Friday, 7 April 2017

Innocent men accused and convicted of crimes they didn`t commit (part 1)                                                         

The series on this subject is going to be a very long one because so many persons were accused and convicted of murders they didn’t commit and unfortunately, some of them were executed.

It would be nice to think our judicial systems are totally infallible, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit more often than anyone would like to admit, and in some cases, people who were later found to be innocent have actually been put to death. English jurist William Blackstone once said, “Better that ten guilty persons go free than that one innocent person should suffer.” Even lawyers are indoctrinated with this concept early in law school. Whether you support the death penalty or not, most people would agree with the statement above. Despite the concept that innocent-until-proven-guilty legal system governs us all, there has been many cases where presumably innocent persons have been convicted of a crime—some even put to death. Sadly, we may never get a chance to find out the truth. The recent inclusion of DNA evidence in trials has been used in some cases to clear many people falsely convicted. There are a considerable number of recent cases of people who are now presumed, but not proven, to be innocent. 

Since 1973, more than 100 people in the United States have been sentenced to death only to be found innocent later and released from death row. There can be no justice when innocent people are sentenced to death. For every seven death row inmates who were actually executed, there was one condemned prisoner who was later proven to be innocent. It is all but certain that innocent people are sometimes executed in the United States. Of course, this also applies to other countries. These are mistakes that cannot be undone and certainly should not be repeated. 

In 1976, the members of the Canadian House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament were debating whether or not they should ab0lish the death penalty in Canada.  I was invited to submit my views on the subject to the members of the House of Commons and the Canadian Senate. In my report, I cited a case were a man was hanged for the murder of a five-year-old child. In my report, I said that many years after the man was hanged, I was asked to re-investigate the case. I learned that years later; the police admitted to the parents of their murdered child that the wrong man was hanged. The police had discovered who the real killer was but they couldn`t charge him as he was by then in a hospital for the mentally insane.  I also found the court transcript of a sanity hearing of a lawyer who was at that particular time defending the condemned man during his trial and two appeals. The lawyer was insane. Forty-two of the members of parliament wrote me back thanking me for my report. One of them said that he would have my document on his desk when he voted. He quoted me in Parliament from something I said in my report. “There can be nothing worse than putting to death an innocent human being.” After the votes were counted, the death penalty in Canada was abolished permanently. Years later, the former prime minister of Canada; John Diefenbaker who was always an abolitionist, spoke to me and said that when he read my report, he told his party that I was right when I said in my report that the risk of innocent persons being hanged cannot be tolerated.  

In 1964, when I began practicing law as a court agent, I was asked by the director of the newly-formed Ontario Legal Aid to join him as a member of his staff. I did. Then at that time, Ontario Legal Aid comprised of the director, his secretary and me.

In those early days of Ontario Legal Aid, the lawyers who volunteered their services to Legal Aid weren’t paid to defend their clients. Further, if they needed to have their cases investigated by a private investigator, they had to pay the investigator out of their own pockets. As to be expected, that wasn’t going to happen.  My job at Legal Aid was to do the investigations for them and for my services; Legal Aid paid me $75 dollars a week. In today’s money, that was equivalent to $585.00. My services were well worth my salary. In every case I undertook, I discovered the truth as to what really happened, why it happened and who made it happen.

I am going to tell you about two of those cases I solved. In one case, the man who was convicted of murder was declared innocent after the court read my report. I actually found the real murder. The second case was one in which the suspect had been charged with first-degree murder which was then punishable with death. After I solved the case, the suspect’s charge was  dropped to manslaughter.

I will now tell you about the first case. A young man and his mother were living in a rooming house in Toronto. One day, others in the rooming house heard the woman screaming in her room. They entered her room and found the woman dead. Someone had smashed in her head with a heavy object. Then another roomer told them that he saw the woman’s son striking her head with a heavy stick of wood.

The police were called and they woke up the son who was sleeping in his own room. He was so drunk; it wasn’t until seven hours had passed before they could question him. He denied killing his mother. They didn’t believe him and they charged him with second degree murder. With the so-called eyewitness (the fellow roomer) testifying against him, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Eighteen months later, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed to hear his appeal. That is when his new lawyer asked the director of Legal Aid to have me re-investigate the case.

For many years, I was an investigator. I even wrote a book on how to be a good private investigator. Of the hundreds of cases I solved, this particular case was truly the most fascinating case I had for one reason alone. This young man had a horseshoe up his ass. I solved it by pure luck.

When I entered the room that the woman was murdered in, I discovered that the room was exactly like it was at the time of the murder. The owner of the house had locked up the room after the police were finished with it since no one would want to sleep in a room where a woman who had been sleeping was murdered.

The first thing that got my attention was that the foot of the bed was pulled away from the wall. The second thing I noticed was that there was a large splatter of blood (which was then brown in colour) on the wall near the head of the bed. If the owner of the house had moved the foot of the bed back to the wall and had removed the large blood spatter from the wall, I never would have solved the case. For the son of the dead woman, the condition of everything in the room when I entered it was pure luck for him and me also.

The first question that cropped into my mind was; why was the bed pulled from the wall? The owner said that when she entered the room, the bed was already pulled from the wall and she wondered the same thing.

The son was right handed. If he wanted to beat his sleeping mother to death, he wouldn’t need to pull the foot of the bed from the wall. That would be done by a left handed man. Mind you that was mere speculation. However, the proof of that proposition was in the blood. Here is how I proved it.

I got a piece of wood that was approximately the same size of the one the killer used and I poured some water on a pillow and then struck the pillow several times using my right hand and swung my arm backwards after each swing.  The piece of wood was stopped by a square column next to the wall. There was no water on the column in which there would have been if the killer had swung with his right arm. When I used my left arm and swung it backwards, the drops of water went around the column and onto the wall beyond the column. I then looked at the wall with a magnifying glass and a bright light and saw very minute specks of dried blood on the wall. The killer was left handed.

I was also able to establish the exact moment the killer first struck the victim on her head when the owner and her daughter who were downstairs heard the woman scream. They told me what they were watching on TV when they heard the scream and the television station told me what was being shown on TV and when I described what was happening in the show, the woman pinpointed the exact moment the killer first stuck the victim. It was during the second commercial. The killer was the fellow roomer who accused the woman’s son of killing his mother. He was seen leaving the house within minutes after the woman was killed.  Incidentally, he was a left-handed man. The police later found the killer and when they searched his new room, they found blood splatter on one of his shirts. It was the victim’s blood. He was arrested but he died before he was to go on trial.

The second case was a very difficult one to solve. The accused killer lived on the second floor of a small building on a major street in Toronto. He had a girlfriend who was a prostitute and one day she told her boyfriend (the one I was investigating) that she needed to find a place to sleep that night. He told her she could sleep with him but she was not to go to the front door as the doorbell didn’t ring. He told her to go down the small dead end lane alongside of the building, climb up the steel fire escape and cross over to the small roof of the shed at the rear of his building and knock on his kitchen window.

By the time midnight had arrived, he was totally drunk. He heard the rapping noise outside his kitchen and having forgotten that he was expecting his girlfriend at the kitchen window, he presumed that it was a stranger trying to break into his apartment. He lifted the window upwards and before the woman could say a word, he placed his hands around the presumed stranger’s neck and subsequently, he strangled his girlfriend to death. When he realized what he had done, he pulled the dead woman through the opening of the window and dragged her into his living room and placed her on his sofa. He tried to resuscitate her but it was to no avail.

He phoned the police and told them his story. He also told them that he can prove his story that he was to meet her friend at the kitchen window because he heard a voice in the lane call out, “Hey. What’s going on up there?” If they looked for whoever it was that was in the lane just after midnight, that person would tell them that someone was at his kitchen window. Did he really believe that the police would start looking for someone who could verify his story when they had no idea who it might be in a city of over a million residents? No doubt, you are aware of that saying, looking for needle in a haystack. How about first looking for a haystack in a region where there are hundreds of farms. The man was charged with capital murder—at that time, a hanging offence.  

I was called upon to investigate his case. It took me three days to find the unknown witness and get his written statement. There was a tavern around the corner and I presumed that after the tavern closed, the witness entered the dead end lane to take a leak. So I visited the tavern several nights and found someone who was a friend of the man I was looking for. I asked him what he and his friend did after they left the tavern. He told me that on their way home, his friend had to take a leak so he went into the lane that ran alongside the building the lawyer’s client lived in. The man I was talking too told me that his friend’s street name was Moose. I knew this man because he was a rounder and many rounders knew me since I represented some of them in criminal court. One of them told me that Moose was in the Toronto Jail waiting for a trial. I interviewed him in the jail and he signed a statement that verified the charged man’s alibi.                            

I also figured that if the woman had really climbed up the fire escape, her fingerprints would be on the underside of the hand railing. I asked a private investigator I knew who had equipment that is used to gather fingerprints and he powdered them and then used clear sticky tape to remove them. The prints were those of the dead woman.

The man’s lawyer gave a copy of the witness’ statement and the woman’s prints to the police. The police interviewed Moose and subsequently, they dropped the charge of capital murder and charged the lawyer’s client with manslaughter. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison and was released after serving four years.

Imagine if you will how you would feel if you were charged with a crime that could result in you being sent to prison for life as mention in the first case I told you about. If the police had used their common sense, they would have discovered what I did. Instead, the accepted the statement of the real killer. It didn’t dawn on them that it was very strange that he moved out of the house immediately after he was interviewed by the police. Further, the police didn’t think it was odd that the killer had moved the foot of the bed from the wall.

Further, imagine if you will if you were charged with first degree murder that would result in you being hanged if convicted.  The police after hearing the man state that he told the woman to come up the fire escape, you would think that they would have had the common sense to check the underside of the railing of the fire escape for the dead woman’s fingerprints.

In both cases I described to you, the police bungled their way through their investigations. Inapt police officers are often the reasons why innocent persons are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

While it is impossible to calculate the exact financial costs imposed by the actions of inapt or dishonest police officers and flaws in the justice systems, without question they are staggering. Taxpayers have not only had to finance multimillion-dollar settlements to wrongly convicted Death Row inmates—one of them alone received nearly $13 million from Cook County in Illinois but the taxpayers also have had to pay for new trials, sentencing hearings and appeals in more than 100 cases where a condemned inmate's original trial was undermined by some fundamental police error or flaws in the justice system.

The false accusations sometimes begin with the police. They will frame innocent persons for murder like the officer who framed an innocent man  (Zimmerman) for a murder in New York that he didn’t commit. The innocent man was minutes from the electric chair at one time. Eventually he was set free when the cop who was dying confessed as to what he had done to Zimmerman. Many innocent persons are accused falsely of murder by informants and the police don’t check out the informant’s stories to see if they are lying. Further, too many police investigators are too lazy to take the time to thoroughly investigate murders, such as the ones I described in this article.

In my following articles on this subject, I am going to tell you of cases where innocent persons were put at risk of facing death or alternatively; facing long terms of imprisonment. 

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