On June 9, 1959, 12-year-old Lynne Harper disappeared near RCAF Station Clinton, an air force base that lay south of Clinton, Ontario (roughly 180 kilometres west of Toronto). Two days later, on the afternoon of June 11, searchers discovered her body in a nearby farm woodlot. Harper had been strangled with her own blouse, and raped.
Truscott and Harper attended Grade 7 at the Air Vice Marshall Hugh Campbell School located on the north side of the Air Force base. In the early evening of Tuesday, June 9, 1959, Truscott gave Harper a ride on the crossbar of his bicycle and they proceeded from the vicinity of the school northwards along the County Road. The timing and duration of their encounter, and what happened while they were together, have been contentious issues since 1959.
In court the Crown contended that Truscott and Harper left the County Road before reaching the bridge over the Bayfield River and, in a wooded area beside the County Road (known as Lawson's Bush), Truscott raped and murdered Lynne. Truscott has maintained since 1959 that he took Harper to the intersection of the County Road and Highway 8, where he left her unharmed. Truscott maintains that when he arrived at the bridge, he looked back toward the intersection where he had dropped Harper off and observed that a vehicle had stopped and that she was in the process of entering it. At 11:20 that evening, Lynne's father reported her missing.
On June 12, shortly after 7:00 p.m., Truscott was taken into custody. At about 2:30 a.m. on June 13, he was charged with first degree murder under the provisions of the Juvenile Delinquents Act. On June 30, Truscott was ordered to be tried as an adult; an appeal on that order was dismissed.
On September 16, Truscott's trial began at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Goderich before Mr. Justice Ferguson and a jury. Steven Truscott was represented by Frank Donnelly; Glen Hays appeared for the Crown. All the evidence presented in court against the accused was circumstantial, and centred on placing Harper's death within a narrow time frame which implicated Truscott. On September 30, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation for mercy. Mr. Justice Ferguson, as was then required under the law, sentenced Truscott to be hanged.
On January 21, 1960, Truscott's appeal, put forth by John G.J. O'Driscoll to the Court of Appeal for Ontario was dismissed. Immediately afterwards the Government of Canada commuted Truscott's sentence to life imprisonment. An application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied on February 24. On that date, Truscott did not have an automatic right to appeal to this court.
From his arrest until the commutation of his death sentence, Truscott was imprisoned at the Huron County Jail in Goderich.
After the commutation of his sentence he was transferred to the Kingston Penitentiary for assessment and he was incarcerated at the Ontario Training School for Boys in Guelph from February 1960 to January 1963. On January 14, 1963, he was transferred to Collins Bay Penitentiary.
Truscott was transferred on May 7, 1967 to the Farm Annex of Collins Bay Penitentiary. He had an unblemished institutional record. On October 21, 1969, Truscott was released on parole and lived in Kingston with his parole officer and then in Vancouver for a brief period of time before settling in Guelph under an assumed name. He married and raised three children.
On November 12, 1974, Truscott was relieved of the terms and conditions of his parole by the National Parole Board. He has been gainfully employed and free from any criminal involvement since his release.
Truscott's case was the focus of considerable public attention. In early 1966, Isabel LeBourdais argued in The Trial of Steven Truscott that Truscott had been convicted of a crime he did not commit, rekindling public debate and interest in the case. On April 26, 1966, the Government of Canada referred the Truscott case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Five days of evidence were heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in October 1966, followed by submissions in January 1967. That evidence included the testimony of Truscott, who had not testified at the 1959 trial. British pathologist Professor Keith Simpson was invited by the Canadian government to review the forensic evidence.
|Wikinews has related news: Canadian court clears Stephen Truscott of 1959 murder|
Truscott maintained a low profile until 2000, when an interview on CBC Television's The Fifth Estate revived interest in his case. Together with a subsequent book by journalist Julian Sher, they suggested that significant evidence in favour of Truscott's innocence had been ignored in the original trial.
On November 28, 2001, James Lockyer led the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted to file an appeal to have the case reopened. On January 24, 2002, retired Quebec Justice Fred Kaufman was appointed by the government to review the case. On October 28, 2004, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler directed a Reference pursuant to section 693.3(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code to the Court of Appeal for Ontario to review whether new evidence would have changed the 1959 verdict.
On April 6, 2006, the body of Lynne Harper was exhumed by order of the Attorney General of Ontario, in order to test for DNA evidence. There was hope that this would bring some closure to the case, but no usable DNA was recovered from the remains.
Truscott's conviction was brought to the Court of Appeal for Ontario on June 19, 2006. The five judge panel, headed by Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and including Justice Michael Moldaver, heard three weeks of testimony and fresh evidence. On January 31, 2007, the Court of Appeal for Ontario began hearing arguments from Truscott's defence in the appeal of Truscott's conviction. Arguments were heard by the court over a period of 10 days, concluding February 10. In addition to the notoriety of the case itself, the hearing is also notable for being the first time that cameras were allowed into a hearing of the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
On August 28, 2007, Truscott was acquitted of the charges. Truscott's defence team had originally asked for a declaration of factual innocence, which would mean that Truscott would be declared innocent, and not merely unable to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although they issued the acquittal, the court said it was not in a position to declare Truscott innocent of the crime. "The appellant has not demonstrated his factual innocence," the court wrote. "At this time, and on the totality of the record, we are in no position to make a declaration of innocence."
Harper's family have never agreed that Truscott is innocent of the murder, and in July 2008 Harper's brother described Truscott's compensation package as "a real travesty" and indicated he would not inform their father for fear the news would upset him.
The plot of Ann-Marie MacDonald's 2003 novel The Way the Crow Flies is based on a fictionalized version of the Truscott case, and the surrounding community's reaction to the incident. MacDonald herself was raised in the same region, during the same time period as the Truscott case.
Laurier LaPierre, co-host of a CBC news show, This Hour Has Seven Days, was fired after shedding a tear in response to an interview with Truscott's mother, Doris. LaPierre's reaction – quickly wiping away tears under one eye and speaking in a shaky voice – infuriated CBC president Alphonse Ouimet. The president, already a critic of Seven Days, took it as proof that LaPierre is "unprofessional." The popular show was cancelled, and the other co-host, Patrick Watson, also fired over the incident.
A play called Innocence Lost, written by Beverley Cooper and based on Truscott's conviction, was featured at the Blyth Festival Theatre in Blyth, Ontario during the summer 2008 season. The play was remounted again in the company's 2009 season.
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