Paul Morin, that public admission was a cathartic moment in the grim legal odyssey that began on Oct. 3, 1984, the day nine-year-old Christine Jessop was abducted from her home in Queensville, Ont., north of Toronto. Her murdered body was found three months later in a wooded area 50 km to the east. To support the case against their neighbor, Ken and his mother, Janet Jessop, now say, police pressured them to change their accounts of when they arrived home that day - evidence that helped convict Morin in 1992, six years after he had been acquitted at an earlier trial. Jessop, who testified last week at a Toronto inquiry examining the circumstances of Morin's wrongful conviction, said police convinced his family that their neighbor, who was finally exonerated by DNA evidence in 1995, was a "demon." Throughout his emotion-charged remarks, it was clear that Jessop is now determined to set the record straight - regardless of the consequences. "Frankly, I don't give a damn if I'm charged," he said. "I want the truth to come out."
The astonishing revelations at the Morin inquiry - chaired by former Quebec Appeal Court Judge Fred Kaufman - have called into question the integrity of the Ontario justice system. In addition to the Jessops' testimony, the inquiry has heard that faulty work by scientists at the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto likely contributed to the wrongful conviction. Then there was the evidence of the jailhouse informants, one a sexual offender, the other a petty criminal classified as a pathological liar, who claimed in exchange for lighter sentences that they heard Morin confess to the killing. Prosecutors involved in the case have also been heavily criticized over their handling of the investigation, with one Crown lawyer breaking down in tears on the stand.
To restore faith in the system, says Bruce Durno, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, the government must not only act on Kaufman's recommendations, expected later this year, but launch a separate investigation into the forensic centre. "It is absolutely clear that false evidence was presented," said Durno. "Steps have to be taken to make sure it does not happen again." Legal experts across Ontario do not intend to drop the issue when the inquiry concludes. Maclean's has learned that a letter is now being widely circulated among criminal lawyers asking them to submit the names of any clients they believe may have been convicted on the basis of suspect evidence produced by the centre. As well, the Criminal Lawyers' Association says that the provincial attorney general's ministry must launch an independent inquiry into its own operations.
Some of the most dramatic moments in the Morin inquiry came earlier this month, when Janet and Ken Jessop alleged that two veteran Durham regional police detectives, Bernie Fitzpatrick and John Shephard, convinced them to alter their original versions of events. The Jessops originally told the detectives that they arrived home at 4:10 p.m. - and that Christine was not there. Her bicycle was lying on the ground and her jacket was on a coat peg that was beyond the little girl's reach. But Morin could not have made it home from work before 4:14. In order to convince the court that he had enough time to kidnap and murder Christine, the Jessops changed their story to say they arrived home at 4:35.
To convince them to go along, the Jessops say, the police told them that Morin was a serial killer and would soon be charged in the murder of another child. When pressed by one of Morin's lawyers, James Lockyer, to explain why she lied when she knew in her heart Morin could not have committed the murder, Janet Jessop said she simply trusted the police. "Anything anybody told you, you would almost take as gospel because you wanted to find an answer," she replied. "You get so confused. You get angry."
But while Janet Jessop remained relatively calm at the inquiry, her son seemed overwhelmed. The stocky 28-year-old, who was only 14 when the murder occurred, repeatedly broke down in tears on the witness stand as he described how the police kept up the pressure to stick to the 4:35 story. "I'm sorry, Paul," said Jessop. "We thought we were doing the right thing, what the police told us to do. I'm telling the truth for the record so the truth can come out of all this." Morin, who met privately with Jessop after the apology, appeared deeply moved by the admission. Through most of the inquiry, he has remained stoical, even good-natured. "It's all quite astonishing," said Morin. "Jessop finally admitted that with the brainwashing of the police, he was led astray."
Whether or not Fitzpatrick, Shephard and the Jessops will face criminal charges is uncertain. Janet Jessop testified at the inquiry under the protection of the Canada Evidence Act, and the statements she made cannot be used against her. Her son, however, received no such immunity. Legal experts say that, while authorities may be reluctant to proceed against the Jessops - who were deeply traumatized by Christine's death - there may be room to lay criminal charges in other areas. With that possibility clearly in mind, lawyers representing the detectives, who have since retired, tried to force Jessop to admit that his accusations were designed to minimize his own role while laying the blame at the feet of police.
Testimony into the operations of the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto was equally damning. Crown prosecutors at the 1986 and 1992 trials relied heavily on matching four hairs and 12 microscopic fibres found on Christine's clothing to the interior of Morin's Honda. But an anonymous letter sent to the inquiry by a staff member at the centre said that in 1986 scientists knew the samples were contaminated by other fibres - a fact that was not revealed to the defence at either of the trials. Compounding the problem is the fact that the centre has since lost the hair-and-fibre evidence, thereby preventing any re-examination.
In response to the letter and other evidence, Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. James Young, has launched an investigation into cases handled by Norman Erickson, who headed the centre's hair-and-fibre section, and Stephanie Nyznyk, the technician who worked on the case. Young says the review committee - comprising one technician and two external experts from the United States - is looking at up to 50 as-yet unnamed cases involving hair-and-fibre analysis between 1983 and 1987 to determine if anyone else has been wrongly convicted.
The chief coroner also insisted that laboratory procedures are more stringent than they once were. "We're partly the victim of some fairly sensational headlines," Young said. "We're talking about one area of the centre and one case years ago." But legal experts believe that, as a result of the Morin fiasco, it may become harder to convince juries to accept testimony from experts - such as those from the forensic centre - in future trials. "This is not what we thought we were getting," observed Ron Delisle, a former provincial court judge who now teaches law at Queen's University in Kingston. "It adds a great dose of cynicism. To hear this come out is particularly damning."
Lost in the bitter exchanges at the inquiry is the fact that Christine's killer remains at large. The Metropolitan Toronto Police force took over the investigation in 1995 - and inherited a list of more than 360 suspects. They are now being traced as part of an "aggressive, ongoing investigation," says Det. Sgt. Neale Tweedy, head of the nine-man group that is searching for the killer. The team has also identified further suspects, and is trying to match a DNA profile from the semen stain on the girl's underwear to the genetic fingerprints of known criminals. (Ken Jessop became a suspect when it was revealed in 1990 that he had sexually molested Christine with two other boys. But an analysis of his DNA has cleared him of any involvement in the crime.)
Morin, meanwhile, is determined to get on with his life. He now lives in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, with his wife, Allison, whom he met while he was in prison and she worked as a civilian clerk for the Metropolitan Toronto Police. They were married following his exoneration, and Morin now works as a self-employed handyman. He has just finished rebuilding a piano and hopes to make a career of refurbishing the instruments. For a man who was robbed of more than 10 years of his life, he remains remarkably philosophical. "Some of the recommendations will become law," Morin predicted last week of Kaufman's final report. "Hopefully, this will never happen to anyone else." His bitter story may go a long way towards ensuring that it does not.
Maclean's July 1, 1997