Thu, Aug 30, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Canada acquits man jailed at 14 for 1959 murder

APPEAL UPHELD Steven Truscott was the youngest Canadian ever sent to death row, although his sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He was paroled in 1969

APF , MONTREAL

A Canadian man jailed for murder at the age of 14 was acquitted Tuesday of raping and killing a female school classmate -- 48 years after the horrific crime.

The five-judge Ontario court of appeal unanimously ruled that the 1959 conviction of Steven Truscott, now aged 62, was "a miscarriage of justice, and must be quashed."

"It's a dream come true," an emotional Truscott told a press conference, as his wife and three adult children choked back tears beside him, at the culmination of a case that has gripped Canada for decades.

"For 48 years I was considered guilty. I knew myself, and my family knows, that I never was," he said. "I never in my wildest dreams expected in my lifetime for this to come true."

Truscott was first sentenced to execution by hanging for the rape and strangulation of Lynne Harper, 12, in a small town on Lake Huron in southern Ontario, becoming the youngest Canadian ever sent to Death Row.

Truscott's death penalty handed down in an adult court sparked an emotive nationwide debate and in 1960, his sentence was commuted to life in jail.

Canada's parliament abolished capital punishment in 1976.

Truscott was released under parole in 1969, took an assumed name and started a family. Three decades later, he emerged from anonymity to protest his innocence and start the battle to clear his name.

From 2000, a barrage of TV programs, books and newspaper articles cast doubt on the conviction, suggesting that major evidence in support of Truscott's case had been ignored at his trial.

The Canadian government decided to reopen the case in 2002, and it was formally referred for review by the Ontario court of appeal two years later.

Ontario's Attorney General, Michael Bryant, said: "On behalf of the government, I am truly sorry ... No appeal will be sought by the Crown [state]."

Bryant announced the appointment of a retired judge to look into whether Truscott should receive compensation for his long ordeal.

"Steve should get every penny he can out of the government after what he's been through," his lawyer James Lockyer said.

The appeals court threw out the central plank of the original prosecution case, that only Truscott could have been present on the scene at the time that Harper was murdered. He was the last person seen with her.

New pathology evidence showed the time initially given by the autopsy doctor for Harper's death was "scientifically untenable." She could have died as much as a day later, when Truscott was in school.

In that light, Truscott did not have "the exclusive opportunity to murder Lynne Harper" as prosecutors had claimed, and "that key pillar of the Crown's case is now gone."

"The court thus orders that Mr Truscott should stand acquitted of the murder of Lynne Harper ... We are satisfied that if a new trial were possible, an acquittal would clearly be the more likely result," the judges ruled.

However, in the absence of new genetic evidence after half a century since the crime, the court found that it could not declare Truscott formally innocent as demanded by his lawyers.

Truscott says that he gave Harper a ride on his bicycle and then saw his schoolmate get into a passing car on a rural road. Her body was found near an air force base two days after she vanished on June 9, 1959.

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