Essay #4: A Mistake
the bill proposing that suspected criminals could not be convicted on DNA
evidence alone reached the House of Commons, there was understandably a
large uproar. People could not understand why the shadow cabinet of the
Canadian Conservative Party (the Tories, the Official Opposition at the
time) expressed a desire to, seemingly, allow suspected murders, rapists,
and pedophiles to go free.
As ethical debates in the Commons normally went, the governing Social Democratic Party of Canada (the Social Democrats) who held the majority of seats didn't stifle the bill's progress just because it wasn't their own. It was kind of like the Alberta legislature's Private Member's Bill that had banned gay marriages in Alberta centuries back (at the time, they had even threatened to invoke the infamous 'Notwithstanding Clause' in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), or the numerous federal bills on abortion. In these sorts of situations, party leaders would encourage their sitting members to vote with their consciences, and that's exactly what the members did.
At the outset, there were two clear sides to the debate. People were either for the new law, or they were dead set against it. Most of the Social Democrats and the Tories wanted this bill to go through because, respectively, it both alerted the populace to a flaw in the system that should be corrected; and it also represented a way to get the prosecution agencies out of manufacturing evidence. (By this time, the basic political ideologies of Modernity had long since converged into different shades of Liberalism and Socialism, so much so that the names of the individual parties compared to the kinds of things they actually stood for had little or no relation.) The Natural Law and Green Parties Alliance (the Green Alliance), the Liberal Party of Canada (the Liberals), and the Partie Reunification Québécois (the PRQ) remained more or less neutral on the whole, with no clear consensus on part of the members. And the six Constructionist Party members sitting in the Commons were dead against the piece of legislation.
But the two inflexible sides of the issue eventually grew a third arm. One of the intelligent, forward-thinking Liberal members (there really wasn't room for any other kind of Liberal since the party only held about ten seats) suggested that a compromise be reached: Since it was evidently unreasonable to release people who could either be 100% guilty or 100% victims of the system and that it would be difficult to tell the difference, why not give the defendant the option of a second opinion... a second test cycle held in an adjacent province? Surely there can't be that many corrupt forensic scientists out there.
This new idea grew very popular and the legislation was hurriedly revised. Nearly everyone was happy, and the bill rapidly passed through the Commons and landed in the Senate. Then the trouble began.
This requires some explanation. While the Senate of generations past generally didn't try to stop passage of a bill unless there was a public outcry asking them to (like the Tories' introduction of the Goods and Services Tax several generations ago that had the sitting Liberal senators try to stop the bill from going any further... but that is another story for another day), the modern senate was an adversarial force to just about everything the Commons tried to put forth. It was almost as if the tyranny imposed by the Constructionists that lasted up until nearly thirty years ago (It can be somewhat amazing, the length of time a governing party can simply hold off calling an election. Fortunately, the Constructionist-appointed Governor General was held up at gunpoint eventually, and was politely asked to dissolve the government. He was then 'persuaded' to let the victorious Conservatives form the next government.) would never disappear completely, or at least not until the Constructionist-appointed senators would begin to reach the mandatory retirement age of 105. But the Constructionist Prime Minister back then, being wise, appointed some of his very youngest supporters to the Senate, and thus none of the Constructionist-appointed Senators (who held a 'majority' in the Senate because of a constitutional rule that enabled the ruling Prime Minister to appoint as many new Senators as needed to pass a bill through the Senate if it wouldn't go through; it would have been a lovely idea to invoke that ruling now, but the Constructionists thoughtfully amended the Constitution afterwards to prevent the next party that would come to power from doing the same thing to them.) were anywhere near retirement right now.
When the bill's passage was stopped in the Senate chambers, much more public attention was drawn to the issue. A respectable amount of people did agree that the bill was a good idea, but why now? What brought all this on in the first place?
It all began... well, it began again, when a box of bones was found during a recreational diving expedition on Lake Superior. This is its story.
going down to the rink today?"
"Of course. I feel fine now. Ready to play." Rick Thomas was recovering from a leg injury he had received while shingling the roof on his new home. Well, to be more accurate, it wasn't while he was shingling the roof so much as just after he finished falling from the roof. But now his casts were off, and he felt ready to rejoin his rec-league hockey team.
"Great. It hasn't been the same without you."
Jason nodded, then left Rick alone in the living room of his recently-finished home, seated beside his Christmas tree. Looking out the window, he could see that it was getting dark outside and that snow was falling on the ground. In the dim lighting provided by the tree and a small lamp above the fireplace, he felt quite comfortable and at home.
About ten minutes later, Cassandra, his girlfriend, showed up at the back door. Naturally, she understood that Rick was still walking with a bit of a limp when he was on his feet too long, so she just let herself in, placed her things on the dining room table, and came into the living room. "Hi, honey."
She sat down next to him. "Have you heard about Jennifer?"
"What do you mean? The fourteen-year-old girl next door?"
"Of course. But the poor girl has gone missing. The whole town's talking about it." She handed him a flyer, which he read. In large bold letters, it said, "Missing: Jennifer Ann Sallie".
"That's so sad. And so close to Christmas, too. I hope nothing's happened to her."
Jennifer's class, her fellow classmates were understandably even more upset
by her unexplained absence. Especially little Joey, who had a secret crush
on Jennifer for almost the entire year. And to sadden things further, Jennifer
had a crush on Joey as well. But while Jennifer might have been along enough
socially to be amenable to talking to Joey, Joey wasn't really that far
along yet. When Joey was little, he hung out exclusively with girls. But
later on, when the other boys began to make fun of him, he suddenly alienated
himself from girls completely. "I hate girls!", he'd say along with all
the other boys. But it was grade nine now, and while all the boys who had
gotten him out of talking to girls were now starting to date girls themselves,
Joey was left avoiding Jennifer like the plague while loving her desperately.
He had even invented his own code symbols with which to write on a message
that he was considering slipping into her locker. And now she might be
Out in the hall of the small elementary school, Joey saw one of Jennifer's snotty friends (Brenda) at her locker getting some books out. He desperately wanted to know what was going on, but of course his built-up psychological boundaries strictly forbid a plain, "Where's Jennifer?". Instead, to 'distance himself' from the situation, he asked, "So what's all this going on about Jennifer?" quite indignantly.
Brenda turned and gave him a nasty look. "She's missing, you idiot! We're her friends, so we feel bad that she's gone! Of course you wouldn't understand this because you don't have any friends!"
Joey walked away, but he soon found a dark supply closet which gave him a good place to climb into and cry for a half-hour.
At home, Joey would often fantasize about rescuing Jennifer from wherever she was, or daydream about her coming back. He also dreamed that was a child genius with a huge laboratory, and that he was actively investigating her disappearance. But primarily his dream concerned rescuing her from where she was trapped and carrying her back home. Sometimes they kissed. The dreams were nice, yet sad because all the while he knew that they were impossible. And when he was forced back into reality, it was enough to make him cry again. Hopefully Jennifer would come back soon.
she never returned. Six months later, everyone but the family had given
up on the search, and most people came to the acceptance that she was gone
forever; except of course for poor Joey, who was still wrapped up in his
fantasy world. The entire community tried to put the disappearance behind
them, and they were nearly finished mourning when the second girl was missing.
The new girl missing was eight-year-old Christina Larsen. More than what was normal for an unexplained disappearance, people immediately feared the worst, mostly because Jennifer never came back. The police suspected a connection, but they didn't know anything else. They had no case, and no suspect.
Joey! Let's go into the back woods and find that treehouse the teenagers
"I guess that sounds like fun. Sure."
Joey and his two good younger friends from down the street, brothers Thomas and David, packed some things in their back packs, grabbed some dowels to use as mock 'power sticks', hopped on their bicycles, and set off for the Waterline, a rough gravel road providing access to the deep woods outside their town.
About a kilometer or so up the road, they took their bikes into the trees a bit, then headed up a seldom-used path through the thick forest. They crossed streams, swung their dowels, and told jokes. It was a nice outing, one that almost got Joey's mind off of Jennifer.
As they walked along, Joey suddenly got the feeling that he should investigate something off the path... plus, he was thirsty, and there was a brook over to his left. "Hey David, I want to check out that brook over there and get a drink."
"Sure, we'll come with you." They did.
"It's a good thing we brought these water bottles, or- umph!", Joey started. He had tripped and fell flat on his face. Craning his neck to see behind him, he noted that his friends were still several metres behind him. Then looking to see what he had tripped over, he fell into utter hysteria.
"NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!", rang Joey's scream throughout the wood. Thomas and David ran up to where he was as fast as they could. Then they saw Jennifer's dead and weathered body, and Joey absolutely paralyzed with shock. His body was shaking, his facial expression changing every split-second. "NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! It's not fair!! Jennifer! Jennifer! Why is she dead?!?! What happened?!?! Aaaaaaaaaa....!!!!!" Then Joey finally fainted.
The body was found, and the criminal investigation had begun. The public was outraged. This killer, abductor, pedophile, or whatever had to be found At All Costs. By the following fall, Christina's body was found tied up underneath the highway bridge over the river, further fueling the fear and outrage. Parents drove their kids to school, and were suspicious of everyone who wasn't a Concerned Parent. Playground Paranoia hit the surrounding counties.
and Cassandra were seated on their new living room couch, watching the
"Police report that they have finally found a suspect in the mysterious killings, thus appeasing the angry mob that has been gathering outside the local police station demanding answers. The suspect in this case is thirty-nine year old-"
There came a knock at the door, and Cassandra got up to see who it was.
"Police ma'am. We've come to see your boyfriend, Rick Thomas."
"Alright...", she said nervously. "Come in, I guess."
Rick looked up to see the police tramp into his living room.
"Are you Rick Thomas?", asked the constable.
One of the other officers pulled him up off the couch and put his wrists into handcuffs. "You're under arrest for the killings of Jennifer Ann Sallie and Christina Larsen. You have the right to remain silent..."
Frightened beyond belief, shocked beyond even the ability to say "I didn't do it!!" to the officers, Rick finally clued in on what was being shown on the television set. Apparently the hoisting equipment that he had been using so that he could finish shingling his roof could have been used to get under the bridge and deposit Christina where she was found, and so his equipment would factor in the investigation. Rick was now fearful for his own existence. His life could be at an end.
days later, Rick was being brought from the police station to the courthouse
for trial. During the trip in the police van, he noticed that the windows
were tinted and was glad of it. He was sure that angry parents were lining
the streets, staring at him, feeling nothing but anger.
Also due for a court appearance that day, notorious convicted pedophile Niles Feldspar was on his way to the same courthouse from a separate prison in a separate police van, wearing a big, twisted smile on his face. No one lined the streets on his trip though, because the general public was unaware that he'd be making a trip to the courthouse that day.
When Rick was brought into the courtroom by the Bailiff, he was greeted by boos and jeering from those community members who had arrived six hours ago to get a seat to watch the proceedings. Rick wondered where this was all going.
He didn't have to wait for long to find out. For the police, it was an open-and-shut (fake) case, and the trial progressed with similar speed. In addition to being convicted in the court of public opinion, his case with the real courts was in serious jeopardy. His chances of being proved innocent especially took a beating when Niles Feldspar testified for the prosecution (in exchange for five years off his sentence).
Mr. Feldspar, what made you become a sex offender?"
"Well... I've been addicted to sex since puberty."
"But why prey on children especially?" The lawyer jumped into Upstage Everyone Mode. "Why... why would you chose to prey on these much younger girls? Why break the laws of morality and society just to relieve your momentary carnal desires upon a timid girl one-third your age who is very much afraid of you?"
"I've... I've been having sex with girls of this age ever since I was that age, and long ago I had many short sexual relationships with many different women my age, but eventually my female peers decided that I wasn't mature enough for them and they left me behind. My... my psychiatrist thinks that I prey upon the youngest post-pubescent women because I know subconsciously that they don't know any better. But in a way... well, they're younger, fresher, and more beautiful in many ways."
"So now we know why you became a pedophile. Now what we really want to know - what we want to show this court - is why Mr. Thomas is a pedophile and how this can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, assume Mr. Thomas has had some relationship trouble and has not been having sexual intercourse with his girlfriend-"
"Objection!", shouted Rick's defense attorney. "Mr. Thomas was NOT having relationship trouble at the time of the abductions!"
"That remark is purely speculative, I move that it be stricken."
"Overruled. So noted.", spoke the Justice.
"So Mr. Thomas has been having relationship trouble. He is in desperate need of sex. Based on what you now know, does this man seem to fit the profile of a pedophile to you, a convicted pedophile?"
"And who would know better than you, a fellow offender! But here's the important question: In your opinion, did Mr. Thomas commit these crimes of which he has been accused?"
"No further questions."
Harvencourt, could you please tell the court what you do for a living?"
"I'm a forensic scientist. I run the local crime labs for the police."
"And were you in charge of testing the semen that was found on the clothing of Christina Larsen and Jennifer Ann Sallie?"
"Yes, I was."
"Did you test this semen?"
"Did you test Mr. Thomas' blood?"
"Did the DNA match?"
"How likely is it, in your opinion, that the DNA does not match?"
"Highly unlikely. The odds of a match are nine hundred ninety-nine quadrillion, nine hundred ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine out of one quintillion."
"Would those be the odds that Mr. Thomas' sexually assaulted the girls in question?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
was having a last-minute meeting with his lawyer about what he should do
"Change your plea to guilty. Throw yourself upon the mercy of the court."
"But... but I didn't do it!"
"I know you didn't do it!" An exasperated look was on the attorney's face. He sighed. "I know you didn't do this, but that's not the point. The legal term for this situation is 'cas liarus', or 'false case'. You have been blackballed by the police because if they didn't convict someone, they'd lose their respectability or something. But I guess that doesn't sound right. Frankly, I have no idea why they do this. Anyway... you need to plead guilty. I'm sorry, but there's just no way we can win this trial... even though they really have nothing on you but the forensic evidence."
"Agh... that DNA isn't mine! This isn't fair!"
"The world isn't fair... Isn't it a good thing that the world isn't fair? What if all these nasty things were all happening to us because we actually deserve them? Take comfort in the general unfairness and hostility of the universe, my son." He smiled. "I used to say that to my children. Sorry about that."
"No problem. And thanks, you've done all you could."
"Look, I don't usually say this, but no charge, okay? But call me back in five years for an appeal and I'll spring you out, like that Guy Paul Morin fellow. You can pay me then." He grinned.
"Great, I look forward to it. Thanks."
of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"
"We have, your honour. We find the defendant, Richard Charles Thomas, guilty in the kidnappings of Jennifer Ann Sallie and Christina Jolina Larsen; guilty in the sexual assaults of Jennifer Ann Sallie and Christina Jolina Larsen; and guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jennifer Ann Sallie and Christina Jolina Larsen."
Rick collapsed in shock.
"Juror number one, is this your verdict?"
"Yes, your honour."
"Juror number two, is this your verdict?"
"Yes, your honour."
"Juror number three..."
was now serving the fifth year of his life sentence with no eligibility
for parole for at least twenty-five years. Fortunately, at least a few
of the inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary understood his situation and
tried to protect him in any way they could; but those who did not understand
gave him a rough time of things, to put it mildly. So far there had been
no less than three attempts on his life. Criminals serving time have no
respect for two, and only two types of people: stool pigeons and child
The fifth year in Rick's case was important, for it was when he got it into his head that he could appeal the guilty verdict. He was allowed a small pouch of personal belongings to bring with him into prison. He dug in behind his cot and started searching frantically through the bag for a small business card. He found it.
The next day, Rick put in for phone privileges. Since he was a fairly quiet prisoner, and co-operated with just about everything, they granted him the privilege, even though it would be a long-distance call.
The phone rang on the other end of the line.
And rang again.
"Hello, Central Ontario Barristers and Solicitors."
"Yesss... is... isss... mmyyyyy... lawwwyeerr... therrrre..."
"Excuse me, sir? What is his name?"
"I'm sorry, but he no longer practises law here."
"... uh?... oh... nooooo... buuutt... wherrrre..."
"I'm not sure where he practises law now, or if he even does anymore. He was shot and killed a month ago just as he was about to prepare an appeal for Rick Thomas, the sex offender."
be happy to put forth your appeal, Mr. Thomas," said the head lawyer of
the Kingston Law Office, "but we'll need an up-front cash payment. Five
hundred thousand dollars."
"No one wants to take your case, Mr. Thomas. We don't like to be shot at."
"But- but- ... can't I get a lawyer for free?"
The barristers laughed. "Five years ago, you could, but not anymore. The Canadian Alliance passed a bill that stops our legal system from providing legal aid to murderers and sex offenders. It's all part of their 'Fundamentalist Christian Values for Canada' plan. If you don't jump in on the bandwagon and vote for their candidates, or vote for constitutional change in their referendums you get labelled a heretic, or worse, a Satanist."
Another lawyer piped up on this topic. "I was the Alliance candidate for Kingston and the Islands in the 2000 election!"
So Rick had no choice but to wait for his parole hearing that came about at the twenty-five year mark. Spending that enormous amount of time in prison, it was difficult for him not to change fundamentally as a person. He tried to stave off change as best he could, but he couldn't do anything about the permanent emotional scars. People tried to kill him seven more times. He tried to lift his spirits by telling himself that he was lucky to be alive.
what seemed an eternity, the parole hearing finally came. Needless to say,
the public was outraged, and they just wanted to see him left to rot in
But the panel had no reason other than the public mob not to let him go. Rick had been a quiet, co-operative prisoner. He did have lots of things going against him though, like the fact that he refused to take medications (for a crime he didn't commit), and that since he maintained all the time that he was innocent, he was deemed High Risk to Reoffend because he 'was in denial of the severity of the crime'.
But he was finally released, albeit just barely. He decided to move back to his hometown.
say we castrate the bastard!", concluded an elderly woman in her addressing
of the town council during the public forum in the elementary school gymnasium.
The crowd of townspeople cheered and applauded; evidently they shared the
same sentiment. No one wanted Rick in their town, not even his own townspeople.
"I used to be able to call Rick one of my best friends.", said Joey's father in his own address. "But that was before he killed that girl my son was in love with! He committed suicide because of this low-life! I don't want him back in my town!!"
"I'm a concerned parent, and I've started driving my children to and from school-"
"This man does not deserve the right to live here-"
"When he did what he did, he disavowed himself of being a respectable member of society-"
"If you say that he's going to reoffend, then why does it have to be here?!"
The panel at the front of the gymnasium was really at a loss. They really did want to please the community by booting Rick out of his new apartment, but there wasn't any legal process laid out for them to do so.
"So what's the point of this meeting then, if you're just going to cram this guy down our throats!!", someone yelled.
the townspeople were not entirely without recourse, and they thoughtfully
considered the option of Making Rick's Life Miserable. Before too long,
people were gathering at the entrance to Rick's building, throwing things
at his third-story window, holding signs that said "Get out of our town,
you miserable creep!", and other things to that effect.
Rick looked out that window, noting the overcast skies and the aggressive protesters. An egg suddenly splatted on the window six inches in front of his face, making him noticeably jump backwards. The people cheered. Rick didn't really know what to say to these people, but he suspected that nothing would help. He wished he was back in his own house, but it had been demolished shortly after his conviction many years ago. He decided to try and go to sleep early.
That night, he was shot.
Joey's father was summarily tried and found guilty of manslaughter. Even though he now had a criminal record, he wouldn't have trouble finding another job when he finished his three-year sentence; the man was a hero to the community. People cheered for him county-wide. The small community could now breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Nick! Nick! Come out here!"
"Hmm?" Nick ran out to the front door to see what Cassandra wanted.
"Look what I brought home!"
"Ooohh... he's a cute puppy, aren't you? Oh yes you are. Oh yes you are!"
The ex-girlfriend of the late Rick Thomas and current girlfriend of Nick was referring to the golden labrador puppy that she had brought home for Christmas.
"Yeah, he's pretty cute, I guess."
At that point, the new puppy walked up to Nick's feet and then relieved himself on Nick's socks.
"Oh, don't be upset, Nick, he's just a puppy. Wait until he gets big... he'll be such a smart dog!"
prediction couldn't have been farther from the truth. By the following
year, Stevey (the name of this dumbo dog) spent most of his time barking
at everything that moved, and sticking his nose into people's shoes. But
Nick and Cassandra didn't mind too much, although they did envy the next-door
neighbors who had a German Shepherd / Border Collie cross named Jake who
could probably pilot the Concorde if given the opportunity.
One fine fall evening, Nick and Cassandra decided to take Stevey out for a run behind the park. Most of the leaves were down, the air was crisp, and it felt good to be alive. The trio ran and frolicked through the trees.
At one point, Nick picked up a stick and tossed it further into the woods over a small crest, hoping Stevey would be smart enough to fetch the stick and bring it back. Barking, Stevey ran after the stick and disappeared from view.
A few seconds later, it looked as if Nick was vindicated as Stevey ran back with something in his mouth. Anxious, Nick let Stevey run up and deposit his find on the ground below.
The find was a tiny bone, covered with dirt. Nick didn't know that it was from a human index finger, but he did correctly guess that it was a bone. He decided to walk over the crest and see what was there.
"Cassandra, could you call the cops for me?"
with the badly-decomposed body of the human male, the police found traces
of the man's wallet. Even though it was mostly rotted out, they did find
two wallet-size photographs of two young girls. It was impossible to tell
who they were, but it did make the find more interesting. They ran the
man's DNA through the computer, and let it go to work for about a month
to see if it could match something else they had on file.
As the computer reached twenty-eight years back into the DNA records, forensic scientist Harvencourt, six months away from retirement, was sincerely hoping that nothing would show up until the twenty-ninth. But then the computer confirmed his worst fears.
But Harvencourt wasn't licked yet. Knowing that he had put in for time off that friday, he hatched a quick plan. He took the bones of the mystery man and stuffed them into a small box. Then he sent for a similar set of bones in the special decomposition crime lab of an adjacent town, testing of these remains had been completed, and Harvencourt claimed he needed them for his own comparative decomposition study. He substituted these bones, then started the whole test process from scratch. Naturally, the computer found nothing. And the other town didn't miss the stray bones.
Out on his yacht friday afternoon, Harvencourt tossed the box of bones into the deep waters of Lake Superior.
reason that the recovery of those bones generations later sparked such
a debate, was that (proper) forensic testing of the remains found that
they matched the ancient file of the semen found on the clothing of Jennifer
Ann Sallie and Christina Larsen. Looking back into the ancient records,
the police concluded that the scientist Harvencourt neglected to test the
blood of Rick Thomas, possibly because the police simply didn't care for
him to. At this point, however, the discussion of fault and blame was moot;
the people to be held accountable had been dead for hundreds of years.
But it did firmly crack open the case of convicting criminals based on
DNA evidence alone, which was seen by some as a discussion that was long-overdue.
Who knew how many people over the years had fallen victim to corrupt scientists
and police detachments? And who would stand over the shoulder of these
people while the tests were being done, and would they even be able to
tell if things were proceeding correctly?
These issues, put together, greatly assisted the passing of this new bill through the House of Commons. Unfortunately, there was no way to pass the bill through the Senate. Then the thought got into people's heads: if the Constructionists could fudge up the system to accomplish their evil aims, why can't the people of Canada fudge things up for the cause of good? Canada's head of state, Queen Lynette the Third, was called upon to fix the problem. Consulting with the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she decreed that if both the Governing Party and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition unanimously pass or reject a bill in the House of Commons, it could not be stopped or made law unless eighty percent of the Senate voted against or for it, all respectively. This made everyone happy, and within a week it was no longer possible for someone to be convicted based on DNA evidence alone, at least not after only one test.