CANADA

How did it happen?

Truth remains elusive at the Morin inquiry

D’ARCY JENISH March 10 1997
CANADA

How did it happen?

Truth remains elusive at the Morin inquiry

D’ARCY JENISH March 10 1997

How did it happen?

CANADA

Truth remains elusive at the Morin inquiry

D’ARCY JENISH

Day after day, since mid-February, Guy Paul Morin has patiently listened to testimony at the judicial inquiry into his wrongful conviction for first-degree murder. But his characteristic cool evaporated last week, as one of his principal accusers, former Durham Regional Police Det. Bernie Fitzpatrick, concluded his appearance. Fitzpatrick refused to concede that police had charged the wrong man—even though DNA evidence cleared Morin and led the Ontario Court of Appeal to overturn his conviction for the October, 1984, sex slaying of his nine-year-old neighbor, Christine Jessop. “He still hasn’t taken off the blindfold,” Morin, 36, said later. “He is a scary individual.”

Given what Morin has lived through, his anger is understandable. Since the provincially appointed inquiry headed by former Quebec Appeal Court Judge Fred Kaufman opened on Feb. 10, it has been examining the role of jailhouse informants—and police reliance on them. Two snitches, 34-year-old Robert Dean May and a convicted pedophile who can only be identified as Mr. X

because of a court order prohibiting publication of his name, testified at Morin’s 1986 trial, saying that they had heard Morin confess to the Jessop murder. Although it ended in an acquittal, the Crown successfully appealed the verdict, and the two informants’ evidence proved crucial at his second trial. That 26-month marathon concluded in July, 1992, with Morin’s conviction. Now, the inquiry has raised serious questions about the truthfulness of the two informants, and the possibility that the police manipulated their evidence to make it more credible to the second jury.

In particular, commission counsel Austin Cooper and Morin’s lawyer James Lockyer have focused on an offer from the Crown attorney and Fitzpatrick to excuse the men from testifying at the second trial, which they rejected. As a result, May, who has been described as a pathological liar, was able to tell the jury that he was testifying voluntarily—deflecting some of the defence attacks on his character. Cooper and Lockyer suggested that the offer was a ploy to enhance the credibility of the infor-

mants. But Fitzpatrick insisted that the case against Morin was strong enough even without the jailhouse snitches. “In my mind we had gathered enough evidence, albeit circumstantial, that would lead to a conviction,” he said. “You’re not prepared to say Mr. Morin is innocent?” Lockyer asked. Fitzpatrick replied, “It is my opinion—I would just as soon keep it to myself.”

The inquiry has also raised disturbing questions about Morin’s alleged confession, which he has always denied making. For about a week in late June and early July, 1985, Morin shared a cell with May, who was serving a sixmonth sentence for fraud-related offences while facing three additional charges. Morin, 24 at the time and a resident of Queensville, Ont., 55 km north of Toronto, had just been committed to stand trial for the Jessop murder and was insisting on his innocence. On July 1, May and Mr. X, who was incarcerated in the next cell, told police that, during the night, they heard Morin confess, exclaiming in an anguished and tearful voice: “Oh f—. Why did I do it? F—, man, f—. I killed her. I killed that little girl.”

Under questioning by Cooper, both informants acknowledged seeking deals with the police before they would reveal details of the alleged confession. May, in I fact, managed to have two 1 charges dropped while receiving a lighter than expected sentence for assaulting a guard. As for the confession, May admitted at the inquiry that he had almost no recollection of what actually happened in the cell that night, but remains convinced he heard Morin admit his guilt. He also conceded that in July, 1994, he told several individuals that he had fabricated Morin’s confession and perjured himself at both trials. But he was lying to those people, May testified.

With Kaufman due to report on his findings in late June, the inquiry may eventually provide some solace for Morin, who is putting his life back together after a 12-year ordeal. He now lives in Mississauga with his wife, Allison, whom he married after being exonerated, and works as a self-employed handyman. And the most enduring mystery in the case is no longer in the hands of the Durham police. In February, 1995, the provincial attorney general’s department gave Toronto homicide detectives the task of finally determining just who did kill Christine Jessop.