If Justice Fails

UPDATE: On March 14th, 2008, after 33 years of proclaiming his innocence, Erin Walsh was vindicated. The New Brunswick Court of Appeal reviewed his case and overturned his conviction of second degree murder. This comes less than a month after the Province of New Brunswick and the Attorney General of Canada both said that Erin Walsh had likely been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Erin Walsh
Erin Walsh was convicted of killing Chi Chi Peters in 1975.

The story of If Justice Fails begins on a hot, summer afternoon in 1975, in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Guilty in Shooting of Chi Chi Peters

A carload of petty criminals, a drunken tussle, a blast from a loaded shotgun. One man, Melvin 'Chi Chi' Peters, dies. Another, Erin Walsh, is charged with killing him. In court, the shooting of Chi Chi Peters is presented by the prosecutors as an open and shut case against Walsh. After a four-day trial, the jury takes just one hour to return a guilty verdict. Erin Walsh, convicted of second-degree murder, receives a life sentence with no parole before ten years. His claims of innocence are ignored.

In the three decades since Chi Chi Peters's death, questions remain about whether or not the right man did the time: questions about crucial documentation that never made it to the trial; about key witnesses who were never called to testify.

A Death Sentence

Documents (see right) shed new light on the case.

Now, thirty-two years after his conviction, Erin Walsh is still fighting to clear his name. But, with vindication possible, that fight has taken on a new urgency. Erin Walsh has terminal cancer. "I was diagnosed", he tells the fifth estate, "as having six to eight months to live. So, if you do the math, I'm already—you're sitting here talking to a dead man."

What Walsh discovered recently were documents, material previously undisclosed to his lawyers at the time of the trial, and evidence never presented in court. It is that evidence, Walsh believes, that could have cleared him of the murder charge in 1975.

New Evidence Uncovered

lawyer Sean MacDonald
Toronto lawyer Sean MacDonald is working to clear Walsh's name.

In If Justice Fails, the fifth estate examines those documents and presents them to the jury foreman who sees them for the first time. After reading the material, Eric Kipping tells the fifth estate: "So, this is quite another side to the story. And why in the name of time would it be withheld?"

The fifth estate has tracked down witnesses, rail workers who could back up part of Walsh's version of events of the day Chi Chi Peters died and whose testimony was never entered as evidence. Another crucial witness was confronted, a passenger in the car that day who testified against Erin Walsh at his trial.

If justice fails "the least of us", even small-time criminals like Erin Walsh, reporter Linden MacIntyre says, then "…it fails us all."

"The Office of the AG has thoroughly reviewed the case of Erin Michael Walsh. The office of the AG does not agree with all of the findings found in the Investigative Brief submitted to the federal Minister of Justice. However, it is agreed that the federal Minister of Justice could have a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred and that it is appropriate to exercise the extraordinary power under Section 696.3 of the Criminal Code." -- Hon. T. J. Burke, QC