Is Money Ever Enough?

In what is becoming all too common, Ontario’s Attorney-General today announced that William Mullins-Johnson, wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his four year old niece, will receive $4.25 million in compensation for the twelve years he spent in prison as an innocent man.

Mullins-Johnson is one of the victims of Dr. Charles Smith, Ontario’s infamous forensic pathologist who had a penchant for identifying homicide, where none existed.

Mr. Mullins-Johnson can now be added to the growing list of the wrongfully convicted in Canada. As a compensated victim, as not all wrongfully convicted are compensated, he joins a club whose members are victims of a failed justice system. Other club members include:

1. Simon Marshall, a mentally handicapped man who served six years in prison for a string of sexual assaults in Quebec, based primarily on his false confession. During the investigation to clear his name, authorities learned that DNA from the victims had never been tested. If it had, his confession would have been ignored. He received $2.3 million in compensation.

2. David Milgaard, whose mother led a crusade to prove that he did not murder Gail Miller, began serving a life sentence in 1970. His conviction was overturned based on DNA evidence that proved his innocence. He received $10 million.

3. Thomas Sophonow was convicted of the murder of a young woman in Manitoba after enduring three trials for the murder. He spent four years in prison until he was acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal. An inquiry was led by retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory who recommended compensation of $2.6 million.

4. Steven Truscott was 14 years old in 1959 when he was sentenced to death for the murder of his schoolmate Lynn Harper. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison and he was paroled in 1969. He lived under the shadow of his conviction for 48 years, until the Ontario Court of Appeal entered an acquittal in his case declaring a miscarriage of justice. He received $6 million in compensation.

There are hundreds of other cases like these ones in Canada, the United States and around the world. So what goes wrong? Research shows that these cases are usually the result of one or more of the following situations: false accusations, misleading police investigative work, inept defence counsel, prosecutors’ misperception of their role, inadequate identification of an accused, perjury, false confessions, unsavory witnesses and judicial bias.

Sir William Blackstone, eminent judge and legal scholar’s words are as profound today as when he spoke them: “Better that ten guilty men escape than one innocent man suffer.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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