Painful Truth: Wrongful convictions tar the system

The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer asks a question that has only two possible answers, both disturbing.

The documentary follows Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was convicted of sexual assault in the early 1980s and spent 18 years behind bars. He was then exonerated, released, and was on the verge of winning a major settlement when he was arrested again. This time, he was accused of murder, and was again convicted.

So the possibilities are, either a man who was exonerated of one crime went on to commit one in any case, or that the same man could be a victim of two miscarriages of justice.

It’s hard for many people to believe that police, prosecutors, judges, and juries could get things so wrong, not just once but possibly twice.

Unfortunately, while rare, wrongful convictions are far from unheard of in Canada, as well as in the United States.

Canadians have seen a string of high-profile convictions overturned. In some cases, lives were ruined in ways that are impossible to set completely right, no matter how many apologies are given, no matter how much is paid in compensation.

What could possibly be done for the family of David Milgaard?

The Saskatchewan man was still a teenager when he was convicted of raping and killing Gail Miller.

Milgaard would spend most of the next 23 years in prison. He even escaped twice – on his second attempt, he was recaptured after 77 days on the loose, and shot by the RCMP during his capture.

But Milgaard was unequivocally innocent. Later tests and evidence would show that it was Larry Fisher, a serial rapist, who had killed Miller.

At least the resolution of that case had a conclusion that could give some comfort to both Milgaard and Miller’s family. Others leave only wounds.

Guy Paul Morin spent nine years being tried and re-tried for the murder of a neighbour, nine-year-old Christine Jessop. Although the evidence against Morin was shaky to being with – his time card from work alone suggested he wasn’t around when she vanished – investigators became fixated on him. They famously thought Morin was a “weird-type guy.”

As in so many other cases, DNA evidence would eventually rule out Morin. But the true killer has never been found.

Sometimes there is no killer.

There are several families in Ontario who have seen double tragedies. First, a child died. Then one of the parents was sent to jail for a murder that never happened.

The notorious pathologist Charles Smith conducted autopsies that turned up murder where no murder existed. Fathers and mothers were sent to jail because of deaths that had resulted from freak accidents or medical problems.

The vast majority of serious criminal investigations in Canada do turn up the proper suspect. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a cold case that is only solved years later.

But there are cases where a combination of events – fixated investigators, bad science, or simple chance – can result in an innocent person going to jail for a crime he or she did not commit.

Wrongful convictions damage the system of justice.

We can learn two things from them. First, that we are all human, and imperfect, and must beware of our own biases as much as possible.

And second, that somewhere in Canada, the innocent are behind bars.

 

Just Posted

VIDEO: Taking a motorcycle tour of a new type of Langley office building

Owner of “your workspace” project wants to have staff share space with outsiders

Langley playing host to B.C.’s best high school wrestlers

A pair of champion women wrestlers share stories and experience with younger generation.

VIDEO: Winterhawks end Giants winning streak at seven

Playing on home ice in Langley, Vancouver’s G-Men fell 5-3 during a Family Day game against Portland.

Langley’s Tiffany Foster and Team Canada ride to fifth-place-finish in Palm Beach

Canadian show jumping team competes in $290,000 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup

LETTER: Langley man says Wilson-Raybould deserves Canadians’ respect

A letter writer said the former federal justice minister is one of a rare class of politicians.

Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigns amid SNC-Lavalin furor

Butts categorically denies the accusation that he or anyone else in the PMO improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould

Chanel: Iconic couturier Karl Lagerfeld has died

He spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy

Aaron Pritchett and George Canyon to headline Gone Country concert in Cloverdale this summer

‘Early bird tickets on sale via Twins Cancer Fundraising website

Lost a ring? This B.C. man will find it for you

Chris Turner founded The Ring Finders, an international directory of metal detector hobbyists

Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

Funding allocation expected to be released with 2019 budget

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

UPDATE: Plane flips over at Pitt Meadows airport

The pilot and lone occupant exited the aircraft on his own and uninjured.

Most Read