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A convicted killer serving time in British Columbia has been identified as the prime suspect in a notorious Winnipeg slaying that saw another man wrongly jailed for four years.

Thomas Sophonow was cleared last week in the 1981 slaying of 16-year-old doughnut shop clerk Barbara Stoppel. Winnipeg police and the Manitoba government apologized to Mr. Sophonow, and a judicial inquiry headed by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory has been ordered into his wrongful conviction.

In absolving Mr. Sophonow, Winnipeg police said they had a "viable" new suspect who offered no risk to the public.

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Yesterday, sources confirmed reports that the new suspect is 38-year-old Terry Samuel Arnold -- a serial rapist and killer currently serving a life sentence in Mission, B.C., for the 1991 first-degree murder of a 15-year-old Kelowna girl, Christine Marie Browne.

Mr. Arnold reportedly bragged to undercover police that he once killed a girl and got away with it.

Two years ago, Calgary police disclosed that Mr. Arnold was a suspect in the 1987 murder of 17-year-old Denise Lapierre. Her body was found less than a block from Mr. Arnold's Calgary home and police are hoping sophisticated British DNA tests might help solve the case.

Winnipeg homicide detectives have visited Calgary to determine whether there are any similarities between the deaths of Ms. Stoppel and Ms. Lapierre.

According to one published report, Mr. Arnold was interviewed by Winnipeg police soon after the Stoppel slaying but investigators dismissed him as a suspect even though he lived less than one kilometre from the murder scene.

Other reports suggested police in the Manitoba capital were tipped to the identity of Mr. Arnold as a possible suspect around the time Thomas Sophonow was facing a second trial as the accused murderer. Police "failed to follow up" on the tip, one report quoted a source as saying.

Mr. Arnold was implicated in the Christine Browne slaying in 1997, while serving 6½ years for a string of sexual assaults against young girls aged 10, 11, 15 and 16 in Newfoundland. Eventually, he led undercover RCMP officers to the spot near Penticton where he killed Ms. Browne -- a runaway -- and described how he clubbed her to death.

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Officially, authorities were tight-lipped yesterday about Mr. Arnold's possible involvement in the Winnipeg matter. "This is an ongoing investigation," said Winnipeg police spokesman Constable Bob Johnson. "The Winnipeg Police Service cannot and will not discuss this ongoing investigation."

Other sources confirmed that Mr. Arnold is the key suspect in the slaying of Ms. Stoppel, who was found strangled in a Winnipeg doughnut-shop washroom Dec. 23, 1981. As in the Calgary homicide, Mr. Arnold was living near the Winnipeg murder scene.

In Calgary, police await forensic results on mitochondrial DNA samples considered crucial to that case. Ms. Lapierre's body had been washed in an attempt to erase DNA evidence. It is uncertain whether any DNA evidence was extracted from material in the Stoppel case.

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