Wilbert Coffin's son wants to clear father's name, 60 years after his execution

For years, James Coffin thought his father died in an accident. Six decades later, he's fighting to clear the name of a man who many believe was wrongfully hanged by the state.

James Coffin wants his father's 1st-degree murder case, dating back to 1950s, reviewed

In a rare interview, the son of the man executed by the state in 1956 talks to CBC's Breakaway about the lingering doubts surrounding his father's conviction and growing up in the shadow of an infamous case. 3:31

James Coffin was eight years old when his father Wilbert was hanged at Montreal's Bordeaux prison.

His mother told him his father, originally from Gaspé, Qué., been killed in an accident.

Coffin never thought to question it.

"My mother kept me totally in the dark about it. I was about 15 before I knew who he really was," Coffin told Breakaway  host Rachelle Solomon in an exclusive interview from his home in British Columbia.

Last week marked the 60th anniversary of Coffin's father's execution for a crime many are convinced he didn't commit. 

Wilbert Coffin went to the gallows after he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of an American tourist in the Gaspé.

'His side of the story'

As relatives, friends and residents of Gaspé continued to question Coffin's verdict and what really happened in the summer of 1953, Coffin and his mother steered clear of the media attention, carrying on with their lives in Montreal and visiting Gaspé only for summer trips.

"My mother always said to leave it be, that nothing good would come of it. She would say I would only get my hopes up, and then they would get squashed again," Coffin said. 

The 60th anniversary of his father's execution prompted him to speak out and share information he believes to be essential in the ongoing efforts to re-open the Wilbert Coffin case.

Wilbert Coffin appealed his first-degree murder conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. His leave to appeal was denied. A provincial inquiry in 1964 deemed Coffin's trial to have been fair. 

But Coffin never took the stand in his own defence, and his side of the story has faded with time.

James Coffin, who now lives in British Columbia, says he's eager to tell his father's side of the decades-old story. (Radio-Canada)

"I wanted to finally get his side of the story told," James Coffin said. "Nobody knows the different things that I know, that my mother told me over the years."

Coffin says he has collaborated with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) in the past, donating paintings his father did while he was at Bordeaux.

"I brought them to be auctioned off to help raise funds for the work they do, looking after my dad's case as well as cases of other people who have been wrongfully convicted," he said. 

"I hope I can make a little dent into helping somebody else get out who is still alive."