Truscott acquitted of murder; Ontario attorney general apologizes
Kelly Patrick and Meagan Fitzpatrick, CanWest News ServicePublished: Tuesday, August 28, 2007
TORONTO - After nearly half a century as a convicted killer, Steven Truscott was acquitted on Tuesday of the 1959 murder of Lynne Harper.
"We are satisfied that Mr. Truscott's conviction was a miscarriage of justice and must be quashed," the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote in a unanimous 303-page decision released at 11 a.m. "If a new trial were possible, an acquittal would clearly be the likely result."
While the acquittal is a victory for Truscott, 62, the judges stopped short of satisfying his lawyers' plea the court declare Truscott innocent.
"The appellant (Mr. Truscott) has not demonstrated his factual innocence," the ruling reads. "To do so would be a most daunting task absent definitive forensic evidence such as DNA. Despite the appellant's best efforts, that kind of evidence is not available."
Steven Truscott .
CNS file photo
Truscott, however, did get an apology from the Ontario government.
"Today's judgment is hardly legal housekeeping of the past. The court has found, in this case, in light of fresh evidence, that a miscarriage of justice has occurred and for that miscarriage of justice, on behalf of the government, I am truly sorry," said Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant after the ruling was released.
"Today's result is foremost an opportunity for closure in the eyes of the law. So too do we all pause to remember Lynne Harper, and to grieve the loss of this 12-year-old girl and think of her family at this time."
He said Truscott's case has "ailed our nation."
Bryant, who said the Crown would not appeal the decision, added the government is seeking legal advice on compensation for Truscott.
He has asked retired Judge Sydney L. Robins to advise him on compensating Truscott for the 10 years he spent behind bars and the 48 years he spent under the shadow of a murder conviction.
Today's decision is the culmination of Truscott's lifelong battle to clear his name.
The married father of three was just 14 when he was sentenced to hang for the rape and murder of Lynne, 12, who vanished from a Clinton, Ont., air force base June 9, 1959.
Authorities found her body two days later in a wooded grove near the base. She had been strangled with her blouse.
"The most important thing is Steven Truscott went to bed last night a convicted murderer and this morning he's been acquitted," said Julian Sher, the author of Until You are Dead, an investigative book about the Truscott case."His father's not here to see it, but his mother is still there, his family is still there, his children are still there."
The five judges who presided over the judicial review also considered whether to order a new trial for Truscott.
They ruled that while the new evidence is not strong enough to guarantee an acquittal if a new trial is ordered, they recognized that a new trial would be virtually impossible to hold so long after Lynne's death.
"(Mr. Truscott) through no fault of his own, will never have the opportunity to stand before a jury of his peers and make full answer and defence to the allegation that he murdered Lynne Harper," the judges wrote. "Fairness to (Mr. Truscott) dictates that this court should ... endeavour to bring this matter to a conclusive end."
With that in mind, the court concluded it was more likely than not that Truscott did not kill Lynne and opted to acquit.
Despite the collapse of the 1959 case, the court declined to blame the police or anyone else for sending Truscott to prison for 10 years.
That is disappointing, Sher said.
"I think they (the judges) fall short of a more rigorous condemnation of what went on," he said.