Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Faith, justice and innocence all go missing in Redrum The Innocent

From The Week of June 17th, 2013

As much as we plan and dream, organize and hope, our lives are beyond our control. We live in a world of billions, a world in which, every day, countless people make decisions that have an impact on both our present and our future. We can't resist that. We lack the knowledge and the power to turn back that flood. And so we ignore it, concentrating on what we can change, on what we can see affecting us in the moment. This is a much more palatable existence, one that gives us the illusion of command. But what happens when that illusion is shattered? What happens when our lives are turned upside down by events we could no more predict than we could accept? What are we then? And how do we survive? Kirk Makin ruminates in his sprawling work of non-fiction.

On October 3rd, 1984, Christine Jessop, a playful, adventurous, nine-year-old girl living in Queensville, Ontario, vanished without a trace from her quiet, suburban home, shocking a community unfamiliar with such terrible events. Over the next three months, fuelled by her mother's hope for the girl's safe return, the police and the public would undertake a regional search for little Christine, one that would end in tears when her broken body was found some 50 miles from her home, in woods frozen by winter. With only a few suspects and even less evidence, investigators soon locked in on Guy Paul Morin, the Jessops' eccentric, 24-year-old neighbor who, though lacking any sort of motive, much less a criminal history, was extensively questioned by cops increasingly eager to find their man. Their suspicions were only strengthened when they learned that Morin declined to join the extensive, public search for Christine, in the desperate days just after her disappearance.

Using hair and fiber samples taken from Morin and his car, police would eventually arrest Morin, charging him with Christine's murder. Fixated by his social awkwardness, they would spend the next year largely ignoring other suspects, SHAPING what few pieces of evidence they had into a case against Morin that would lead to two controversial and contentious trials, the second of which would finally convict him of a crime he did not commit. This truth, however, would only come to light in 1995, 14 months after his conviction, when newly developed DNA techniques would rule out his involvement with Christine. This shameful miscarriage of justice would conclude with a 1997 inquiry which excoriated the police and the judiciary, accusing the former of leaping to unsupported conclusions and recommending that the latter change its prejudicial procedures. But none of this would help Guy Paul Morin regain his life. Nor would it return Christine to a Jessop family shattered by her disappearance.

As shattering as it is revelatory, Redrum The Innocent is Mr. Makin's extensive chronicle of both the murder of Christine Jessop and the judicial farce that would attempt to identify and punish her killer. Drawing on dozens of interviews with the principals and countless hours spent observing Morin's two trials, the author masterfully weaves together the personal and the professional, painting intimate portraits of the prime movers while methodically laying out the dubious evidence used to first hound and then to imprison an innocent man. Between, Mr. Makin systematically savages the case against Morin, not only revealing its shoddy construction, but detailing the unforgivable extent to which police fixated on Morin, contorting the facts to better fit their assumptions of his guilt. His efforts here are so thorough, so overwhelming, that they leave the reader's faith in the judicial system deeply shaken.

There is no doubt that Redrum The Innocent is at its most potent when describing the ways in which the police bungled the investigation of Christine Jessop's murder. In fairness, the cops in question were neither trained nor prepared to handle such a complex and difficult case. None of their rural charm, or good ol' boy instincts would help them find their man. For the degree to which they were overwhelmed by what unfolded, we can have sympathy. However, what we cannot tolerate, much less accept, is the degree to which the police refused to acknowledge their own inadequacy. Instead of welcoming outside assistance, they fell back on interdivisional rivalries out of the selfish desire to claim the glory of finding Christine's killer. This hunger would lead them to not only manipulate evidence and coach witnesses as a means of firming up the case against Morin, it would cause them to unforgivably dismiss the leads that might have lead to Christine's killer. As a consequence of hurling all their energies at an innocent man, the killer was never found, a fact which has left the Jessop family in ruins.

If this is the work's travesty, its tragedy is saved for the Morins and the Jessops, two families smashed by this ordeal. As a result of the harsh light of the investigation, secrets and lies are forced out of the shadows, truths nearly as cruel as the murder itself. This endless, grinding process of lurching towards something like justice leaves the reader hollowed out, hoping for some measure of peace, of justice, that never comes. We should be better than this. It should be easier than this. Alas...

Redrum The Innocent could have used an edit trim some of its 750 pages. Nonetheless, it is, in every other respect, a mesmerizing read that withstands the test of time. For though its subject is primarily the murder of a young girl, the ways in which it branches out to speak about the law, society and human nature is timeless. A must-read... (4/5 Stars)

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