Sunday, 17 January 2021

Norimichi Kumamoto: Selfless Warrior/Iwao Hakamada: Japan: Update: Major (Welcome) Development: Former Judge Kumamoto, one of the three judges on the panel which sentenced celebrated boxer Iwao Hakamada to death in 1968 (he voted 'not guilty') devoted the rest of his life to saving Hakamada who he believed was innocent. It now appears that Judge Kumamoto's heroic efforts over the decades are paying off. CNN (Reporter Emiko Jozuka) reports that the Japanese Supreme Court has granted a retrial to Hakamada who is now 84-years-old. Iwao Hakamada, known to be the world's longest death-row inmate, has been out of custody, had been released had been released from death row and permitted to return to his home pending the Supreme Court Decision...(Does it get any stranger than this? HL)


QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We were afraid that Hakamada could be redetained at any moment and given the death penalty. But at least now, with the hope of a retrial, we know he is safe," said Kiyomi Tsunagoe, a lawyer on Hakamada's defense team, on Thursday. Tsunagoe added that Hakamada's case will return to the Tokyo High Court for fresh deliberation -- although a retrial is still not guaranteed, and the defense team is now awaiting the high court's response. Tsunagoe said it was unclear when this would come.


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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Hakamada's sister, Hideko Hakamada, has maintained her brother fell victim to "hostage justice," when police allegedly strip suspects of their right to remain silent and coerce them to confess."


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STORY: "Japan's top court gives retrial hope for man who spent almost fifty years on death row," by reporter Emiko Jozuka, published by CNN on December 23, 2020.


GIST: Japan's Supreme Court has overturned a ruling blocking the retrial of an 84-year-old man who spent almost half a century on death row awaiting the hangman's call over the murder of a family of four, his lawyer told CNN Thursday.


Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada -- declared the world's longest-serving death row inmate by Guinness World Records in 2014 -- was accused of robbery, arson and the murder of his boss, his boss' wife and their two children in 1966. The family was found stabbed to death in their incinerated home in Shizuoka, central Japan.


Hakamada initially admitted to all charges before changing his plea at trial. He was sentenced to death in a 2-1 decision by judges, despite repeatedly alleging that police had fabricated evidence and forced him to confess by beating and threatening him.


In 2014, in a rare reversal for Japan's rigid justice system, the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial and freed Hakamada on the grounds of his age and fragile mental state. But four years later, the Tokyo High Court scrapped the request for a retrial, for reasons it would not confirm to CNN.


Hakamada's defense team then appealed to the Supreme Court.


"We were afraid that Hakamada could be redetained at any moment and given the death penalty. But at least now, with the hope of a retrial, we know he is safe," said Kiyomi Tsunagoe, a lawyer on Hakamada's defense team, on Thursday.


Tsunagoe added that Hakamada's case will return to the Tokyo High Court for fresh deliberation -- although a retrial is still not guaranteed, and the defense team is now awaiting the high court's response. Tsunagoe said it was unclear when this would come.


Japan puts far fewer people in prison than most developed countries: 39 per 100,000 people, compared with 655 in the United States and 124 in Spain, according to the World Prison Brief website.


But the country is known to have a rigid criminal justice system, with a 99.9% conviction rate. According to a 2019 report released by the Cabinet Office, 80% of people surveyed also supported the death penalty.


Hakamada's sister, Hideko Hakamada, has maintained her brother fell victim to "hostage justice," when police allegedly strip suspects of their right to remain silent and coerce them to confess.


Hakamada now lives with his sister in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture. Though he will likely never return to full mental health, Hideko Hakamada told CNN in March that her brother's condition was improving, and he had lost a limp that he developed while on death row.


Unlike in the US where execution dates are set in advance, death-row prisoners in Japan are executed in secret, with no advance warning given to the inmate, their family or legal representatives, according to Amnesty International.


Prisoners often only learn of their execution hours before it's due to take place. Authorities say this occurs "out of consideration that an advance notice would disturb the inmate's peace of mind and might cause further suffering."


Usually, inmates must be executed within six months of their sentencing hearing. But Tsunogo  says this rarely happens, and many end up waiting years. Capital punishment is usually reserved for those who have committed multiple murders. All executions are carried out by hanging.


The entire story can be read at:


https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/23/asia/japan-hakamada-ruling-death-row-intl-hnk/index.html


Read the original post at the link below: "Kumamoto's  internal struggle over ordering the death of an innocent man was beautifully captured by an anonymous reporter for the U.C.A, News headed, "The  Japanese Judge and the Boxer he condemned to death", published on May 2,  2017 and bearing the sub-heading "After issuing sentences Norimichi Kumamoto became a prisoner of his own conscience."


https://selflesswarriors.blogspot.com/2020/08/


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Monday, 11 January 2021

Leomia Banks: 'Selfless Warrior'/Brian Banks. California: A tale of two mothers; Actress Sherri Shepherd explains why she wanted to play the role of Leomia Banks, Brian Bank's mother, in the movie, "Brian Banks,"... I read it (the script) and immediately, Leomia just jumped out of the page because Leomia when you meet her, she says, I didn’t do anything special, I just loved my son. That’s what she says all the time. In the love that you had for your son was the bedrock of him being sane and him being able to keep moving forward when he was incarcerated and the things that she did to show her love for her son. She sold her car, mortgaged her home, she went to see him three and a half hours there and back, she wrote him a letter every day, she was available for every phone call, she basically stopped her life for her son and that fight and her faith just…(trailed off): I called my agent and said I gotta get this script, please give me an audition, I know they don’t want to see me because I make you laugh but please, please let me get in there and audition for this role."


QUOTE OF THE DAY: (Exonerated at last):
 "I thanked them all (the reporters)  for telling my story;  I thanked everybody. I thanked my mom;  I thanked God."
Brian Banks.
"What set me free?...A true story of wrongful conviction, a dream deferred and a man's redemption."
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INTRODUCTION: In 2002, 16-year-old  Brian Banks was on a roll. The  all-American high school football star  had verbally accepted  a four-year scholarship at the University of California, and was viewed by many as on the way to the National Football League.

That roll turned 'South'  - another way of saying it all fell apart - on July 8, 2002, when, as described by the National Registry of Exonerations: "Shortly after 11:00 a.m., the 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Banks requested a pass to leave the classroom to use the telephone. On his way down the hall, he saw 15-year-old Wanetta Gibson, whom he had known from middle school, leaving the bathroom.

They got into the elevator and went to a secluded area of the school near a stairwell that was known as a “make-out” spot. About a half hour later, Gibson returned to class, where her teacher criticized her for taking so long.
 
Moments later, Gibson passed a note to a friend saying that she had been raped by Banks and that she was no longer a virgin. At the end of classes, she met her sister to go home and, prodded by her sister, said that Banks had raped her.
 
They went back inside the school and reported what happened to school officials. That night, Banks was arrested at his parents’ home in Artesia, California.

On January 3, 2003, he was charged with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping and, faced with a potential prison term of 41 years to life,  Banks pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six years in prison. 

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A TALE OF TWO MOTHERS:
 
The first mother is Brian's mother  'Leomia Banks.' The second mother, is Wanetta Gibson's mother 'Wanda Rhodes'. It's hard enough to be a mother in the best of times. But to be the mother of a 16-year-old charged with terrible crimes  which may mark him for life, who is  suddenly taken away from you and locked up in a cage in a prison with dangerous people,  has to be a nightmare - and to be the mother of a 15-year-old girl who has undergone the horror of rape must also be horrific. That's true. But life is often much more complex than our first thoughts. What if Leomia's son Brian protests that he is innocent (in spite of his guilty plea) - and what if Wanetta's mother...(Well, I'll come to her later in this post.)

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THE FIRST MOTHER: LEOMIA BANKS: A 'SELFLESS WARRIOR' (1):  FIRM BELIEF:  Leomia  firmly believed in  Brian's  innocence and let him know that,  time and time again - so he would make it through   his  ordeal  - while the rest of his world dropped him as if he had the plague: Like the other 'Selfless Warriors' in the series, Leomia was an extraordinary person who was ripped out of her ordinary life by an inability  to stand by in the face of a miscarriage of justice -  the wrongful conviction of serious sexual offences of her  innocent 16-year-old son. First of all,  she stood by Brian, a celebrity in the sporting world, at a time when those who had celebrated him and lined up for photos,  unceremoniously dropped him following his arrest. In his own words (From his book, 'What set me free? A True Story of Wrongful Conviction, a Dream Deferred, and a Man Redeemed'): "My own coach, a minister, judged me in the harshest terms possible based on nothing but accusations and rumors and gossip."..."Newspapers and news stations that had sung my praises as a football player, proclaiming to the world that I was the next great football star to emerge from Long Beach Poly—they turned on me. Without proof, without an investigation, without a trial, without anyone listening to what I had to say, they passed judgment. Despite the fact that I was a minor, they put my name in the paper from the start. And then they used my size against me. Based on nothing but an accusation, the school district expelled me. Permanently. They said that I would never be allowed to return to Long Beach City School District, no matter what. That revelation showed up in the newspaper, where my mom had to read it for herself after hearing about it from her friends and our family—before the administration did so much as call her to discuss it, or showed her the courtesy of sending a letter or something, let alone have a hearing to plead our case. “How can they expel me for something I haven’t done? How can they judge me like that?” I asked Mr. Johnson." However, Leomia, a very religious person, who had been raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, one of twelve kids, had faith in her son, listened to his account of what had happened, accepted it as true, as he knew she would, calmed him down as much as possible, and then set herself on the path of  freeing and exonerating him, so he could continue down the path he had set for himself, no matter how long it would take - and  no matter how much of a sacrifice of her own life she would have to make.   The last time Brian had seen her  was when, out of the blue,  he had been arrested at his home, something so traumatic that the memory of her on her knees screaming as they rushed  him out of his  room and down the stairs,  was burned into his mind. Then, as Brian writes about his first court appearance, while being led into a jury box area off to one side of that beige room, "I looked across the dark wooden tables to the guest box on the other side of that room and I saw my mom, I lost it. I started bawling. “Mom!” I called. “I want to go home. I want to go home!” “Calm down, baby,” my mom called, making a calm-down gesture with both hands, up and down. “I know,” she said. “I know. Shhhh. Shhhh!” I was shaking as I took a seat. I started rocking back and forth. It all came rushing over me. My mom was there with my dad. My dad. What if some part of my father believed I did this? It broke my heart. My mom would never believe it. Never. But what about the rest of my family? Oh God, please, please let this end! I was a mess."

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'SELFLESS WARRIOR' (2): SACRIFICE: Leomia made clear to her son that there was nothing she would not do or give up to rescue him from the hell in which he found himself - and she proved that to him every day. Leomia would soon discover that the legal expenses would be enormous - even though that wouldn't  guarantee that he would be well represented. (He never should have been kept in custody, and his trial lawyer should never have convinced him to plead guilty without giving him the opportunity  to  discuss the matter with his mother).  "My mom actually paid for this lawyer by selling her house and selling her car," Brian  says. "Literally giving up everything to pay for this lawyer. And from day one, our lawyer just wanted me to plea out to some form of a deal." When Brian asked his mom how she was going to pay for the lawyer,  she replied,  "Don’t you worry about that. That’s not your problem. All that matters is we get you out of (this)." She visited him frequently to make sure he was being treated well and keep up his moral, paid the high cost of the daily phone calls from the prison, and put her personal life on hold. "My mother is amazing," he would say, adding that he could not say that enough. Leomia  also went out of her way to pave the way for Brian's release on parole after spending  five years behind bars. As Brian tells it: "Once my release date was in sight, she wanted me to have a home to come to, so she told her husband that she needed to move from Wisconsin where she and her husband were living, back to Long Beach. Her husband  agreed it was a good idea. So they set up a plan for her to move back and for him to eventually follow her. She moved back into an apartment complex she had lived in before she moved to Wisconsin, on Ocean Boulevard. That meant that once I was out, once I was on parole, she would be there. I often thought of how life would be without the family support I had, having a home to go to versus homelessness."

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'SELFLESS WARRIOR': (3): STRENGTH AND PURPOSE:  When Brian was being pressured by his lawyer to plead guilty and thereby avoid decades in prison, the following conversation ensued with his mother: "Brian, I just have one question. Did you do it?”No! Mom, you know I didn’t do it!” “Then you don’t take that plea. You fight this. You tell them the truth.” “But they might try me as an adult if I say no.” “Then we’ll take it to trial,” she said. “I could get li(fe)” “Brian. You didn’t do it, and you’re not going to say you did. There is no way you’re putting a felony on your record and giving up your whole life and going to some youth prison till you’re twenty-five years old for something you did not do!"  My mom hugged me and I shook off the tears before we asked our lawyer to come back in. We told her I absolutely would not make any kind of deal that forced me to admit to a crime I hadn’t committed. She did not look happy. Brian makes a comment at this point that goes to the heart of his relationship with Leomia. "There really wasn’t anything more to say after that. We both felt defeated. But having her there that night meant the world to me, and I knew she believed in me and would continue to support me as much as ever. Seeing her stay strong made me feel strong, too. " Ultimately however,  Brian caved in under pressure from his lawyer, who he says did not allow him to discuss the guilty  plea to a crime he did not commit  with his mother,  because, as the lawyer explained,  he was in adult court now.  Worse, instead of being sentenced to probation, as the lawyer assured him would happen, Brian was sentenced to serve five years in jail. (What incompetence! That's enough to make me weep. HL);

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MOTHER NUMBER TWO:  (WANDA RHODES: WANETTA GIBSON'S MOTHER) - THE SENTENCING HEARING:  BOTH MOTHERS WERE IN COURT TO HEAR BRIAN'S FATE:  Brian tells us in his book that he saw Leomia sitting in the front, where she always sat, having never missed a court date - and that  he knew that his mother had brought a bag with his street clothes in it, in case she was allowed to bring me home that very day.  The mood in the courtroom changed very quickly when Wanetta's mother asked to speak. "Tiana’s mother got up and she proceeded to give a long speech about how I took advantage of her daughter, how I stole her virginity, and how I didn’t give her an opportunity to choose when she wanted to lose her virginity, because I’m a monster. She went on and on about how I’d stolen her daughter’s future and destroyed her life. She said she wished that I was facing more than six years. “That isn’t enough time for what he’s done,” she said, looking dead at me. Everything in me wanted to yell right in her face: “I didn’t do it!” I wanted to plead with her, “Ma’am, I promise you, your daughter is lying.” But I couldn’t.  Brian looked back at his mom and his family and friends and everyone was crying, including his dad, who was comforting Leomia, looking stoic, but there were tears streaming down his face, too. "I realized it was my dad’s birthday that day. His birthday, of all days. “I love you guys,” I called out. “I love y’all.” They called back, “We love you, Brian!” The last thing I heard as the courtroom door closed behind me was the sound of my mom’s voice, crying, “No! This can’t be happening. My Brian. No!”

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MOTHER NUMBER TWO: (WANDA RHODES: WANETTA GIBSON'S MOTHER): SHE WASN'T FINISHED YET:

Wanetta Gibson's mother was far from finished. While Brian was locked up, he learned that Wanetta, his accuser,  and her mother,  had filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach city school system, claiming that the school had fostered an "unsafe environment: that allowed Wanetta to get raped" - suing the school for millions of dollars in damages. Brian writes that after months had passed since he had received any news from anyone, he excitedly opened up an envelope immediately hoping that it was from the long-lost appellate lawyer he hadn't heard from for ages. "It wasn't," he informs readers."It was a letter from the Long Beach Civil Court office informing me that attorneys for  (Wanetta Gibson) and the Long Beach City School District were coming to San Luis Obispo in a couple of weeks to depose me as part of the lawsuit.  Wanetta and her mother had filed against the school. According to the  publication 'History Vs. Hollywood,' "The district settled the lawsuit and paid Wanetta $1.5 million. Wanetta and her mother, Wanda Rhodes, reportedly spent the money on at least three cars (an Altima with "great rims," a Suburban and a Dodge), in addition to big-screen TVs and various other items.

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THE TIDE BEGINS TO  CHANGE: REVELATIONS FROM A POLICE FILE:

About a week after receiving the lawyer's letter requiring him to be deposed in the prison, Brian received his police file in the mail, containing  police reports, transcripts, evaluations, and above all  DNA results which he says he had never been allowed to see going all the way back to his arrest in 2002. To his astonishment he learned that there was, in fact, male DNA present—but that DNA wasn’t his.  It wasn’t a match. It belonged to somebody else.  The wheels started spinning in his mind. "Was she raped by someone else,"  he writes.  "Did she have sex with somebody else and then try to cover it up by blaming me? Was she being abused by somebody or something? Wait. Why does it even matter? It wasn’t mine. The DNA wasn’t mine! How is that not 100 percent proof that I didn’t rape her? How did that not come out in court? Why didn’t my attorney tell me, or tell my mom, or tell the judge or anybody? Why? My heart was pounding. Didn’t the district attorney have that report, too? Why would he have moved forward with the case knowing that  (Wanetta)  had somebody else’s DNA on her underwear on the same day I supposedly raped her in that stairwell? The evidence, the only physical evidence they had, pointed to the fact that they had the wrong guy. I was fuming. Who was liable for this? The DA should be. She had this information the entire time and did nothing with it. The judge, too, for overlooking the facts. And my attorney: she should face consequences for she misrepresented me. I stuffed the paperwork under my mattress again and did my best to calm down. It took me the rest of that day and night to recenter myself. The next time I was alone for a long stretch of time, I read the rest of the files and discovered that pretty much everyone, every step of the way, came at my case with a presumption of guilt based on (Wanetta's) initial story and, most important, how her story seemed to be corroborated by the sexual assault nurse’s report. The assumption of guilt played directly into the fitness hearing evaluation claims ever showed. The files also contained some transcripts of video interviews of Tiana in which her story changed again, getting a little more violent and a lot less believable every time she told it. All somebody had to do was go to the school and take a look at the hallway full of open classroom doors to realize there was no way I was “forcing her” and “dragging her” from that elevator without somebody noticing. If one person had done that, just one person, I thought, I might not be sitting in this cage right now. But I kept coming back to the DNA. The DNA evidence was rock solid. No room for error. No room for interpretation. No room for “maybes” or “yeah, but, what-ifs”? No “he said, she said” at all. Facts. Concrete facts. It should have been case closed." Stunned by these disclosures, Brian got the addresses of  all of the Innocence Projects in California. Before long he began to realise that even though these disclosures would be helpful on an appeal, he needed a proverbial 'smoking gun.' Wanetta would have to retract her statement and admit that all of her allegations were untrue. "In other words, they needed Wanetta Gibson to admit that she made the whole thing up. I knew that wasn’t going to happen."

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THE SMOKING GUN: As a prime athlete Brian Banks would not give up - even though at this point the game seemed unwinnable. In mid-2006,  after spending much of his prison time studying wrongful convictions,  he drafted a notice of appeal containing three grounds:  ineffective counsel; newly discovered evidence (which was, in fact, the DNA, which  he  argued was “new” because it was never entered into evidence during his  2002 proceedings); and perjury, based on  Wanetta's inconsistent statements. Although, as a rule,  prisoner's appeals are usually rejected. In 2007, Brian's appeal was accepted by the California Court of Appeal. But before the appeal could be held,  an utterly stunning event occurred which had Brian's mind spinning again. "And that's when the world stood still," Brian writes. "You have 1 new friend request,” the message said. “From (Wanetta Gibson).” I slammed my laptop shut and slid it across the bed and went reeling back like I’d just seen the devil itself..."My mind abruptly diverted to another thought: the California Innocence Project, and their response to my request for representation. The only way to make a case for my exoneration was if the “the witness were to recant her statement.”..."I had to play this right. I couldn’t be sloppy. She knew. She knew what she did all this time and now she contacts me to “hang out”?...A friend of mine put me in touch with a private investigator, and I told him, “I want to meet this girl, and I need everything recorded just in case I’m being set up or she’s planning to try to say something else happened that didn’t really happen.” “Well,” he said, “why don’t you just do it here at my office? I’ve got some camera stuff that we could set up and we can go from there.” I told her I’d lost my life, and she told me about all the money she spent..." Did Brian rape you?” “You want me to say it now?” she said. “Well, yeah, you know, I just want to know.” “No, he didn’t rape me,” she said. Do not react. Stay cool. Stay cool. “Well, did he kidnap you?” “No,” she said. “He didn’t kidnap me.” “So what happened?” “Well, we were just being young and curious, and one thing led to another. And then all these adults got involved, and it just got worse, worse, and worse.” When she finally left, when we were sure she’d exited the building, then we celebrated. The PI and his wife started yelling and screaming inside his office. He was super pumped, this being one of his first investigative cases, and he knew it was a big one. He grabbed the pen camera he’d picked up in a spy store, rushed it over to his computer, injected it into the USB slot, and began the downloading process...."We made multiple copies of the footage on CDs and flash drives, and I took a couple of them with me. There was no one else I trusted with this footage. At home I grabbed my laptop and began searching for help. I had done the impossible. I captured absolute proof of my innocence. A recantation from the accuser herself. I knew that what had to be done next, only an attorney could do. So I began searching. A name on the list stood out to me: Cofounder and director of the California Innocence Project Justin Brooks."

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THE END GAME: Before getting hold of Justin Brooks, Brian first had to calm down his mother, who had well-grounded fears that the authorities would revoke his parole because he had unlawfully communicated with the complainant. Leomia's views about the criminal justice system had clearly evolved since her son had been caught in its clutches. Experience tends to do that. Especially very bad experience..."I just don't know," she kept saying. She had seen too much go the other way. She had gone to court too many times thinking I was about to be freed, and instead seen me locked away for longer and longer periods of time. In spite of these representations, the decision was made to proceed - accompanied by a massive media campaign  to get the public on side. As set out - with some fascinating details - by National Registry of Exoneration author Maurice Possley in his account of the 'end game': 

"Banks served five years in prison and then was released on parole with an ankle monitor. He was required to register as a sex offender.
 
Then, on February 28, 2011, Gibson sent a message to Banks on Facebook, asking him to become an online friend. Banks did not accept the offer, but instead messaged back asking if she would meet with him. Banks also contacted the California Innocence Project again.
 
Gibson agreed to meet and during a video-taped interview admitted that there was no rape. She and Banks had kissed, hugged and fondled, but had not engaged in sex, she said. She was afraid of coming forward, she said, because of the thought her family might have to give back the $750,000 they received in the lawsuit.
 
On August 15, 2011, the California Innocence Project filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, seeking to vacate Banks’ conviction.
 
The petition said that two years after Gibson said she was raped, she confessed to the classmate to whom she had passed the note that she had not been raped, but made up the accusation because she did not want her mother to know she was sexually active.
 
The petition also said that Gibson stated that when she was preparing for her deposition in the civil lawsuit, she told her attorney that she had not been raped and that she and Banks were “just playing.” According to the petition, when Gibson expressed her concern, the lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing. Like don’t talk at all. Let them do what they gonna do.”

On May 24, 2012, the conviction was set aside and the charges against Banks, 26, were dismissed at the request of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira.
 
In 2013, the Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against Gibson."  

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COMMENTARY: Actress Sherri Shepherd, who played Leomia in the movie 'Brian Banks',  had this to say about Leomia  in an  interview  with 'The Knocturnal.'..."I read it (the script) and immediately, Leomia just jumped out of the page because Leomia when you meet her, she says. "I didn’t do anything special, I just loved my son."..."That’s what she says all the time," Shepherd continues. "In the love that you had for your son was the bedrock of him being sane and him being able to keep moving forward when he was incarcerated and the things that she did to show her love for her son. She sold her car, mortgaged her home, she went to see him three and a half hours there and back, she wrote him a letter every day, she was available for every phone call, she basically stopped her life for her son and that fight and her faith just…(trailed off): I called my agent and said I gotta get this script, please give me an audition, I know they don’t want to see me because I make you laugh but please, please let me get in there and audition for this role." As a rule, 'Selfless Warriors' don't tend to see themselves as doing anything special. I, however, as publisher of this Blog, can beg to differ. In my books, Leomia was a giant of a human being who, unsparingly  gave her son the tools he would need to survive an experience that could otherwise destroy not just his career, but his life, by giving him love,  and by believing in him, at a time in the 'me too era' when far too many people were far too willing to presume guilt, and to convict on the mere allegation, throwing the need for evidence to the wind. Leomia also gave him the tool of religion as a framework for living his life. As Brian wrote: "My mom encouraged me to go to church while I was in Juvenile Hall, and I did. I went to the chapel on Sundays. I went to Bible study. I took a Bible back into my cell, and I read it. I started reading it all the time. My mom was real happy about that, and she sent me notes suggesting verses to read. “I try to read Psalms 91 every morning and every night,” she told me. So I read Psalms 91." Leomia Banks teaches us that there are many ways of being a 'Selfless Warrior.' Like being a warm, loving mother who would stop  at nothing to vindicate her wrongly convicted son,  even if it meant putting her own life on hold.

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NATIONAL REGISTRY OF EXONERATIONS ENTRY: (MAURICE POSSLEY);

"On July 8, 2002, 16-year-old Brian Banks, a blossoming football star at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California, was attending summer school and anticipating his senior season on the football team. He had verbally accepted a four-year scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California.
 
Shortly after 11:00 a.m., the 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Banks requested a pass to leave the classroom to use the telephone. On his way down the hall, he saw 15-year-old Wanetta Gibson, whom he had known from middle school, leaving the bathroom.
 
They got into the elevator and went to a secluded area of the school near a stairwell that was known as a “make-out” spot. About a half hour later, Gibson returned to class, where her teacher criticized her for taking so long.
 
Moments later, Gibson passed a note to a friend saying that she had been raped by Banks and that she was no longer a virgin. At the end of classes, she met her sister to go home and, prodded by her sister, said that Banks had raped her.
 
They went back inside the school and reported what happened to school officials. That night, Banks was arrested at his parents’ home in Artesia, California.
 
He turned 17 on July 24, 2002.
 
On January 3, 2003, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged him with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping.
 
Facing a potential prison term of 41 years to life, Banks pleaded no contest on July 8, 2003. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
 
In 2006, Banks filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, contending that there was no evidence that a rape had occurred—no biological evidence that could be tested for DNA was found. The petition argued that he had received inadequate legal assistance because his lawyer had not sought to present this evidence. The petition was denied as vague.
 
He sought help from the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, but was told there was no evidence of innocence.
 
In the meantime, Gibson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Unified School District alleging inadequate security. The suit was settled for $1.5 million, split evenly between the family and their attorney.
 
Banks served five years in prison and then was released on parole with an ankle monitor. He was required to register as a sex offender.
 
Then, on February 28, 2011, Gibson sent a message to Banks on Facebook, asking him to become an online friend. Banks did not accept the offer, but instead messaged back asking if she would meet with him. Banks also contacted the California Innocence Project again.
 
Gibson agreed to meet and during a video-taped interview admitted that there was no rape. She and Banks had kissed, hugged and fondled, but had not engaged in sex, she said. She was afraid of coming forward, she said, because of the thought her family might have to give back the $750,000 they received in the lawsuit.
 
On August 15, 2011, the California Innocence Project filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, seeking to vacate Banks’ conviction.
 
The petition said that two years after Gibson said she was raped, she confessed to the classmate to whom she had passed the note that she had not been raped, but made up the accusation because she did not want her mother to know she was sexually active.
 
The petition also said that Gibson stated that when she was preparing for her deposition in the civil lawsuit, she told her attorney that she had not been raped and that she and Banks were “just playing.” According to the petition, when Gibson expressed her concern, the lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing. Like don’t talk at all. Let them do what they gonna do.”

On May 24, 2012, the conviction was set aside and the charges against Banks, 26, were dismissed at the request of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira.
 
In 2013, the Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against Gibson. In June 2015, the state of California awarded Banks $142,000 in compensation."

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CHRONOLOGY: (From National Registry of Exonerations entry)'

July 8, 2002: Alleged rape/kidnapping;

July 24, 2002:  Turns 17:

January 3, 2003:  Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged him with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping.
 
July 8, 2003: Facing a potential prison term of 41 years to life, Banks pleaded no contest.  He was sentenced to six years in prison.
 
2006"  Banks filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, contending that there was no evidence that a rape had occurred—no biological evidence that could be tested for DNA was found. The petition argued that he had received inadequate legal assistance because his lawyer had not sought to present this evidence. The petition was denied as vague.

February 28, 2011, Gibson sent a message to Banks on Facebook, asking him to become an online friend. Banks did not accept the offer, but instead messaged back asking if she would meet with him. Banks also contacted the California Innocence Project again.

August 15, 2011:  California Innocence Project filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, seeking to vacate Banks’ conviction. The petition said that two years after Gibson said she was raped, she confessed to the classmate to whom she had passed the note that she had not been raped, but made up the accusation because she did not want her mother to know she was sexually active. The petition also said that Gibson stated that when she was preparing for her deposition in the civil lawsuit, she told her attorney that she had not been raped and that she and Banks were “just playing.” According to the petition, when Gibson expressed her concern, the lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing. Like don’t talk at all. Let them do what they gonna do.”

May 24, 2012: Conviction was set aside and the charges against Banks, 26, were dismissed at the request of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira.
 
2013: Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against Gibson. 

June 2015: California awarded Banks $142,000 in compensation.
  
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READING MATERIALS:

The Knockturnal:


History VS Hollywood:


National Registry of Exonerations:


Autobiography: "Brian Banks: What set me free?" The story that inspired the major motion picture 'Brian Banks.' A true story of wrongful conviction, a dream deferred and a man's redemption. (Amazon);


Missoula: "Rape and the justice system in a small town" by Jon Krakauer, published by Random House: 

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Sunday, 3 January 2021

Selfless Warrior Maurice Gagnon/Lianne Thibeault: "Maurice Gagnon wasn't just a whistleblower...It was more like he was playing an ear-shattering horn in his battle to expose the evil machinations of Charles Smith (and his backers in the Chief Coroner's office in Toronto) who turned the tragic accidental death of his beloved 11-month-old grandson Nicholas into murder, saying his daughter Lianne, Nicholas's mother, was responsible for her son's death and, even though the police had closed their investigation for want of evidence, Smith did his best to have Liannes's newborn baby seized from her and handed over to the child protection authorities. (Yes, 'evil' machinations. I use the word advisedly, because Smith declared war on this wonderful family, which had suffered a terrible loss, and deserved sympathy rather than the threat of being prosecuted for murder and the seizure of a new-born baby. He put them through hell. That, in my books, is 'evil'.) Maurice persisted, in the face of obfuscations and duplicitous acts, hounding the authorities with brilliantly researched, meticulously worded complaints, which invariably became public (as did the no-comment, evasive, or equivocal responses, or passing the bucks, until Smith and his powerful backers, were exposed, the public became outraged, a public inquiry was ordered, and the powerful backers, the former chief coroner (James Young) and his former deputy chief coroner (Jim Cairns), allowed their medical licenses to lapse with the result that they could no longer be subjected to professional discipline hearings. All this because of one man - a man who would not rest who would not rest until the police and prosecutors backed off their outrageous, utterly unfounded murder investigation, until his new grand-daughter was removed from the grasp of the children's aid authorities, until those responsible for the attack on his family had been brought to account, and until all the other people who had been wronged by Charles Smith had achieved justice. And that's just the start."


QUOTE OF THE DAY: "My father got justice for his daughter,  but in the process he found out about all these other people that had suffered a similar fate with doctor Smith,  and  he was  having none of it. He was a lion seeking justice not only for his family, but for everybody that was wronged. Lianne believes that without her parents love and support, she would likely have ended, "where the the police and   the Crown wanted me to be." And that's a sobering thought, indeed. 

Lianne Thibeault: 

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INTRODUCTION: Maurice Gagnon wasn't just a whistleblower...It was more like he was playing an ear-shattering horn in his battle to expose the  evil machinations of  Charles Smith (and his backers in the Chief Coroner's office in Toronto) who turned the tragic  accidental death of his beloved 11-month-old grandson  Nicholas into murder, saying his daughter  Lianne, Nicholas's mother, was responsible for her son's  death and, even though the police had closed their investigation for want of any evidence, Smith  did his best to have Lianne's newborn baby seized from her and handed over to the child protection authorities.  (Yes, 'evil'  machinations. I use the word  advisedly, because Smith declared war on this wonderful family, which had suffered a terrible loss, and deserved sympathy rather than the threat of being subjected to a murder prosecution and the seizure of a newborn baby. He put them through hell.  That, in my books, is 'evil'.) Maurice persisted, in the face of obfuscations and duplicitous acts, hounding the authorities with brilliantly researched, meticulously worded complaints, which invariably became public (as did the no-comment, evasive, or equivocal responses, or passing the bucks,  until Smith and his powerful backers  were exposed, the public became outraged, a public inquiry was ordered,  and the powerful backers the former  Chief Coroner (James Young) and his former deputy chief coroner  (Jim Cairns) allowed their medical licenses to lapse with the result that they could no longer be subjected to professional discipline hearings. All this  because of one man - a man who would not rest until the police and prosecutors backed off their outrageous, utterly unfounded murder investigation, until his new grand-daughter was removed from the grasp of the children's aid authorities, until those responsible for the attack on his family had been brought to account, and until all the other people who had been wronged by Charles Smith had achieved justice. And that's just the start.

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CONCISE CHRONOLOGY: (I have used information from a story by Sudbury Star reporter Carol Mulligan published on June 11, 2005, in compiling this concise chronology. I have placed a link to the entire story in the 'Reading Materials' section below.) 

November 30, 1995): 11-month-old Nicholas dies.  (A local  coroner classifies his death  as sudden and unexplainable after the infant crawled under a sewing table, bumped his head and stopped breathing. Nicholas' mother, Lianne, a single mom at the time, and Nicholas, were living with his grandparents, Maurice and Angela.)

May, 1997:  Almost 18 months after Nicholas had died and two days before her bridal shower — the  police visit Lianne  and tell her that her son’s death was being treated as a homicide and she was a suspect. She is subjected to brutal interrogation and a variety of intrusive investigative techniques aimed at extracting a confession. Lianne  never was charged criminally, but it would take almost 18 months, $120,000 of her parents’ retirement savings, the exhumation of Nicholas’s tiny body and a battle in family court to end  her ordeal.)...In his report on the public inquiry, Justice Stephen Goudge notes that during the course of the child protection proceedings, "The Gagnon family retained a respected euro-pathologist , Dr,. William Halliday,  to provide an opinion on the case.  Like S.M's (pseudonym)  family (another Smith case), Ms. Gagnon's parents drained their savings  to mount a defence for their daughter."

1998: Lianne had married Pierre in 1997. In 1998  Lianne gives  birth to daughter Nicole, now 7.  Smith who had learned of Lianne's pregnancy tells Children's Aid officials, in Lianne's words,  “that I killed one child and chances are I would do it again.” As a result, Nicole had to be given up into the custody of Gagnon and his wife after her birth and Lianne  could only visit her during CAS-supervised visits. Nicole was eight weeks when Thibeault got a date in family court. She was allowed to live with her daughter at her parent's house,  but wasn’t to be left alone with the baby. By that time, Gagnon had backed the chief coroner’s office into a corner and it had called for a second opinion on Smith’s findings in Nicholas’ death. A child abuse authority from the United States concluded there was no indication of foul play in Nicholas’s death and called Smith irresponsible, say Gagnon and his daughter. 

1999: March 25:  Children's Aid Society withdraws  the protection application;

2005: Per  reporter Carol Mulligan: June 11, 2005:   "Maurice Gagnon is calling for a public inquiry into the system that accused his daughter of murdering her baby, based on no evidence — only the opinion of a Toronto pathologist whose work is now in question.  (Maurice Gagnon's relentless battle on behalf of his daughter  is believed to have played a significant role in the decision of James Young's successor, Dr. Barry McLellan, to order a review of 40 autopsies performed by Smith,  at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, since 1991 in what were thought to be child homicide cases or criminally suspicious deaths of children and to the Ontario government's decision to order a public inquiry into Smith's cases.)

2008: September 30: Justice Stephen Goudge releases  his report.

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MAURICE GAGNON'S NEMESIS: DISGRACED PATHOLOGIST CHARLES SMITH:

Smith's despicable role is well described by Sudbury Star reporter in his story headed: "The face of the innocent: A father's extraordinary love and fierce protection of his daughter," published on Feb. 1. 2008.

"In the hours following the tragedy, Lianne was interviewed by a Sudbury Regional Police officer and provided a detailed statement of what had happened," this portion of the story begins.

"On Dec. 1, the day following Nicholas's death, an autopsy was performed by Sudbury pathologist Dr. T.C. Chen," it continues.

Chen concluded the cause of death was consistent with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Later, upon further review by Chen and Sudbury coroner Dr. James Deacon, the official cause of death was revised to Sudden Unexplained Death. 

Neither the autopsy results nor the police intervention provided any cause to suspect Nicholas's death was anything but an accidental, unexplained tragedy. In fact, the city's chief of police - a Gagnon family friend - offered his support following the death and attended the boy's funeral.

At that point, the Gagnons would have rightly assumed they would be left to their grief and the daunting prospect of rebuilding their lives. That is precisely what occurred until mid-1997, when the family was visited by a nightmare more shocking and disturbing than the tragic loss of Nicholas.


More than 18 months after Nicholas's death, the Gagnon family would become victims of the catastrophically flawed work of Dr. Charles Smith, an ill-trained, error-prone pathologist who undeservedly attained status as a pre-eminent specialist in the field of forensic pediatric pathology.

It was Smith's would-be expertise and disastrous conclusions that would result in the murder accusation against Lianne Gagnon and inflict new horrors on a family that struggled so long to cope with the loss of a child.

The full weight of state resources would be brought to bear against Lianne, as authorities attempted - often with dubious methods - to prove ultimately scurrilous allegations.

In addition to the murder accusation, the Gagnon family would endure the disinterment of their beloved Nicholas, the seizure from the casket of a mother's goodbye letter to her child, a wiretap sting operation and a decision to apprehend Lianne's second child at birth.

It would be the type of grievous, unrelenting investigation that would be inflicted on parents and caregivers in many child-death cases during Charles Smith's notorious reign as top dog of forensic pediatric pathology in Ontario.

Several of those cases resulted in wrongful convictions, imprisonment of parents or caregivers, as well as children being apprehended - sometimes permanently - from their parents.

One might well have expected Lianne Gagnon to suffer a similar fate, given the magnitude of the case built against her and the zealousness with which it was prosecuted by authorities.

Instead, Lianne ultimately was vindicated in what would later be revealed as a story of a father's extraordinary love and fierce protection of his daughter; and his subsequent crusade to bring down a powerful authority figure who inflicted tremendous misery on so many."

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SELFLESS WARRIOR (1): (A very potent weapon):  One of this 'Selfless Warrior's  most potent weapons  was the knowledge he acquired while serving as a senior official in the Ontario government.  Lianne explained to me in an interview that years of government service had taught her dad  how to access channels that otherwise would be unavailable to most people. Maurice also knew that rather than approaching the government in a state of rage (which would get him nowhere),  it would be more productive to cast his complaints  in a manner that required the official,  be it the provincial Ombudsman, the Coroner's Council, or the province's solicitor general, for example,  to respond - or face a lot of tough questions, which Maurice was very capable of drafting. While I was at the Toronto Star, scarcely a day went by  when I didn't open up an envelope form Maurice with the latest complaint, and the documents which would be attached.  They often became the subject of a front page story the very next day. Justice Stephen Goudge, who  conducted the public inquiry, was also impressed. In his report,   Justice Goudge reports that during and after the child protection proceedings, "Ms. Gagnon's father, Maurice Gagnon,  tried to alert  the OCCO (Ontario Chief Coroner's Office)  and others of his concerns about  the conduct of Dr. Smith and Dr. Cairns. He filed complaint after complaint, with many institutions."  (Justice Goudge then lists many of these complaints including one to the governing body of the medical profession in Ontario which slams Smith for bringing his young son to the disinterment of Nicholas's remains which had been ordered by the government, and concludes: "Mr. Gagnon was consistent. His letters were well researched and well reasoned. Given what is now known, many of his concerns about  Dr. Smith, Dr. Cairns and the OCCO were legitimate. Unfortunately, those in the  senior positions at the OCCO did not listen."

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SELFLESS WARRIOR ( 2): A grateful daughter's perspective:  In an interview, Lianne Thibeault  said the definition of  a 'Selfless Warrior,' developed by the Blog, fit Maurice Gagnon "to a 'T." "That's exactly what happened," she commented. "He was ripped out of his ordinary life, and it turned both of my parents' lives upside down." The financial burden was heavy - supporting her through crisis, hiring an expert, retiring early so the Children's Aid officials would allow his newborn grand-daughter to live with him and Lianne's mother Angie, pending the family court's ultimate decision. (The officials expected Maurice and Angie to be home 24/7 to look after the baby). Lianne would occasionally get a glimpse of the financial pressure on Maurice when he would quip that the lawyers would charge $100.00 just to pick up the phone. However, Maurice kept costs down by doing voluminous research  (the legwork) himself -  the research which eventually  led to the dropping of the police investigation, the defeat of the Children's Aid Society, and  the establishment of the public inquiry,  which was applauded by Justice Goudge  and led to his extraordinary victory over the police, prosecutors and Children's Aid officials. It also led to Maurice's determination to keep going - even after his own nightmarish entanglements with the state were resolved -  to help out other parents and caregivers who had been put through hell by Smith and his backers. Per Lianne: "My father got justice for his daughter but in the process he found out about all these other people that had suffered a similar fate with doctor Smith and  he was  having none of it. He was a 'lion' seeking justice not only for his family, but for everybody that was wronged."  Lianne believes that without her parents' love and support, she would likely have ended up "where the the police and   the Crown wanted me to be." And that's a sobering thought, indeed.  

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COMMENTARY: During the course of our interview, Lianne stresses the 'stoic' role that her mother Angela played during the course of the family's awful experience - managing to be  'stoic', a mountain of strength and support,  through all the grief and emotional distress. Lianne  considers both of her parents as 'Selfless Warriors'. I couldn't agree more. And,  by the way, message to Maurice:   I really miss all your phone calls and the almost daily deliveries in the newsroom. Bravo!

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

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READING MATERIALS: 

Death in the family: John Chipman: (Penguin);

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/228817/death-in-the-family-by-john-chipman/9780385680844

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Jane O'Hara: McLeans Magazine: "Dead Wrong."

https://archive.macleans.ca/article/2001/5/14/dead-wrong

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The Current: (Transcript):

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-january-12-2017-1.3932086/january-12-2017-full-episode-transcript-1.3933194#segment2

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Denis St. Pierre article:

https://www.fixcas.com/cgi-bin/go.py?2008a.Gagnon

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Carol Mulligan story:

http://www.ottawamenscentre.com/news/20040611_sudbury.htm

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Thanks as always to Kyra Jolliet,  my sharp-eyed daughter/editor,  for her much appreciated assistance on this Blog.  HL.

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Sunday, 27 December 2020

Marlene Truscott/Steven Truscott; According to the IMDB (an online film database): "Marlene" (premiered on December 18 at the Whistler Film Festival) is a film inspired by Marlene Truscott, a housewife who fought to exonerate her husband from a crime he didn't commit. Marlene became involved in the fight for justice at a young age, when Steven was arrested at 14 and sentenced to be hung. When Steven was released from prison ten years later, she fell in love with him. Marlene's story is a story of hiding, living under an assumed name and protecting her children. He was free, but now she was in prison. Through it all Marlene was determined that Steven would get justice, that they would find light in the darkness, a darkness that buried the truth. Surrounded by boxes of files Marlene found a world of lies, cover-ups, and secrets. A very female story about an extraordinary woman, written and directed by women." IMDB Summary of 'Marlene' - based on the book "Until you are dead: Steven Truscott's long ride into history," by Julian Sher.

  • QUOTE ONE OF THE DAY: “She was a crusader for him,” says (Director) Hill-Tout. “She was the one who said ‘This isn’t right.’ She was the Erin Brockovich of Canada in my mind. She was a woman who was very determined and someone who believed, ultimately, that the wrong would be righted.”

    QUOTE TWO OF THE DAY: "I think it’s a totally unknown story,” says Hill-Tout. “It was the story of a woman behind this man who really was remarkable for her time. She was a housewife and she swore on (their) wedding day she was going to help him.”

    QUOTE THREE OF THE DAY:  (Marlene Truscott): "He is not Scot-free. He goes  to bed as a convicted murderer, and he wakes up every morning as a convicted murderer. Why should that be? 

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    INTRODUCTION: When the idea of devoting a Blog to "Selfless Warriors' came to me, I immediately thought  of Marlene Truscott.  Marlene's husband, Steven, was just  14-years old when he was sentenced to hang for the rape and murder of  a  12-year-old classmate named Lynne Harper, in the town of Clinton, Ontario in 1959.  (I have enclosed a link to the a summary of the Truscott case  published by Innocence Canada, formerly known as AIDWYC, The Association in Defence of The Wrongly Convicted, at the end of this post so readers can get an over-view of the case.) My thrust is rather  on the remarkable role played by Marlene Truscott who became obsessed with Truscott's wrongful conviction long before she had even met him, never dreaming that someday she would marry him,  have  three children, and play a key role in his exoneration. Being an 18-year-old at the time of Lynne Harper's tragic murder, which riveted Canadians and haunts us to this day,  I was already  familiar with the Truscott case. But it was CBC  (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) investigative reporter Julian Sher's fifth estate  documentary 'Steven Truscott: His word against history: The Steven Truscott Story,' (co-produced with Theresa Burke),  and Sher's subsequently published book, 'Until you are dead: Steven Truscott's long ride into history," that brought the exceptional role played by Marlene Truscott in clearing her husband's name to my attention, as she had  shunned the limelight for decades. 

    As the CBC described the production - which is widely acknowledged,  paving the way for  Steven Truscott's exoneration: "The case of Steven Truscott was the most famous child criminal case in Canadian judicial history, but Truscott himself disappeared into an anonymous existence, living under an assumed name and shunning all publicity for three decades. Then, in a 2000 episode of the fifth estate, Steven Truscott broke his 40-year silence for the first time, coming forward to maintain his innocence.  The fifth estate’s investigation highlighted serious problems with the forensic evidence and showed that police were too hasty in laying charges, ignoring vital testimony of certain key witnesses and not allowing for the possibility of other potential suspects. Following the documentary and a book on the case, Truscott, his family and supporters launched a campaign, with help from lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, to get the federal justice minister to re-open the case. On Aug 28, 2007 – 48 years later... the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously overturned Truscott’s conviction, declaring the case “a miscarriage of justice” that “must be quashed”. The Ontario Government awarded him $6.5 million in compensation for his ordeal.)

    Several months ago,  I called  up Julian, a friend and colleague,  ran the 'Selfless Warrior' idea by him, and was pleased to not only  have an enthusiastic response to the idea, but to learn that a movie based upon his book was about to be released, directed by Wendy Hill-Tout, aptly called 'Marlene,' which was going to have its premiere on December 18 at the Whistler Film Festival.   In his review of the film, which focused on Marlene Truscott's never-ceasing battle to prove her husband's innocence,  Calgary Herald journalist  Eric Volmers notes that, "while Steven's fight is fairly well known in Canada, her part in it is not." Hill-Tout tells Volmers: "I think it's a totally unknown story. It was  the story of a woman behind this man who was really remarkable for the time. She was a housewife and she swore on (their) wedding day  she was going to help him....“She was a crusader for him,"  said Hill-Tout. “She was the one who said ‘This isn’t right." She was the Erin Brockovich of Canada in my mind. She was a woman who was very determined and someone who believed, ultimately, that the wrong would be righted.”

    According to the IMDB: "Marlene is a film inspired by Marlene Truscott, a housewife who fought to exonerate her husband from a crime he didn't commit. Marlene became involved in the fight for justice at a young age, when Steven was arrested at 14 and sentenced to be hung. When Steven was released from prison ten years later, she fell in love with him. Marlene's story is a story of hiding, living under an assumed name and protecting her children. He was free, but now she was in prison. Through it all Marlene was determined that Steven would get justice, that they would find light in the darkness, a darkness that buried the truth. Surrounded by boxes of files Marlene found a world of lies, cover-ups, and secrets. A very female story about an extraordinary woman, written and directed by women."  

    -----------------------------------------------------


    THE 'SELFLESS WARRIOR.'  One of the most fascinating aspects of the Truscott story is that initially Steven did not share Marlene's compulsion to  bring out the truth. To Marlene, as she explained to the CBC, "He is not Scot-free. He goes  to bed as a convicted murderer, and he wakes up every morning as a convicted murderer. Why should that be? But as far as Steven was concerned the truth was out. He knew he was innocent. He didn't need confirmation from anyone that he was innocent.   He just needed the people responsible for his ordeal to admit that they were wrong.  Beside the family had been living under an assumed identity for years, he had a job and an everyday life - a far cry from the life that he and his wife and children would have when the public became aware of their identity. This had been one of the most publicised cases in Canadian history - and his story had become part of Canadian culture.  The goal would be to  persuade the government to reopen the case. But Steven was still, in spite of the completion of his parole, a convicted murderer. Who know's how it would turn out? And what if people looked on his sons as children of a convicted murderer? However, Marlene realised that Canada had changed from  the country which condemned him to death four decades earlier. Because of several notorious wrongful convictions, people were much more suspicious of the criminal justice system - willing to accept that  it could make terrible mistakes.  (Like putting an innocent 14-year-old on death row?)  Moreover, DNA was becoming a tool for freeing innocent people. Perhaps an investigation would find  exhibits which might yield DNA for testing, even after that lengthy period of  time.  Marlene also realised that the press could play a useful role in gaining public support, and putting pressure on the government and the courts to recognise the truth - that Steven Truscott was an innocent man. After much discussion within the family, Truscott gave the green light to the CBC to put to launch an investigation, and also  to AIDWYC, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (now known as 'Innocence Canada') to use its legal knowledge and expertise in investigating wrongful convictions  to come up with  'fresh evidence' that would hold up in court, and lead to his exoneration.  

    History proved Marlene to be absolutely right. As Sher notes in the book: "Across the country, the story reignited passions around the case that refused to die  a quiet death. "Truscott issues Plea for justice - show makes strong case for his innocence," ran the headline in the  Globe and Mail.  "Truscott wants vindication - CBC documentary raises new doubts," said the Gazette in Montreal. "Stunning new proof in Steve Truscott's 1959 sex-slaying case," the Ottawa Citizen said on its front page. "Was there a cover-up?" The documentary  would go on to earn the Canadian Association of Journalists top prize for best investigative report of  of 2000, and was part of a package of fifth estate exposes on the justice system that won the prestigious  Michener Award for "meritorious public service journalism. "Thank you, Steven Truscott, for having the courage to come forward after all these years," wrote Edmonton Journal columnist Duart Farquharson. "Your case has troubled a lot of Canadians. It shook my faith in our criminal justice system; it still does." It was, he said, "time for Truscott to get justice."

    Not only had Marlene persuaded Steven to come out of the shadows and clear his name, she threw herself into helping the AIDWYC lawyers investigate the case.  Perhaps a little too much at times: Per Julian Sher: "Marlene's hunt for clues also got the better  of her as days of research turned into weeks, the weeks into months, the months stretching over a couple of years"..."You live and breathe those boxes, mom, but there's other things going around that you're missing," Ryan warned her when his   sister Leslie was pregnant, "She's having a baby, she's very excited, and you sort of put her on the back burner."..."It was then that I realised I was putting too much into it," Marlene admits. She cooled her efforts, if only slightly.  In general, though, the children were thrilled with the buzz around the case. Steve himself could sense the difference. "We were finally where Marlene wanted to be in the first place  - we were finally talking about things," Steve says. "It was exciting. After all these years, we were finally out."

    COMMENTARY:  In an interview, Reporter Sher  says Marlene Truscott is a classical 'Selfless Warrior'),   "because she makes a difficult choice to fight   a battle that seemingly has no end - and no guaranty of victory, at a tremendous personal cost to herself" - all the time motivated by a burning sense  of injustice which had to be righted.  "When I met her I didn't think that it was going to take more than ten years." Sher believes Marlene is a 'Selfless Warrior' because she "rocks the boat," pushing everybody to take up the battle, and then leads the battle year after year.  "She's the detective, she's the investigative journalist, she's talking with  the lawyers,  debating legal strategy - while at the same time also acting as the mother and the wife and having to deal with the ups and downs."  And he also admires her for "all the digging" -  which is quite a compliment coming from   such a highly regarded investigative reporter. I  couldn't agree more. But I will add my own view, that it took an exceptional individual to  battle for  a young boy charged with raping and murdering a classmate, in a small town permeated with fear and hatred. It took an exceptional human being to marry this convicted murder, bear his children, and then then to go into hiding for  years under an assumed identity working out an effective strategy for finally  clearing his name, and then working day and night to fulfill it while raising a family in these difficult, hard to imagine  circumstances. That was no mean task. As Julian  Sher points out in the book, "In the cases  of Canada's famous reversals of wrongful convictions - Marshall, Milgaard and Morin - defence lawyers had DNA, the real killer or both. With Steve's case they had neither.  Steve lost not only in front of a jury in 1959, but also at the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in 1960 and then at the full Supreme Court in 1967. In all, fourteen out of fifteen judges who heard the case sided against him."  (How's that for setbacks? HL). In my books, only a 'Selfless Warrior' could have persisted as she did, and help win the  lengthy battle. A 'Selfless Warrior' name Marlene Truscott.

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    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Sher pays tribute to journalist Isabel LeBordais for her  1966 work 'The Trial of Steven Truscott' which remains a classic - for  putting the trial back on the front pages  and eventually in front of the highest court in the land. He also acknowledges  the cooperation he got from Truscott's legal team: Lawyers James Lockyer, Phillip Campbell, Marlys Edwardh, Jenny Friedland and Private Investigator Brian King. What an extraordinary, experienced, brilliant, talented and committed  group! The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted played an important role in the exoneration too. HL.)


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    CHRONOLOGY:  (CTV:):

    1959 

    June 9: 12-year-old Lynne Harper goes missing after taking a walk near the Lake Huron community of Clinton, Ont. 

    June 11: Harper's body is found on a farm and evidence suggests she had been raped and strangled. Steven Truscott, 14, a classmate, was the last person seen with the victim. 

    June 12: Truscott admits to police he was with Harper, but saw her get into a car as he rode away on a bike. Despite his claim, Truscott is arrested and charged with her murder the following day. 

    Dec. 8: After a 15-day trial, a jury finds Truscott guilty of the murder and sentences him to death by hanging. 

    1960 

    The Conservative government under then prime minister John Diefenbaker commutes Truscott's sentence to life in prison. 

    1966 

    Journalist Isabel LeBourdais publishes a book called "The Trial of Steven Truscott'' which raises questions about his case. It prompts the Supreme Court to re-examine the issue, but the justices vote 8-1 against giving Truscott a new trial. 

    1969 

    Ten years into his life sentence, Truscott is released from jail, but disappears into obscurity in Guelph, Ont. He marries and has three children, and remains out of the public eye for the next 20 years. 

    1997 

    Truscott agrees to the same type of DNA testing that exonerated Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard of murder. But crucial evidence that may have helped clear him had been destroyed. 

    James Lockyer agrees to represent Truscott -- the same lawyer who helped overturn the wrongful conviction of Morin for the death of Christine Jessop in 1984. 

    2000 

    Truscott emerges from hiding and says he will do everything in his power to clear his name. 

    2001 

    Lawyers for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted file an appeal to have Truscott's case reopened. 

    2002 

    Retired Quebec Justice Fred Kaufman is appointed by the federal government to review the case. 

    2004 

    Kaufman's report goes to the justice minister. But its conclusions aren't made public. Then federal justice minister Irwin Cotler sends the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal to consider if new evidence would have changed the outcome of the original trial. 

    2005 

    The Kaufman report is made public and it suggests there was a miscarriage of justice but there is not enough evidence to exonerate Truscott. 

    2006 

    After more than four decades, the body of Lynne Harper is exhumed. But no useable DNA is found on her remains. She is reburied four days later. Soon afterward, the Ontario Court of Appeal starts hearings in the case. 

    2007 

    August 28: The court acquits Truscott, calling his murder conviction a "miscarriage of justice.''

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    READING MATERIALS;

    IMDB page for 'Marlene.'

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12762096/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

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    Julian Sher: Until you are dead: Steven Truscott's long ride into history.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/165818/until-you-are-dead-by-julian-sher/9780676973815

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    Julian Sher: Toronto Star article:

    https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/12/12/fictional-new-movie-packs-emotional-truth-of-steven-trusctott-wrongful-conviction-for-reporter-who-helped-expose-the-case.html?rf

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    CBC: Home page for CBC fifth estate documentary: 

    https://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/40-years-of-the-fifth-estate/steven-truscott-his-word-against-history

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    Calgary Herald Review of 'Marlene.' (Previously called  'Chasing Justice'):

    https://calgaryherald.com/entertainment/local-arts/calgary-film-retells-steven-truscotts-wrongful-conviction-story-through-eyes-of-his-wife

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    Innocence Canada summary of the case:

    https://www.innocencecanada.com/exonerations/steven-truscott/

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    Wikipedia entry:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Truscott

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    Isabel LeBourdais book:

    https://www.amazon.ca/Trial-Steven-Truscott-Isabel-LeBourdais/dp/B0006BPBIY

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    INNOCENCE CANADA: SUMMARY OF CASE: (By Sarah Harland-Logan):

    Introduction

    In 1959, Steven Truscott was only fourteen years old when he was charged with the murder of his classmate Lynne Harper. After his wrongful conviction, Steven spent nearly 50 years seeking justice before he was acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2007.

    On the evening of June 9, 1959, Steven was seen giving Lynne a ride on his bicycle. They parted ways. Later that evening, her father reported her missing. Two days later, Lynne’s body was found in a nearby wooded area. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. On June 13, 1959, Steven was charged with Lynne’s murder.

    Steven’s Trial

    Despite his young age, Steven was ordered to stand trial as an adult. The Crown’s theory was that rather than dropping Lynne off as he claimed to have done, Steven turned off into the bush and killed Lynne at some point between 7:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. that evening. This theory was supported by conflicting testimony from various witnesses (some of whom claimed to have seen Steven near the area where Lynne’s body was found), testimony from the autopsy doctor – Dr. John Penistan – that Lynne had died sometime within this window, and lesions on Steven’s penis which, it was argued, could have been sustained by sexually assaulting Lynne.

    Steven insisted throughout the proceedings that he was innocent. He testified that Lynne was unharmed when he dropped her off at the intersection of the County Road and Highway 8, and that he happened to stop his bike on a bridge and looked back in her direction, only to see her getting into a grey Chevy with a yellow license plate. Several witnesses supported Steven’s version of events, testifying that they had indeed seen Steven and Lynne riding toward the intersection where Steven said he had dropped her off, or that they had seen him standing on the bridge looking in her direction. Witnesses also noted that Steven seemed normal when they saw him on the school grounds at 8 p.m. that evening. No one had seen Steven entering or leaving the wooded area where Lynne was killed.

    The defence led evidence from a specialist in internal medicine who testified that the method that the Crown expert used to determine Lynne’s time of death – examination of stomach contents – was not reliable, and that the lesions on Steven’s penis were most likely not caused by sexual intercourse.

    Despite defence efforts, on September 30, 1959, the jury found Steven guilty, and recommended that he be sentenced mercifully. At that time, however, the Criminal Code required that a death sentence be imposed for murder. The trial judge sentenced fourteen-year-old Steven to death by hanging.

    No Appeals Allowed

    Steven appealed his conviction to the Ontario Court of Appeal, but the Court unanimously dismissed his appeal on January 20, 1960. He then applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal his conviction. On February 24 of the same year, that court also dismissed his application for leave to appeal.

    At that point, Steven was out of legal options. Fortunately, the Governor General had ordered that his death sentence be commuted to a sentence of life imprisonment. Steven was therefore able to continue fighting for justice for several decades, rather than being executed for a crime he did not commit.

    Six years later, author Isabel LeBourdais published a book entitled The Trial of Steven Truscott, which was highly critical of the police investigation and trial process that had led to Steven’s conviction. The book brought Steven’s case to the attention of the public and, in 1966, the Governor General requested that the Supreme Court determine whether or not it would have upheld Steven’s conviction if it had allowed him to appeal the trial court’s decision. On May 4, 1967, the Court concluded that it would have dismissed the appeal. Again, it seemed that Steven was out of legal options.

    Steven’s Incarceration and Life in the Community

    Steven remained incarcerated – first at the Ontario Training School for Boys in Guelph, and then, after turning eighteen, at the Collins Bay Penitentiary, in Kingston – until October 21, 1969. At that point, he had been in prison for ten years and was eligible to be released on parole. After his release at age 24, Steven moved to Guelph, changed his name, and worked as a millwright, a trade that he had learned in prison. In October 1970, he married his wife, Marlene, and they raised three children. He has never been charged with any other criminal offence

    Fresh Evidence Presented to the Court of Appeal

    Innocence Canada (formerly AIDWYC) first became involved in Steven’s case in 1997 when Innocence Canada Counsel, along with journalists from CBC’s the fifth estate, travelled to Steven and Marlene’s home in Guelph. Steven quickly gave instructions to commence a search for evidence that would establish his innocence once and for all.

    In 2001 – thirty years after Steven’s release from prison – Innocence Canada prepared and submitted an Application for Ministerial Review of his conviction under what was then section 690 of the Criminal Code. As a result of this application, in 2002, the federal Minister of Justice retained Mr. Justice Fred Kaufman, a retired Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal, to investigate the conviction.

    In April of 2004, Mr. Kaufman released his investigative report to the Minister of Justice. He had found that there was “clearly a reasonable basis for concluding that a miscarriage of justice … likely occurred.” In light of this alarming finding, the Minister of Justice referred the case back to the Court of Appeal, the same Court which had refused to hear Steven’s appeal 1960.

    In June and July 2006, a five-judge panel of the Court of Appeal conducted a three-week hearing where Steven and his Innocence Canada Counsel – James Lockyer, Philip Campbell, Marlys Edwardh, Hersh Wolch and Jenny Friedland – called the fresh evidence that they believed would acquit him of Lynne’s murder. They called several experts to testify that the lesions on Steven’s penis were not caused by sexual intercourse with a young girl. Importantly, several medical experts gave testimony regarding the significant advancements that had occurred in scientific knowledge of the gastric emptying process (i.e., how quickly food is broken down in the stomach) between the time of Steven’s trial in 1959 and the appeal 2006. These experts testified that at the time of Steven’s trial, the field was still “in its infancy,” whereas by 2006, scientists were aware that the rate at which stomachs empty varies widely and depends on a large number of factors (e.g., age, gender, diet, and stress level).

    One of the experts, Dr. Michael Pollanen, examined the notes taken at Lynne’s autopsy as well as the slides containing samples of her preserved organs and tissues. Dr. Pollanen found that there was much less evidence of decomposition than he would have expected if Lynne’s time of death was really between 7:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on June 9, 1959 (i.e., two days before her autopsy). He concluded that Lynne had probably died sometime on June 10th – when Steven could not possibly have killed her.

    Even more troubling, the Court of Appeal was provided with two unofficial versions of Lynne’s autopsy report that had not been made available to the jurors during Steven’s trial. One of these versions appears to have been the original version that was drafted during the autopsy. In this document, Dr. John Penistan expressed the opinion that Lynne’s body was found “about 40 hours after death” – which would mean that Lynne had died at about 12:45 a.m. on the morning of June 10th. Steven had an unchallenged alibi for this time period. The other unofficial version of the autopsy report gives Lynne’s time of death as between 4:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on June 10th. In other words, if Lynne’s death occurred during either of the timeframes that Dr. Penistan had originally noted, then Steven could not have been her killer.

    In 1966, Dr. Penistan had submitted a review of his autopsy findings – which he described as an “agonizing reappraisal” – for the Supreme Court reference regarding Steven’s conviction. This document was not disclosed to defence counsel or to the Supreme Court at the reference. Had they been privy to Dr. Penistan’s review they would have learned that the Doctor concluded in 1966 that his findings were “not incompatible” with a later time of death than the definitive time window that he had given on the stand at Steven’s trial in 1959.

    A Miscarriage of Justice

    Following the hearing in 2006, the Court of Appeal concluded that if defence counsel had known about the uncertainty of the medical evidence surrounding Lynne’s time of death, as well as the many times that Dr. Penistan changed his opinion in this regard, they would have cross-examined him on his conflicting opinions. Perhaps he would then have retracted his opinion that Lynne died during the time window that supported the Crown’s theory that Steven had killed her. The Court found that given “the nature of the changes” in Dr. Penistan’s opinion about Lynne’s time of death, his evidence was “reasonably open to the allegation that his opinion shifted to coincide with the Crown’s case.” In other words, it is possible that he testified to help the Crown get a conviction, instead of helping the Court to find the truth.

    The Court of Appeal concluded that this fresh evidence could reasonably be expected to have affected the jury’s verdict. In light of this fresh evidence, Steven’s conviction was clearly a miscarriage of justice. On August 28, 2007, the Court of Appeal finally quashed his conviction, which had been in place for over 45 years, and entered an acquittal. Soon afterward, the Attorney General for Ontario apologized to Steven. 

    In 2008, the Ontario government – recognizing that Steven had not only spent a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit, but had also spent nearly half a century as an innocent man stigmatized as a rapist and murderer – awarded Steven $6.5 million in compensation for this egregious miscarriage of justice.

    The Causes of Steven’s Wrongful Conviction

    As in most wrongful conviction cases, several factors contributed to Steven’s wrongful conviction. First, the Crown’s failure to disclose the unofficial versions of Dr. Penistan’s autopsy report in 1959, caused the defence counsel and jury members to miss crucial exonerating information. Second, the Crown’s failure to disclose Dr. Penistan’s “agonizing reappraisal” in 1966, similarly played a role in frustrating a much earlier attempt to overturn Steven’s wrongful conviction. The Supreme Court has since helped to prevent potential miscarriages of justice caused by a lack of disclosure, by setting out guidelines in the 1991 case R v Stinchcombe [1991] 3 SCR 326, clarifying that the Crown must disclose any and all relevant documents to the defence (except for a few types of privileged materials).

    A third factor leading to Steven’s wrongful conviction was the limited scientific knowledge available at the time. Scientific advancements in the intervening 45 years – most notably, a deeper understanding of the numerous factors that could affect the rate at which the stomach empties – shed light on problems with the Crown’s case that were not evident at the time of Steven’s trial. It is important to remember that Steven was originally sentenced to death, and he would have been executed many years before these scientific advancements had taken place. One of many reasons that Innocence Canada does not support the death penalty is that new scientific and technological developments have often played a key role in exonerating innocent people many years after they were imprisoned, as in Steven’s case.

    A fourth factor in the wrongful conviction was that Dr. Penistan may have lost sight of his duty to play a dispassionate role in the court process, and help the trier of fact to seek the truth. His many shifting opinions about the time of Lynne’s death suggest that he was so eager to convict Steven for this horrific crime that he allowed his medical judgment to be affected.

    Another factor leading to Steven’s wrongful conviction might have been that police and prosecutors focused too early on Steven as the only suspect in Lynne’s murder; this phenomenon is known as “tunnel vision.” The Court of Appeal did not decide whether or not Steven was unfairly targeted in this way. The Court did comment, however, that Steven’s lawyers had argued that tunnel vision negatively affected his case. The Court also stated that “it is true … that police ‘tunnel vision’ is a feature found in many miscarriages of justice.”

    Wounds that Innocence Canada Cannot Heal

    The Court of Appeal commented that Steven had spent “his entire adult life in the shadow” of his wrongful conviction. In response to Steven being awarded $6.5 million in compensation, the Truscotts issued a statement explaining, “Although we are grateful for the freedom and stability this award will provide, we are also painfully aware that no amount of money could ever truly compensate Steven for the terror of being sentenced to hang at the age of 14, the loss of his youth or the stigma of living for almost 50 years as a convicted murderer.” It is extremely fortunate, and worthy of admiration, that Steven has been able to rebuild his life and start a family but the Truscotts will likely never be able to step out fully from the long, dark shadow of Steven’s wrongful conviction.

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    PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I will post information on the distribution of 'Marlene' as it becomes available.

    Harold Levy: Publisher: The Selfless Warriors Blog.

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