Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Steven Truscott acquitted

It's taken 48 years for Steven Truscott to have the Ontario Court of Appeal determine that the evidence used to convict him of the rape and murder of 12-year old Lynne Harper would not withstand the test of scrutiny.
Steven Truscott was a victim of a "miscarriage of justice," Ontario's highest court ruled Tuesday as his 48-year battle to clear his name culminated in his acquittal of the 1959 rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper.

"The conviction, placed in the light of the fresh evidence, constitutes a miscarriage of justice and must be quashed," reads the unaminous judgment from the Ontario Court of Appeal.

"The fresh evidence realted to the issue of the time of Lynne Harper's death is sufficient to quash the conviction."

That evidence dealt in large part with the original autopsy notes made by Dr. John Penistan in 1959. Harper's time of death was "crucial" to the original Crown's case. Penistan testified that Harper died before 7:45 p.m. on June 9 - which made Truscott the prime suspect.

Last year, the Appeals Court heard evidence that Penistan's original autopsy conclusions allowed for a time of death much later that 7:45, perhaps even the next day for which Truscott had an alibi - he was in school.

Truscott and his lawyers had been hoping for a declaration of "innocence". The quashing of the conviction would allow the Crown to proceed with a new trial, however, that isn't likely.

Truscott was actually sentenced to be hanged. At age 14, after a two day police investigation and a two week trial, he was convicted of capital murder and became the youngest person in Canada to be sentenced to death by a criminal court. His sentence was commuted in 1960 to that of life imprisonment. He was paroled after serving 10 years.

In 1966, Isabel LeBourdais wrote the book The Trial of Steven Truscott which blew apart the police investigation and the evidence presented at the trial.

In 2000, the CBC's Fifth Estate produced a documentary which presented new evidence, including a 1966 review published by the original pathologist which changed his autopsy results. The program also uncovered the fact that police had ignored other suspects in the case, some of whom had clear histories as sexual offenders.

As inconceivable as this may sound today, Steven Truscott was found guilty and sentenced to death on the strength of nothing more than circumstantial evidence.

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