Sophonow should get $2.6 million: inquiry

Manitoba offers Thomas Sophonow $1-million compensation after he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

A Manitoba inquiry said Monday that Thomas Sophonow should get $2.6 million in compensation for the "irreparable damage" he suffered after being wrongfully convicted of murder.

So far, the province has agreed to pay its share of $1 million. 

Saying "wrongful imprisonment is the nightmare of all free people," Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh released the results of an eight-month inquiry into the incident Monday.

The inquiry report by retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory recommended that payment of the award be split three ways: 50 per cent to be paid by the city of Winnipeg, 40 per cent by Manitoba and 10 per cent should come from the federal government. "The province accepts this," Mackintosh said.

Sophonow's lawyers had asked for between $8 million and $10 million.

The mayor of Winnipeg is not saying whether the city will pay its $1.3 million share of the compensation award.

Glen Murray said he was concerned about making a payment that would be precedent-setting for other cities.

"The history in Canada of paying compensation to this point in time has always been paid by the province and federal government," Murray said. "They have the funds for it."

The report contained 43 recommendations, including banning the use of jailhouse informants, which Manitoba has agreed to implement, Mackintosh said.

The case against Sophonow relied heavily on testimony from paid jailhouse informants including a key witness who identified him as being at the crime scene. Later, the witness admitted fabricating part of his story.

Sophonow was tried three times and spent almost four years in jail before he was eventually cleared of the murder of Barbara Stoppel in June, 2000.

The 16-year-old waitress was found strangled in the bathroom of a doughnut shop in 1981. The government also announced Monday it would award $75,000 to the Stoppel family.

Critics charged that police, convinced of Sophonow's guilt, bent the rules to get a conviction.

Officers and the Manitoba Justice Department admitted last year that mistakes had been made. Police now have another suspect in the case.

Sophonow's lawyers say he continues to live under a cloud of hostility and isolation.

The inquiry's report said he suffered "irreparable damage."

"He will always suffer from paranoia, depression, and obsessive desire to clear his name," Cory said in his report.