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Tran murder case doomed from first day, review says

The investigation into the murder of eight-year-old Mindy Tran was plagued from its first day by police mistakes and personnel problems that ultimately doomed their case against Shannon Murrin, an RCMP review says.

As a result, jurors at Mr. Murrin's January 2000 trial had no choice but to conclude that the Newfoundland mechanic was not guilty of killing the Kelowna girl, who disappeared from outside her home in August 1994.

The child was found strangled two months later in a shallow grave in Mission Creek Park.

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The report, by RCMP Inspector Ray Ambler, said some investigators in the Kelowna detachment must carry the blame for botching the investigation. It says the lead investigator, Sergeant Gary Tidsbury, who has sinced retired, should have been replaced.

"The downfall of this case was the integrity of the investigation," the report said. "There were a few whose bad judgment, loss of objectivity and a failure to live up to one's duty as a member of the RCMP contributed to the downfall of this file."

At Mr. Murrin's trial, defence lawyers argued that Mr. Tidsbury decided early on that Mr. Murrin had killed Mindy.

They said he tampered with evidence and leaned on witnesses to change their stories and even encouraged a near-fatal beating of Mr. Murrin by three former friends. After the trial, the lawyers called for a public inquiry.

The report said Mr. Tidsbury should have been replaced because of the public view that he might have been involved in that beating.

The report concluded that police were right to zero in on Mr. Murrin. The Tran murder case is now closed.

The review made 23 recommendations on how to improve investigative practices, which the RCMP say have already been adopted.

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The province last year refused to call a public inquiry, and a criminal investigation into RCMP conduct concluded there was no evidence to suggest police acted improperly.

Later, the force announced that an administrative review of the entire Tran investigation would be conducted by a five-member, senior RCMP panel from Alberta.

Yesterday, one of Mr. Murrin's lawyers said he was disappointed with the report.

The review, which was sent to the federal government in January, bolstered arguments made during Mr. Murrin's trial that the Kelowna officers were out of their depth with a difficult and high-profile murder investigation.

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