Mindy Tran murder trial ends in acquittal

RCMP in Kelowna, B.C. are on the defensive over their handling of the Mindy Tran murder investigation. After a week of deliberations, a jury acquitted Shannon Murrin Tuesday in the brutal death of the eight-year-old girl.

The 49-year-old man jumped from his chair and clapped his hands when he heard the verdict.

"I knew today would come," he said outside the courthouse. "I can't believe it, well I can believe it, I've got two really good lawyers."

At the trial, the defence waged a relentless attack on the lead investigator in the case, Sgt. Gary Tidsbury, who is now retired from the force. RCMP Const. Garth Letcher says the investigation was "conducted thoroughly and in an objective manner."

The RCMP say they have no plans to reopen the investigation. Letcher says they believe "the appropriate person was charged".

Aug. 17, 1994 -Tran disappears Aug. 22, 1994 - search called off Oct. 11, 1994 - body recovered in Kelowna park Jan. 14, 1997 - Murrin charged Aug. 4, 1999 - trial begins Jan. 17, 2000 - jury begins deliberation Jan. 25, 2000 - not guilty verdict

Mindy disappeared from her neighbourhood in August 1994, just after supper. She rode her bike down her quiet Kelowna street and vanished.

Hundreds of people searched for the girl but her body wasn't found until six weeks later when a man with a divining rod led police to a shallow grave near her parents' home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

The RMCP suspected Murrin, who lived near the Trans, from the start but the evidence was largely circumstantial.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin in May 1998, but was postponed after a British lab completed DNA tests that linked Murrin to three hairs found in Mindy's underwear at the gravesite. Previous DNA tests on the hairs, done in Canada, had been inconclusive.

More than 80 witnesses testified at the trial that lasted nearly seven months.

The Crown suggested that Murrin had killed and sexually abused Mindy, stuffed her body into a suitcase and then taken it to a Kelowna park where he covered it with leaves and twigs.

The defence argued that Murrin was at a friend's house at the time Mindy disappeared and that police had convinced a defence witness, Murrin's main alibi, to change his story and say Murrin was there more than an hour later.

Murrin's lawyers accused the RCMP's lead investigator Sgt. Gary Tidsbury of trying to manufacture a case against their client, and of manipulating witnesses.

Murrin had been badly beaten by three men who said they were enlisted by the RCMP in a bid to get him to confess.

The Tran family was not in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. They released a statement which said they were unhappy and confused with the results of the trial.

Murrin says his next move is back home to Newfoundland. "I'm going home to be with my family. I had a girlfriend there five years ago. I don't know if she's still there. We'll soon find out.

As for the Trans, he says "I just feel so very, very, sorry for the Tran family, but there's nothing I can do for that, right."