Paul Morin knows the power of forensic evidence
Forensics is generally defined as the accurate application of science and its techniques to investigations in order to obtain impartial evidence that may assist legal bodies in developing an understanding of crime, and disclose it’s perpetrators – unfortunately, definitions and practice rarely coincide. Just ask Paul Morin.
October 3, 1984, saw the commencement of a 3 month long search into the disappearance of nine year old Christine Jessop, abducted from the front of her home in Queensville, Ontario, and found later dead, 50 km east of her dwelling. The investigation that followed could be perceived as comical, if it were not so appalling. The evidence available almost certainly would have been enough to disclose the identity of the criminal, or at least allow for the development of a useful characteristic database – unfortunately, each piece of this vital data collected was either misconceived, tainted, destroyed, lost or unduly relied on by those responsible for its collection, protection, analysis and impartial presentation.
Like most countries under English (Canada) or American legislative structures, police officers are required to adhere to regulations pertaining to the protection of crime scenes and their adjoining areas in order to obtain as much information about crimes as possible. On December 31, 1984, the date Christine Jessop’s body was found (dental records positively identified her on January 1, 1985), "a cigarette butt was located in the general vicinity of her remains. It was tagged, bagged and photographed by Sergeant Michalowsky, the senior identification officer who was in charge of the identification unit at the Durham Regional Police Service". The relevance of this cigarette butt was uncertain at the time, because it may have been placed at the scene prior to, during, or even after the incident –though the latter is highly unlikely as it stands to reason that any person that close to the dead body would have noticed it visually or by scent, and in turn reported it to the authorities. If the butt did belong to the killer, then there was the possibility that it contained the key to uncovering the culprit’s identity, left behind by trace elements such as DNA found in saliva. Almost one year later, during a meeting of the Crown attorneys and police officers, Sergeant Michalowsky made comments to the effect that "we even find our own officers’ cigarette butts at crime scenes". Ironically, this was the situation with the butt found near Christine’s body. On January 7th, 1986, Detective Fitzpatrick called a meeting between himself and any officers attending the body site who were smokers. It was discovered that Constable Cameron had in fact discarded his own cigarette near the body, and later realising it was inappropriate, removed it. Unfortunately, photographs taken at the scene depict that the cigarette was of a different brand to those consumed by any of the officers – which in turn suggests that Constable Cameron accidentally removed and disposed of evidence, leaving his own cigarette as a substitute. Sergeant Michalowsky later testified that no cigarette butts were found at all. In 1990, following an Ontario Provincial Police investigation, Michalowsky was charged with one count of perjury for his part in making false statements under oath, and two counts of willfully attempting to obstruct justice.
Dr. Hillsdon Smith conducted the autopsy on January 2, 1985. It was noted that the following internal injuries were present - two mid frontal area bruises caused by blunt impacts; a cut on the fourth lumbar vertebrae, located on the lower portion of the back; and a cut in the sixth, seventh and eight right rib, including a fracture. It was concluded that the injuries were consistent with having been caused by multiple stab wounds from a single sided knife, no more than an inch wide. Due to the decomposition of the body, it was not possible to determine if the deceased had been sexually assaulted. During a second autopsy in 1990, Dr. Clyde Snow with the assistance of Dr. Hans, a forensic pathologist, it was uncovered that the initial autopsy was somewhat inadequate. New findings included - a massive skull fracture, damaged vertebrae, and breastbone injuries. It is possible that the original oversight may have been caused by a lack of training on the behalf of those working within the autopsy department, because there is very little regulation as to who works within Canadian morgues. Unlike Australia, which requires any doctor participating in autopsy to have undertaken extensive training (6years of medical school, 2 years of medical residency, and 5 years of pathological training in at least one of three areas (anatomical, general, or histo. pathology)), Canada does not require anything more than a general study of pathology.
The initial autopsy and crime scene findings prompted the use of John Douglas, a former FBI forensic profiler, in order to develop a profile of the killer that would help police with their investigation. By this stage of the inquiry, Paul Morin had already become somewhat of a suspect in the case – but when the profile was developed, it closely paralleled his character - a parallel that ken Jessop (Christine’s brother) later suggested was "custom fitted" by Douglas to fit Morin. This profile was then released to the general public with the acknowledgement that it fit Morin more so than any of the other 4 suspects under investigation, thereby prejudicing Morin’s legal right (under the section 11(d) within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Act of 1982, which states individuals must be presumed innocent until proven guilty) to a fair trial. Many criticisms of this technique have since surfaced, particularly the fact that it was too heavily relied on by police, whilst other evidence such as the cigarette butt, that may have helped establish the identity of the true criminal, or at least other suspects, was simply ignored.
Paul Morin was arrested at 7.45 p.m. on April 22, 1985. At the police station Morin volunteered samples of his hair, blood and saliva, which were subsequently delivered to the Centre of Forensic Sciences in conjunction with his motor vehicle. It should be noted that evidence collection guidelines for Canadian police clearly stipulates that a minimum number of fifty hairs must be obtained for an accurate comparisons; but in this instance, only ten to fifteen hairs samples were acquired. "Morin proclaimed his innocence throughout the six hour interrogation following his arrest. In the course of the questioning he produced a penknife which was ultimately tendered into evidence…. as a possible murder weapon". A search of Morin’s home was also undertaken, with the intention of discovering some sort of evidence that could tie him to the murder – particularly a murder weapon, buttons missing from Christine’s blouse, a blue woolen sweater, clothing items that contained blood stains, and most of all, gold coloured seat covers and animal hairs. The gold coloured seat covers were of great importance because Stephanie Nyznyk (a scientist at the Centre of Forensic Sciences) found "gold coloured fibres on Christine Jessop’s clothing taken from the body site that were consistent with the type of fibres used in the manufacture of upholstery and floor coverings for vehicles". A total of 149 exhibits were taken from the home, of which only one – being a dark grey fibre found on the living room rug – was ever proved to be of any significance.
Morin was brought to trial on January 7, 1986. The Crown brought forward several pieces of evidence, including hair samples found on Christine’s necklace which supposedly matched Morin’s, 3 hairs found in the defendant’s vehicle that could possibly have belonged to the deceased, fibres and animal hairs found at the murder scene as well as the suspects home and car. Other evidence included statements made by prisoners, statements made by Morin to police in February 1985 (which allegedly demonstrated his consciousness of guilt), as well as evidence that Morin had ample opportunity to commit the crime.
Out of all the evidence brought forward, the only reliable exhibits that had any value would have been the fibre and hair samples. Ms. Nyznyk testified that the strongest conclusion that could be drawn from a hair fibre is that it is ‘consistent with’ having come from a particular source. The second strongest conclusion is that a hair or fibre ‘could have’ come from a particular source. She was unable to state that the hair was ‘consistent with’ having come from Morin because she could not make a full comparison because of it’s decomposition. If the police officers had bothered to investigate their cases less flamboyantly, they would have discovered that Christine had the opportunity to make contact with at least two other individuals at her school, who had hair ‘consistent’ with that of the suspect. The there is the matter of the handful of fibres found on the victim’s clothing – which were said to match a small number of fibres found in the Morin home and family car - which the Crown had insisted was proof that Christine had been driven to her death by Morin. "Since the Centre collected many of these bits of lint by vacuuming the interior of the car, the defence thought it important to know whether the vacuum bags had been sterile". When asked the question in court, the scientists didn’t know. Following a freedom of information request on the defence’s behalf, they were informed that no records existed to even indicate where the bags had even been purchased so that the question of sterilisation could be concluded. Later investigations discovered that the individuals responsible for examining fibres had produced graphs that clearly displayed their lack of understanding for the machinery that they were using. Further concern was expressed upon the realisation that tests conducted more than once resulted in quite different results each time. But perhaps even more significant is the fact that the Morins and the Jessops used the same laundromat. This shared location could within itself have given explanation as to how the hairs and fibres used as evidence came to be found on both the defendant’s and the deceased’s belongings. The forensic analyst responsible for the case disagreed under oath, and repeatedly dismissed the situation as unlikely – though in October 1992, the same forensic department wrote a letter in response to a Toronto lawyer stating that they refused to examine penitentiary clothing due to the common use of laundry equipment. More inadequacies were uncovered a short time later when it became evident that few notes had been taken regarding certain aspects of evidence, of those recorded, most were lost, and both the hair and fibre evidence had become significantly contaminated very early on in the investigation under the care of Nyznyk who suppressed this information entirely, even during her court testimony. As impossible as it may seem, the hair and fibre evidence was later lost completely, thereby preventing any re-examination".
The remaining evidence, including the supposed statements made by Morin as to his guilt (which were not recorded due technicalities during the interrogation) were purely hearsay. Statements made by fellow prisoners were only obtained after considerable sentence reductions were offered to each, one of whom was known to police as a compulsive liar. In hindsight, every piece of evidence presented was purely circumstantial, and would have carried little if any weight.
On February 7, 1986, after 13 hours of jury deliberation, Morin was acquitted.
"By notice of appeal dated March 4, 1986, the Attorney General of Ontario launched an appeal to the Court of Appeal for Ontario against the acquittal" . There were two bases for the Crowns appeal: first, that the trial judge had misdirected the jury as to the use of ‘reasonable doubt’. Secondly, the use of the accused’s psychiatric condition was admissible only on the defence of insanity, and could not be used as evidence of guilt. After some deliberation as to the accused’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states no person shall be tried twice for the same crime, it was decided that the retrial would not infringe or violate the fundamental principles of justice underlying the community’s sense of fair play and decency. On May 28, 1990, the second trial began, lasting a total of nine months, and ending in a unanimous decision that Morin was guilty of murder.
In August 1992, Morin launched his own appeal, based on 181 grounds, to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. It was his intention to question both the reliability of the evidence brought forward during the first and second trial, as well as the significance of the hair and fibre evidence which had been adduced by the Crown on the basis of a 1986 research paper by Roger Cook and Graham Jackson - entitled "The significance of fibres found on car seats". Morin by this stage had obtained an affidavit, signed by Roger Cook, stating that the prosecution had misused his study.
Throughout the many years of the investigation, DNA technology (which was used for the first time within a Canadian court during a sexual assault trial late in 1989) was unable to deduce whom the blood and semen stains found on Christine’s clothes belonged too, due to it’s decomposition after extensive exposure to the environment. It was also uncovered that the serology unit located within the Centre of Forensic Sciences had allowed samples to deteriorate considerably, and were resorting to outdated methods of testing samples that most other forensic labs avoided, simply because the Canadian forensic department were not as well educated. These outdated testing techniques were also responsible for further consuming and destroying the remaining evidence. "In October 1994, the Chief Justice of Ontario ordered three scientists…. to examine jointly all of the available semen samples" and report if DNA science (which had been greatly developed since the initial investigation) would lead to any conclusive results. Other forensic specialists made strong objection to this approach on the grounds that there existed a possibility that the semen stains may have been excreted by more than just one individual, which in turn would cause a genomic DNA pool with absolutely no forensic value. In the light of newly acquired confession from Christine’s bother, admitting to having sexual relations with his sister, this objection remained extremely viable. There were also fears that the semen might have been contaminated by a vial of Morins blood that broke whilst in a cardboard box that housed a large portion of the evidence. Never the less, the tests continued, and on January 20, 1995, a report released to the Chief Justice stated that the sperm sample could not possibly have originated from Paul Morin. On January 23, 1995, Morin’s conviction was set aside, based purely on the new DNA evidence.
The Morin case was plagued from beginning to end by inadequacies. Considering all the technological advances society has managed to develop within the last 20 years, this should never have been possible. But to make such a statement would only show our own shortsightedness in understanding the forensic process, which within itself, though technically at the forefront of any accuracy concept, is cursed by the ‘human’ factor. Consider the cases of David Milgaard, Donald Marshall, Richard Norris, Wilson Nepoose, and Donzel Young, each of who were convicted of crimes that they had not committed, based on ‘human’ error. The reality is that we will never eradicate errors and wrongful convictions because our systems of trial are made up primarily of humans - and humans invariably make mistakes. Consider the cigarette butt found near the deceased’s body, and later lost due to ‘human’ error – it is quiet possibly that it held the identity of the true killer. The suspect profile developed by John Douglas – a questionable technique based on presumptions rather than fact; the reason many countries refuse to utilise it. The lack of detailed recording during the first autopsy - quiet possibly due to a lack of educational requirements or foresight. Consider the contamination, loss, and inaccurate interpretation of evidence, not to mention a huge pile of other faults and mistakes that took place that were too numerous to mention within this report.
By looking at all the problems surrounding this particular case, it is reasonable to presume that the Canadian legislative structure, though typically similar to those found in Australia, England, and America, is faulty in comparison. It is one thing to keep up with world standards in areas of evidence techniques, but quiet another to make sure that those techniques are adequately facilitated. It seems that Canada has not quite yet developed an understanding of this concept, or at least has not applied it effectively in this particular case. The practices displayed by the Canadian Centre of Forensic Sciences during the Morin case were completely inexcusable – in comparison, ‘witch hunts’ tactics may have proven more rewarding. An independent investigation into this department’s practices would prove beneficial to all, particularly if it encourages the Canadian government to better asses and educate staff, who obviously need to hone their skills, procedures and understanding that forensics is about impartiality, not twisting facts solely to produce tunnel vision convictions. Though it should be noted, even strategic improvements such as these cannot, and will not remove all errors. The belief that any system of reform would ultimately create 100% accuracy could only be conceived by a delusional mind. But at least these errors will be greatly reduced, creating a system whereby the terms ‘fair’ and ‘reliable’, in cases of evidence and trials, will become the true norm. Come to think of it, any improvement in this situation would have been heaven sent.
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Written By Evan Sycamnias - 11-10-99