Kirk Makin is a former Globe and Mail justice reporter. He is the author of Redrum The Innocent and co-president of Innocence Canada.
Guy Paul Morin’s exoneration in the murder of Christine Jessop may have come in 1995, but his sentence ended only on Thursday.
As with every exoneree in a case where the real killer’s identity remains a mystery, the restoration of Mr. Morin’s innocence came with a sizable asterisk. Acquittals do not remove the mark of Cain. For that to happen, someone else must be convicted, preferably using the unequivocal gold standard of DNA evidence.
Mr. Morin described his dilemma succinctly in a phone call shortly after police had arrived at his home to deliver the stunning news that Calvin Hoover was the real killer: “Until then, I had the privilege of being the only person in the world who knew for sure that I was innocent,” he said. “But the headlines tomorrow are all going to say the same thing: ‘There is no longer any doubt.’ ”
The Morin family were habitually private; they detested being thrust into the public eye. Nonetheless, once Mr. Morin’s exoneration had spawned a public inquiry, he opted to delay his return to anonymity. He kept a vow to attend every minute of the 10-month proceeding. Then, slipping into a closely guarded shroud of privacy, he managed to build a career and raise a family in rural Ontario without running into a stream of people whose faces would incessantly betray an unspoken question: If you didn’t do it, then who did?
Mr. Morin was nonetheless painfully aware that many a law enforcement official had latched onto a maddening notion – known in black humorist circles as “the unindicted co-ejaculator theory” – that posited him having an accomplice to the crime who was the one who left a semen stain on the murder victim’s underwear.
This outlandish rationalization – and any others that served to implicate Mr. Morin in the crime – are now extinguished once and for all.
While it is too much to expect any government to convene a reprise of the first inquiry, the public, the Jessops and the Morins are surely owed an unsparing account of how Mr. Hoover escaped scrutiny.
Christine’s abduction and murder took place over a period of several hours. As a timeline of events was hashed and rehashed by police and in the media after the murder, people in Mr. Hoover’s circles must have surely wondered where he had been in those critical, unaccounted-for hours. Did any of them call in tips that were ignored by police? Was his alibi left unconfirmed? What could Mr. Hoover possibly have said that caused police investigators to move on?
Equally concerning, hundreds of males, both close as well as peripheral to the Jessop family, had their DNA tested during a reinvestigation of the case by Toronto Police in the late 1990s. How did Mr. Hoover again escape scrutiny? And what were the circumstances of his suicide and subsequent autopsy in 2015?
Investigative gaffes of this magnitude cannot be explained away simply as being the failings of a few inexperienced police bumpkins. The most junior cadet is aware that homicide investigations begin with family and friends and radiate outward in concentric circles. As friends of the Jessop family, Mr. Hoover and his wife Heather were obvious, potential suspects who had to be cleared. Moreover, they were amongst a select group who knew that Christine would be home alone after school that afternoon.
The Hoover bombshell has also left a subset of reverberations that cannot go unmentioned. In light of Mr. Morin’s now-certain innocence, for example, there can no longer be any doubt that an undercover police officer planted in his jail cell in 1985 was not telling the truth when he subsequently testified that Mr. Morin confessed to the Jessop murder. Similarly, two jailhouse informants who claimed to have heard Mr. Morin confess must surely be guilty of perjury. Indeed, one of them still enjoys the benefit of a judicial order granting him anonymity? Why?
Further, what can be said for the three visitors at a wake for Christine, who told police they heard screams of anguish from a man outside the Morin home next door? Were their accounts simply fanciful or something more sinister?
The resilient Mr. Morin bears as few traces of trauma as any person conceivably could after undergoing such an experience. Whether a justice system that repeatedly malfunctioned will incorporate the lessons of his 36-year persecution remains as murky as ever.
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