The 'other guy: Some of Canada's most infamous murderers who nearly got away with it

Almost 30 years after Guy Paul Morin, left, was wrongly convicted in the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, this week he got his first glimpse of the real killer, Calvin Hoover.

Not every wrongfully convicted murderer gets to look the other guy in the eye.

Stephen Truscott, 75, for example, does not know who killed his classmate Lynne Harper in 1959, a murder for which he was wrongly sentenced to die, and served a decade in prison, before his 2007 acquittal and apology from Ontario for the miscarriage of justice.

Some do, eventually. David Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the 1969 murder of Gail Miller, and had his conviction overturned in 1992, fully seven years before the real killer, Larry Fisher, was convicted with a DNA match.

Some are never quite sure. Robert Baltovich was cleared in the 1990 murder of his girlfriend Elizabeth Bain, in part for evidence supporting the unproven defence theory she was Paul Bernardo’s first murder victim.

Guy Paul Morin got his first glimpse of the other guy this week, nearly 30 years after he was wrongly convicted in the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop. He got to see a dated mugshot of Calvin Hoover, and learn from police that this real killer was dead. The case was closed by a DNA match, between semen found in Jessop’s underwear and blood taken during an autopsy after Hoover’s 2015 death.

This shows, according to Toronto Police, that it was Hoover, not Guy Paul Morin, who was there at that rural property 50 kilometres east of Jessop’s home in Queensville, Ont., where her body was discovered in a roadside copse of trees, back facing up, legs unnaturally twisted, naked but for white socks with blue trim, with her clothing strewn around.

 Nine-year-old Christine Jessop was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in 1984.

The test was the final result of a genealogical analysis by an American lab that used the crime scene DNA to build a possible family tree based on available genetic information of millions of other people. The Toronto Star reported police had a judge approve the test before a final match was made.

“I am relieved for Christine’s mother, Janet, and her family, and hope this will give them some peace of mind,” Guy Paul Morin said in a statement through his lawyer. “I am grateful that the Toronto Police stayed on the case and have now finally solved it. When DNA exonerated me in January, 1995, I was sure that one day DNA would reveal the real killer and now it has.”

Few people can truly say anything like that.

Sometimes, for the wrongly accused, the other guy is actually a woman, or even a youth. Sometimes his identity is obvious. He may even be a co-accused, sitting right there in the same courtroom.

In the best-known such case, the 1971 killing of 17-year-old Sandy Seale in Nova Scotia, Donald Marshall, Jr., then 16, and a Mi’kmaw youth, was wrongly accused of stabbing his friend to death late at night in a Sydney park. He described the real killer Roy Ebsary to police, only to be disbelieved and wrongly convicted in a racist legal catastrophe that set the precedent for government compensation. Marshall, served 11 years in prison before Ebsary was convicted of manslaughter and served a year. Both men are now dead.

Sometimes there is no other guy at all. William Mullins-Johnson, for example, was convicted for a murder that never took place and spent 11 years in prison. His four-year-old niece, Valin, died in his care, which only became a false charge of murder through the twisted and false expert testimony of Charles Smith, a disgraced forensic pathologist.

In another case spoiled by Smith, Louise Reynolds spent two years in prison for the death of her two-year-old daughter Sharon, whose injuries from mauling by a pit bull were misinterpreted by Smith as an attack with scissors.

For many wrongful convictions, though, there is someone else out there, someone guilty who was wrongly overlooked.

Patterns of wrongful convictions reflect a society’s dominant ways of thinking about victims and perpetrators, and what sort of person is likely to be which. Public support for prosecutions also reflects thinking about police, and the likelihood that their suspect actually did it.

In this way of thinking, the notion that there is some other guy out there is often a paper tiger, dismissed out of hand as the flailing excuse of a caught killer, or the strategic fiction of his defence counsel. Sometimes, though, he becomes inevitably real.

The murderer of Christine Jessop has always existed as an anonymous presence, an evil lodestar in the life of Guy Paul Morin, and others like him who did time for someone else’s murder.

For the Canadian public, though, they leap onto the stage as if from nowhere.

 David Milgaard, left, spent 23 years in prison for the 1969 murder of Gail Miller before his wrongful conviction was overturned in 1992, seven years before the real killer, Larry Fisher, right, was convicted.

That is how Calvin Hoover entered the ranks of Canada’s worst child killers in an instant on Thursday. Police appealed for information about him, because hard experience has shown that killers tend to repeat.

Through his ordeal, Morin endured stereotypical thinking and tunnel vision that painted him as a creep. He suffered under the bogus authority of forensic science about microscopic hair comparison. He was belittled by efforts to blame him for his own misfortune, for the folly of talking to cellmate witnesses, for the suggestion he compounded his own misfortune or even brought this on himself.

Sometimes in wrongful convictions there seems to be an aspect of this shared blame. Romeo Phillion wrongly confessed to killing Leopold Roy, an Ottawa firefighter, in the early 1970s, and spent 31 years in prison before charges were withdrawn in 2010. Even as Marshal was being rightly acquitted, an appeal court called him “the author of his own misfortune.”

But this kind of justification of a miscarriage of justice — in which the accused shares some of the blame — seems more like a society trying to justify the wicked consequences of its first instincts, that this “weird” clarinet player Morin was surely the sort of guy to steal the little neighbour girl.

People tend not to believe in the other guy, the family friend.

Hoover’s revelation as the true murderer of Christine Jessop took two major DNA discoveries. The first, back in 1995, was negative for Guy Paul Morin, and it slapped Canada in the face.

“If Canada had capital punishment, Guy Paul Morin would simply be dead,” wrote the journalist Kirk Makin in his 1998 book about the case, Redrum The Innocent .

The second came just now, with the sickening realization that Christine Jessop’s murderer went unpunished for more than 30 years, and now, forever. This time, the other guy got away.

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