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Donald Marshall Jr., the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq who became a Canadian symbol for the wrongfully convicted, is behind bars again, this time undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric assessment after he was accused of trying to run down a man with his car in his Cape Breton hometown.

Shackled in leg irons, and arguing with a provincial judge, Mr. Marshall, 52, made a brief appearance in a Sydney court Tuesday afternoon, charged with attempted murder, uttering death threats and dangerous driving.

The news has shattered family and friends in the native community of Membertou, where Mr. Marshall is known simply as Junior.

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"He hasn't been himself lately," Membertou Chief Terry Paul said yesterday, adding that Mr. Marshall has grown distant and uncommunicative.

Police say the alleged assault on Duncan Gould occurred on New Year's Eve in broad daylight in front of witnesses on Membertou's main street, just outside Sydney.

Yesterday, Mr. Marshall's brother, David, said in a written statement that his brother's mental health has been deteriorating for months.

He said it had deteriorated to the point where his family planned to drive to Halifax, where Mr. Marshall now lives, to confront him. However, on Tuesday morning they learned he'd been arrested in Halifax.

"Donald's condition is not known yet but what we have witnessed over the past several months is that he had symptoms indicating that he may have some sort of mental health disorder," said the statement signed by David Marshall.

"There also could be other things attributing to his condition. We do not have any answers right now."

Donald Marshall underwent a double-lung transplant in 2003 and takes powerful anti-rejection drugs.

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The police allegations are a sad development in his long, tangled history with the Nova Scotia justice system.

He spent 11 years in prison for the 1971 murder of Sandy Seale, all the while maintaining his innocence. He was eventually exonerated by a royal commission in 1990, which slammed the province's justice system, saying systemic racism contributed to his arrest at 17 and subsequent conviction.

The report led to sweeping changes to Nova Scotia's legal system.

Mr. Marshall was awarded a lifetime compensation package of $1.5-million but he left prison an altered man, unable to hold a permanent job.

However, he was admired and respected across the country and was often invited to speak to schoolchildren about his long fight for justice.

In the 1990s, Mr. Marshall found himself at the centre of another legal battle, this time over native fishing rights. Convicted for catching eels out of season, he appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that he had historic treaty rights dating from the 17th century.

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He won and that ruling too had a profound impact on native fishing and hunting rights.

After the ruling, Mr. Marshall joked that he hoped never to darken a courtroom door again.

In recent years, he lived in Halifax but he returned home to Cape Breton frequently and ran popular training camps for Mi'kmaq youth, Mr. Paul said.

In 2002, Mr. Marshall fell seriously ill with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but recovered after receiving a double lung transplant.

Duncan Gould, the man Mr. Marshall is accused of attempting to run over, is the brother of the late Roy Gould, a former Membertou chief, who was also the publisher of the Micmac News.

The publication carried extensive coverage of Mr. Marshall's case and was widely viewed as contributing to his exoneration. Mr. Gould refused to comment on the matter yesterday.

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Mr. Paul said he noticed a marked change in Mr. Marshall's personality in recent months.

"He's changed. Before, as I knew him, he was talkative with me," said Mr. Paul, who encouraged Mr. Marshall in his legal battle on fishing rights.

"He was a very easygoing person, very likeable, very approachable. Ordinarily, you could joke around with him. Lately, he's distanced himself. I don't know why.

"I'd like to try to help him."

Police say Mr. Gould and Mr. Marshall have known one another for years. One of the alleged death threats made against Mr. Gould occurred Oct. 30, 2005.

"For sure there is some feuding between these two individuals. What exactly precipitated it or what the root cause of it, at this time I don't know," RCMP Constable Paul Tobin said.

After his arrest, Mr. Marshall complained of health problems on the car trip back to Cape Breton, police said. He was taken to a Sydney hospital for a checkup.

A doctor who examined him said he was fit to make a brief court appearance the next day.

Mr. Marshall told the court that his medication was withheld from him and asked that a family member in court translate the proceedings into Mi'kmaq.

Provincial Judge Peter Ross asked for the psychiatric assessment to determine whether Mr. Marshall is fit to stand trial. He is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 2.

In the statement, David Marshall said he hopes the assessment will shed light on his brother's condition.

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