Holy Cold-Cases Batman!

Body in Truscott case exhumed for DNA tests

JOE FRIESEN AND JULIAN SHER
Globe and Mail
With a report from Murray Campbell

A case that has haunted Canada for decades took an unusual turn yesterday as the body of 12-year-old Lynne Harper, buried for 47 years, was exhumed by the coroner’s office for DNA testing.

Steven Truscott, her 14-year-old neighbour in the Lake Huron community of Clinton, Ont., was convicted of Lynne’s 1959 murder and spent years on death row before being released on parole in 1969. In 2004, a report by a retired judge concluded there had been a miscarriage of justice. The case was later referred to Ontario’s Court of Appeal for review.

The exhumation was carried out under the orders of Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant with the consent of Lynne’s family. Mr. Bryant said her relatives were present yesterday at the United Church cemetery in Union, Ont., 40 kilometres south of London, where a team of forensic experts observed the procedure.

“The decision to do this was made with a lot of consideration and consultation with forensic pathologists, forensic anthropologists and most importantly in consultation with Lynne Harper’s family,” Mr. Bryant told reporters at Queen’s Park.

“Although the ability to obtain DNA does diminish over time, there still remains the possibility, and we have an obligation before the Court of Appeal to obtain as much information as possible and bring it before the court on the Truscott reference.”

Observing the exhumation on behalf of Mr. Truscott’s lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted were John Butt, former chief medical examiner for Nova Scotia and Alberta and now a private consultant in forensic pathology, and Edward Blake, a DNA expert from California.

Dr. Blake has worked on more than 50 post-conviction exonerations through DNA work. He said this is the first time he had seen an attempt to secure DNA evidence from a body buried so long ago.

“A body that has been buried 50 years has significant challenges,” he said, but added: “The mere fact that something is 50 years old does not preclude success.”

Ontario Chief Coroner Dr. Barry McLellan said Lynne’s remains would be sent to Toronto where samples would be taken. If possible, the remains will be reburied later today.

Any evidence gathered will be made available to Crown and defence lawyers before the Court of Appeal hears Mr. Truscott’s case, beginning June 19.

Mr. Truscott lived in anonymity for nearly 30 years after being released from prison in 1969. He stepped forward in 1997, seeking to prove his innocence with the help of AIDWYC, and offered his DNA for testing. But an exhaustive search found no evidence from the crime scene to test against his genetic material.

When Lynne was buried June 13, 1959, the town of Clinton, near the eastern shore of Lake Huron, and the local air force base were traumatized by grief.

“I think everyone wants to see an end to this [case],” said town resident Bryan Glover, who knew the Harpers and the Truscotts. “And if this helps, well that would be a great thing.”

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