catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 14 :: 2005.07.15 — 2005.07.28


Beyond a reasonable doubt

The story of Steven Truscott, I suspect, is unknown to catapult magazine?s American audience, so I will spend a little time here giving a simple summary. On July 9, 1959, in the heartland of rural Ontario near the small town of Clinton, not too far from where I grew up, a 12-year-old girl named Lynn Harper went missing. The last person known to have seen her was the 14 year-old Truscott, who does not deny having given her a ride on his bike from school immediately prior to her disappearance. What follows cannot be verified with absolute certainty, but the story Truscott tells is bound to raise anyone?s suspicions. The two were supposed to have parted company at a nearby road where Lynn hopped in a car driven by a man, presumably, whose identity to this day remains a mystery. Convicted later in the year, Truscott was the youngest Canadian to ever sit on death row. The stiff penalty was commuted to a life imprisonment a few months later when the Canadian government outlawed the death penalty. Ten years later Truscott was quietly released; he assumed an alias; and he made a new life for himself. To this day he denies the truth of the charges brought against him.

W5, a Canadian version of 60 Minutes, aired questions in 2000 concerning whether the case against him had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The show attracted attention from representatives in the Canadian Parliament where it was said, ?The case against Truscott was based on ambiguous, circumstantial and inconsistent testimony from children, impossible medical analysis of the murder victim and Mr. Truscott himself.? The following year Truscott himself filed a formal request for a review of his case.

This particular case is worthy of some reflection, as are the many like it, because it brings into question a much larger issue for Christians concerned with seeing the Lord?s justice done in the world. In the example of Steven Truscott there is a very large potential that the law condemned the wrong man, or, as it is in this case, boy. What then do we make of a ?miscarriage of justice??

Allowing for the fact that I can?t prove Truscott?s innocence, let me use him as an example of an innocent man declared guilty. There is another side to a definition of a miscarriage of justice; the opposite, the guilty declared innocent, is also a very real possibility. If we were to put a few people in a room together and asked them to compile a list of notorious criminals who escaped punishment because of some escape clause or failure on the part of the investigators to collect the evidence properly, their efforts could produce a lengthy list. Though I make no claim to notoriety, I might put my name at the bottom of that list because of a parking ticket I received which was torn up when the Parking Authority realized the police officer who had written the ticket had gotten the date wrong. The devil is in the details; and the good guys do finish last because they aren?t pushing the envelope.

In the true spirit of the law I should have paid the $40.00 parking ticket. I was guilty of a parking infraction, no two ways about it. Had I attempted to do so, however, I am not sure the clerk would have known how to deal with my request. The ticket had already been stricken from the records, which left no paper trail to connect my money to a specific parking infraction. I suppose she could have pocketed the cash herself.
These things said, many Christians are angered over the inability of our current legal systems to punish crime and dispense justice. Frustration only grows when the very legal system appears to have been turned on its head in defending what it should be prosecuting.

A Christian can very easily claim that current laws have no true spirit, but only letters; though a deeper analysis of the present situation would show that the rights of the individual drive our legal systems. Either way, the outcome is the same, for when the rights of the individual become the basis for law, all that is left to make a legal judgment is the letter.

But then there is the case of Stephen Truscott. I am inclined to take him at his word and believe that he did not kill Lynn Harper, especially when I consider the amount of circumstantial evidence brought against him. If I may be allowed to make this conclusion, perhaps I can take another step. The case built against Truscott was an extrapolation from established facts that were meant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. I do not think it too much to say that even a judge and jury attentive to the true spirit of the law, as a Christian would define this, could be expected to have declared him not guilty. If he will be exonerated, that is because it was demonstrated that a case was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt?which is not to say we can be sure of his innocence, but only that there is not enough evidence, i.e details, to confirm his guilt. The devil may be in the details; but the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Though we may faithfully believe that a Christian morality and sense of justice offers a better way to be human, even this falls short of the mark. There is no shame in admitting this much.

Because of this, some might draw a rash conclusion that right and wrong are both part of an illusion covering over an amoral paradise?somewhere beyond good and evil. For the Christian this is an offensive proposition, but it still contains a small truth. Living for the coming of the God?s Kingdom demands two things: to seek the Lord?s justice, and to acknowledge a human inability to ultimately see it done. Beyond human efforts to see justice done, beyond human attempts at defining good and evil we find Christ, who promises to one day soon make all things new.

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