Canada

Sophonow inquiry nears end of compensation phase

Lawyers are expected on Tuesday to begin arguing what factors should be considered to decide on compensation for Thomas Sophonow.

An inquiry into Sophonow's wrongful conviction was ordered in June 2000, after police in Winnipeg finally exonerated him of murdering Barbara Stoppel in 1981 and apologized.

Lawyers don't want to talk about dollar figures, just yet. But what many who have testified so far in the inquiry agree on is that Sophonow ought to be compensated for the four years he spent in prison after his conviction.

"This is the first time that I'm aware of where the compensation and what went wrong in an arrest have been heard together," said Lyle Harris, Sophonow's lawyer.

What went wrong in the arrest has been a major point in the inquiry, and the whole affair.

Sophonow testified last fall that Winnipeg police convinced him he had strangled Stoppel, suggesting he had blacked out and killed the girl at a doughnut shop during a short visit to Winnipeg.

He said police told him his fingerprints were in the shop and five witnesses could identify him.

None of what the police told Sophonow was true and his repeated requests for a lawyer were ignored.

So, Sophonow confessed to the killing, he testified, to get the police to leave him alone.

After three trials, two convictions, four years in prison and two appeals, Sophonow was released in 1985, but wasn't exonerated until last year when DNA evidence showed he wasn't the killer.

The experience has left Sophonow a changed man, and a British psychiatrist who has experience working wit the wrongfully convicted described the mental toll the trauma has taken.

"Mistrust, bitterness, paranoid sensitivity, social avoidance, isolation, the ruminations and fantasies of violent revenge," said Adrian Grounds. "That's strikingly familiar to me and similar to cases I've described."

After the arguments of the compensation phase of the inquiry have been made, the inquiry will adjourn until March. Then it will turn its attention to the investigation and trials of the case. 

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