Court acquits Truscott, calling conviction 'miscarriage of justice'

Ontario's highest court has acquitted Steven Truscott of murder in the death of Lynne Harper, saying the conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

Ontario AG Bryant offers apology and says province won't appeal

The Ontario Court of Appeal has acquitted Steven Truscott of murder in the death of Lynne Harper 48 years ago, saying the conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

Devon Truscott clears the way for his father, Steven Truscott, as they make their way to a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

In a ruling Tuesday, a five-judge panel unanimously decided to quash the conviction stemming from the rape and strangulation of the 12-year-old girl near a town in southwestern Ontario.

"The court unanimously holds that the conviction of Mr. Truscott was a miscarriage of justice and must be quashed. The court further holds that the appropriate remedy in this case is to enter an acquittal.

"The court thus orders that Mr. Truscott should stand acquitted of the murder of Lynne Harper," the courtruled.

Truscottwas sentenced to hang in 1959 atage14 forHarper's murderin Clinton, Ont., becoming Canada's youngest death-row inmate after one of themost famous trials in the country's history.

After he sat on death row for four months,Truscott's sentence was commuted to life in prison. Two attempts to appeal the conviction failed before he was granted parole in 1969.

For nearly three decades, he kept a low profile, raising a family in Guelph, Ont., before going public in 1997 about his life and beginning a new fight to clear his name.

Ontario's highest courtdelivered its decision after wrapping up an eight-month review of the case in February.

Attorney general apologizes

Michael Bryant, Ontario's AG, apologized for the miscarriage of justice and said the Crown will not appeal the case. ((CBC))

Shortly after the decision was released,Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant told reportersthe Crown has no plans to appeal, and offered an apology to Truscott.

"On behalf of the government, I am truly sorry," Bryant said. "It is a decision that will not be appealed by the Crown — it is over."

Bryant also said he has asked Justice Sydney Robins, a former Ontario Court of Appeal judge,to advise the government on the issue of compensation.

"The government of Ontario will fully co-operate with Justice Robins, as will all counsel," the attorney general said.

Ruling'dream come true'

Truscott said he was "just elated" when he heard the news while travelling from Guelph to Toronto. "It didn't immediately sink in because I was prepared for the worst, which has happened every time in the past."

"I never in my wildest dreams expected in my lifetime for this to come true, so it's a dream come true," he told reporters.

When asked whether he'll fight for compensation, he said, "I haven't even thought of that. I've learned over the years you fight one battle at a time."

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

"I'm glad Ontario's attorney general has acknowledged that he should be compensated, as he has today."

Court heard new evidence

The court heard new evidence last summer that focused on the time of Harper's death based largely on the contents of the girl'sstomach after she died.

During the original trial, Dr. John Penistan, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Harper's remains, testified shelikely died between 7:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on June 9, 1959.

Truscott had admitted to being with Harper during much of that period.

New evidence presented to the Ontario Court of Appeal panel last summer involveda report written from notes takenduring the autopsy that estimated the time of death much later than the half-hour time frame Penistan gave in court.

The reportestimated Harper was killed at about 12:45 a.m.on June 10, several hoursafter she accepted a ride onthe handlebar of Truscott's bicycle.

In Tuesday's ruling, the court said the fresh evidence relating to the time of death "could reasonably be expected to have caused the jury to at least have a reasonable doubt that Harper died before 8 p.m."

With files from the Canadian Press