IMBALANCE IN THE COURT ROOM (PART 3)
The following is the first case in a series where we examine several of Richard Peck’s cases where he acted on behalf of the government as a special prosecutor. The analysis will demonstrate at the very least a perception that Peck may have a pro-accused viewpoint that may lead to a propensity to withdraw charges in cases involving police or government officials. Peck’s pro-accused bias created a perception that he was not independent when he acted as special prosecutor in case against former Ontario Attorney General, Michael Bryant.
On August 17, 1994 eight year old Mindy Tran disappeared near her home in Rutland, BC. Her body was discovered on October 11, 1994. The prime suspect in her murder was a neighbour, Shannon Murrin. He would be arrested, tried and acquitted of her murder.
An RCMP review of the police investigation found that it “was plagued from its first day by police mistakes and personnel problems that ultimately doomed their case against Shannon Murrin” (“Tran murder case doomed from first day, review says”, Globe and Mail, July 18, 2001)
The report noted that the lead investigator, RCMP Sergeant Gary Tidsbury, should have been replaced. “The downfall of this case was the integrity of the investigation.” “There were a few whose bad judgment, loss of objectivity and a failure to live up to one’s duty as a member of the RCMP contributed to the downfall of this file.”
Murrin’s defence attorney’s argued that Tidsbury investigated with tunnel vision and decided very early that Murrin was guilty.
The review team said that the integrity of the investigation came in to question as a result of a beating of Murrin by three men, “described by RCMP spokesman Cpl. Grant Learned as controlled by the police.” (“Review critical of RCMP”, Kelowna Capital News, July 18th, 2001). The men claimed they were put up to the beating by investigators, including Gary Tidsbury.
Two of the men involved in the beating of Murrin filed a complaint with the RCMP which led to a criminal investigation into allegations that Tisdbury encouraged and arranged for the men to beat a confession out of Murrin. This was a serious allegation that could embarrass the RCMP and the government so Richard Peck was brought in as a special prosecutor to review the possibility of charges.
Special prosecutor Richard Peck said his investigation focused solely on Tidsbury’s role in the beating of Murrin, not the entire criminal investigation.
“We were looking primarily at whether the evidence would substantiate a charge in terms of an assault or criminal negligence or bodily harm sort of charge,” said Peck. (“Shannon Murrin claps hands, gives jury thumbs up as it finds him not guilty in death of Mindy Tran”, Vancouver Sun, January 26, 2000)
During the trial (R. v. Murrin, 1999 CanLII 6025 (BC SC) Murrin’s defence attorney’s presented evidence that Tidsbury knew of the impending beating and did nothing to stop it.
A Saturday Night feature article by Shawn Blore explained the evidence against Tidsbury (“Love on the Run”, Saturday Night July 29, 2000):
On December 29, 1994, with an undercover operation that had gone nowhere, Tidsbury visited Murrin’s buddy Bob Holmes and convinced him that Murrin was the killer. Holmes, an ex-con, was infuriated. “I would just as soon kill the bastard who did it myself,” Holmes told Tidsbury in a taped conversation. “Couldn’t agree with you more,” Tidsbury replied.
With Tidsbury’s encouragement, Holmes decided to ask Murrin some questions. On January 5, he and a pair of hefty friends showed up at Murrin’s place with a tire iron. Murrin tried to scare them off with a .22-calibre rifle, but Holmes, who had been negotiating to buy the gun from Murrin, knew it wasn’t loaded. Murrin was knocked on the back of the head, thrown down his stairs, tossed in the back of a waiting pickup and driven to Mission Creek Park. The bridge over the creek was gated and locked, so they hoisted Murrin over the fence and let him drop six feet onto the concrete on the far side.
Screaming prompted someone to call the police. A pair of uniformed officers arrived at the scene, but according to radio logs, Tidsbury’s deputy, Constable Gerry Webb, sent them away. “You weren’t here,” one cop testified Webb instructed him. “Don’t take any notes.” (In court Webb denied this.) The logs then indicate Tidsbury himself called the dispatcher and had all the uniformed patrolmen removed from the scene. Tidsbury’s detectives drove to a near-by mall, parked, and waited. Forty-five minutes later, Tidsbury finally moved in to find Murrin, bleeding, half-buried in the snow, cranial fluid leaking from his ears. Police told the ambulance it was a routine call and not to bother with the lights and siren.
Tidsbury, in many long appearances on the stand, unequivocally denied all allegations of impropriety. (Now living in Calgary and retired from the RCMP, he was invited directly, and through RCMP channels, to comment on his role in the investigation, but he never returned calls.)
Beth Killaly, another detective on the Tran case, testified that the afternoon before the beating Tidsbury himself told her about the plan for Holmes to extract a confession from Murrin. She testified that Tidsbury told her, “We might find Murrin tied to a tree at [Tran’s] gravesite.” So stark was Killaly’s contradiction of Tidsbury’s testimony that defence counsel Peter Wilson said that one of them had to be lying. Killaly, he added, had no reason to lie.
Peck completed his investigation in February 1999, almost a year before the trial was over but his decision was not released until the day Murrin was acquitted on January 26, 2000. Peck decided not to bring charges against Tidsbury. He said there was “insufficient evidence to charge Tidsbury” and “no likelihood of a conviction if a charge was laid”.
Shannon Murrin filed a lawsuit in B.C. court against Gary Tidsbury, the federal government and the three men who beat him, Patrick Dunn, Robert Holmes and Ken Macdonald. The federal government and the RCMP settled the suit one week before it went to trial, with Murrin receiving an undisclosed substantial sum of money.
Murrin, in an interview at his home near St. John’s on Thursday, confirmed that a settlement was reached and that he was satisfied with it.
“They paid the money because they done wrong,” he said. “They committed criminal acts.”
Murrin also believes the Mounties didn’t want the case to go to trial.
“If it had’ve gone to court, everything would’ve come out,” he said. “And the way the RCMP is looking right now across Canada, it’s not too good. They didn’t want that.” (“Shannon Murrin settles civil suit with RCMP”, December 31, 2009)
In this case RCMP officers’ testimony corroborated the testimony of the men who admitted to beating a suspect. They corroborated testimony that these men were encouraged by an RCMP police sergeant. The RCMP had so little confidence in its ability to win a civil case surrounding the accusations that they settled to avoid a trial and paid a large sum of money to a man they still believe to be a child murderer. The RCMP sergeant facing the serious accusations retired shortly after the accusations surfaced. He retired even before the trial of the murder suspect was complete.
Yet the Special Prosecutor, Richard Peck decided there was insufficient evidence to even lay a charge against the RCMP sergeant. The special prosecutor is supposed to be the buffer between government and any appearance of conflict of interest. He is supposed to instill confidence in the public that no special treatment is given to those in power. He is supposed to instill confidence in the public that there is not even any appearance of special treatment to those in power.
Next – Case #2: The police taser death of Robert Dziekanski