Tuesday, January 23, 2007

R E G I N A

VS

C O F F I N


As the clock ticked away, day by day the trial was being moulded in the same pattern as it was on day one. The prosecution very definitely owned and directed each and every series of events. The defense as headed by Raymond Maher was completely out of touch with what was developing. He was still preaching the same song. He would be calling upwards of one hundred witnesses for the defense. The fact that he rarely cross examined should have been positive proof to the judge, jury, prosecution, and to spectators in the court room that he was not providing an adequate defense of his client.

Prosecutor Paul Michelon and staff were determined to completely destroy the credibility of Wilbert Coffin with respect to his trip to Montreal. They were of the opinion that a strong case could be built within the overall murder charge, as they could influence witnesses from this journey who were miles away from the Gaspe' coast, and thus, paint the picture for the jury that was necessary to sway opinion. Again, defense lawyer Maher made the task much easier, as he produced no dissenting evidence and his cross examination of witnesses was almost non existent.

By stark comparison, the number two man on Wilbert Coffin's defense team, Francois Gravel recognized the fact that something needed to be done. Mr. Gravel, in consultation with team member Louis Dorion contacted his boss, a gentleman named Arthur Maloney in Toronto. Maloney insisted that it was imperative that Wilbert Coffin be put on the stand at some point to address the evidence being presented against him. Again, lawyer Maher vetoed the idea and insisted that it would all work out when the defense team took over the trial at the conclusion of the prosecution team's presentation.

You will recall in the last posting the deposition that Wilbert Coffin swore at Bordeaux Jail in Montreal. Each item in the deposition paralleled and defended an item that the crown had presented against Wilbert Coffin. It is also important to note that the defense team, headed by Maher, did not cross examine in many cases, and in instances where they did, it was not vigorous cross examination, but more of a repetitive nature, with no attack from another direction. Truly, a sad state of affairs for a serious murder trial.

During the trial, defense lawyer Maher left the trial for nearly two days presumably to roundup all his defense witnesses that he had supposedly mustered to support Wilbert Coffin's case. Upon his return, and at the conclusion of the prosecutions case, it was now time for Raymond Maher to prove his worth. His five word statement to the court was short and absolute. He merely stated, "My Lord, The Defense Rests." Fifty three years later those five words are still echoed.

The final three days of the trial were taken up with the usual bantering that goes on by both prosecution and defense in their summations to the jury. This is the time when a case can be won or lost based on the workings of the tongue by the legal teams. The prosecution team would be first, followed by Raymond Maher and his team for the defense.

Finally the time had arrived to be able to strut ones stuff to a mixed language jury, and in doing so, create an atmosphere of confusion amongst the chosen twelve who would have struggled for the past two weeks in an attempt to understand the evidence as presented to them. Throughout the trial, it was common place for evidence to be presented in either French or English with no translation into the other language.

A lot of time was spent in praising each other, and as well, praising the judge and members of the opposite team. As at the beginning of the trial this was merely a show for the jury. By praising each other, jurors might be swayed into thinking that if they praised each other and respected each other so highly, then whatever they were offering as evidence would be the whole truth. This theory would be even more valuable to a jury who had problems understanding because of language.

One by one, the prosecution team took their turns. They placed heavy emphasis on Wilbert Coffin's trip to Montreal, the money he spent enroute, and the source of this money. Constant reference was made to the fact that the money originated with Eugene Lindsey, with the amount being in the neighborhood of one thousand dollars. In reality, they knew that Wilbert Coffin spent very little because he had very little to spend. They knew that because he borrowed money while in Montreal. The prosecutors were very careful in their summation to the jury. The prosecution would sum up by telling the jury in a thunderous tone that now was the time, and "For God's sake, go and do your duty." This statement meaning to go and find a verdict of guilt against Wilbert Coffin.

Raymond Maher on the other hand, took a somewhat more cautious approach, though he made more sense in his summation to the jury than he did throughout the trial. He knew there were many areas where he should have had a witness to counter act prosecution testimony. As well, in those areas he should have done a more thorough job on cross examination. His strongest point to the jury during his summation was the fact that the crown's case was built on circumstantial evidence. He stressed as well, most of that evidence did not support a guilty verdict that would send a man to the gallows, and that in itself would have created a reasonable doubt, therefore, they must acquit Wilbert Coffin of the charge of murder when that reasonable doubt came into play.

In any jury trial the presiding judge has the final say before the jury is dispatched to do their deed. It is the responsibility of the trial judge to outline to the jury as to what constitutes good evidence, and that which should be ignored. The judge can also instruct the jury as to what could be considered as hard evidence and that which should be considered as circumstantial.

It is not uncommon at the conclusion of a trial for the judge to explain that circumstantial evidence may be admitted, however, it is best when it can be used as supporting evidence to the primary which could have brought about the conviction, or broadened the path toward that conviction. In this particular trial, Judge LaCroix did not lean heavily as to what was circumstantial and that which was not. It can be argued that LaCroix left it up to the jury to discern for themselves. This is particularly disturbing, considering the fact that in reality there were twelve everyday people to make these decisions. Did they understand the words? Did they understand the meanings of all the fancy words used by the lawyers, and most important of all, how much were they restricted because of the fact they simply could not understand what was being said considering the fact that they were of mixed language.

This was day nineteen of the trial. Little did this jury know that they were about to embark upon a journey, and reach a decision that would continue to be debated some fifty years later. It would be a landmark decision that would reach out and touch people far and wide.
Upon conclusion of his final address to the jury before deliberations would begin, it can be argued that Judge LaCroix was leaning toward the prosecution. One has only to peruse the transcripts of the trial to come to that conclusion. In more than one instance, the judge simply referred to items of circumstantial evidence as being the way that it happened. Again, a jury having language issues, and having to accept evidence that was purely circumstantial pointing toward what a bad man the defendant must have been, would indeed have been affected. Judge LaCroix simply did nothing to remove those issues.
Another frightening aspect of the trial was the fact that all members of the judiciary were tied in one form or another to an alliance, either politically, or through social and business arrangements. It was not what one might consider to be impartial.

The tiny town of Perce on Quebec's eastern shores would be forever changed. Judge LaCroix, having completed his address to the jury in both languages now instructed the jury to enter the jury room to reach a verdict.
A scant thirty one minutes later, the jury was back. Upon re-convening the court, the judge learns from the jury foreman that a decision has been reached. The verdict of the jury is simple, but absolute. "We the jury, find the defendant, Wilbert Coffin guilty of murder in the first degree."
At the beginning of the trial I suggested that you look at the evidence presented. I also suggested that you be an armchair juror, and reach a verdict in the case.
Were you astonished that only thirty-one minutes of deliberation time was necessary to achieve a guilty verdict after nineteen days of trial? That equates to one minute and forty- four seconds of deliberation time for each day of trial.
Did this short deliberation time indicate that the circumstantial evidence as presented was completely credible and that it fairly represented the facts? Were the jurors baffled by the evidence in the way that it was presented? A third question might be, was this jury swayed by the mixed language theory, and as a result, accepted what they were told to accept by a group of lawyers drunken with a show of authority? I tend to lean toward the third question. It is sad that it could happen as a result of deceit and manipulation, but I believe that it did.
Lew Stoddard
Posted January 24, 2007
The final part to this posting will be presented to you in two days. This is where the story will take an ugly twist. Two days later I shall be presenting to you, the conclusion, which will outline the reason why Wilbert Coffin was hanged that cold night in February, 1956. I welcome you back to the site and I look forward to your comments.

12 comments:

B Williams said...

Good posting to your story. I can see a ragged end approaching to it now. This story has been so sad and so terrible to a family and to he himself who had his life wrenched from him.

B Williams
Fredericton, N B

C Enfer said...

It makes me curious as to how this was all allowed to happen even if the system was so crooked. You would have thought that someone would have made noises.

C Enfer
Toronto, Ontario

D.M said...

It is apparent to me that this was the largest legal debacle in our country's history. It is going to take the work of many to get this straightened out. We cannot quit until this is rectified.

I received one of the calendars that the Coffin family is selling as a x-mas gift. Not only is it beautiful, but it is raising funds for the lawyers working on this case. I urge everyone who hasn't bought one to do so right away. They are only $15 dollars and will help to get this case resolved. The calendar has the following website address on it:

http://ca.geocities.com/clear_wilbert_coffin

D.M
Ontario

Doris M said...

There are a lot of obstacles in this case, this is true. But you know what? When one is chasing the truth, mountains can be leaped over. The truth will always prevail in the end. Keep at it Lew. You are a pillar of strength to all on this. I hope everyone sees and understands that.

Doris M
Trenton, Ontario

Marie Coffin, Wilbert's sister said...

Hello, Everyone! It has been some time since I've put a comment on the website. My husband spent almost 8 weeks in the hospital. Since his treatment, as well, his blood sugar has not been good. However, he is doing ok now. Please keep up the comments of encouragement. They really help. Hopefully, this year, my brother's case will be resolved, and his name cleared. The calendar sale is doing well, but we still need more people to buy. The calendars that I have now are signed by Wilbert's son, Jimmy. So please help us. God bless you all. Marie.

Barry T said...

Hi Mr. Stoddard,

Am enjoying your writing of the Wilbert Coffin tale. It is a terrible tale that happened in our country that is for sure.

I am hopeful that it can be overturned with respect to the Coffin name. We deserve better than that. Why does it have to take so long? It is obvious that the government did wrong.

Barry T
Toronto, Ontario

S McMillan said...

In today's world there are is justice and injustice. This is injustice with a capital letter.

When we do something wrong we are taught to apologise and make it right. The same should apply to a government in a democratic society.

S McMillan
Halifax, N S

Sara N said...

If this were a prominent politicians family, this would have been corrected years ago. This was however, a young man who had put his life on the line for the rest of Canada in WWll. Great thanks there Canada for a job well done!

If it were your family member Mr. Harper, would your crocodile smile be as big? I think not!

Sara N
Williams Lake, B C

R St. Pierre said...

This is now totally up to the politicians to decide. Ironic isn't it? We leave it up to the same group to correct it, that caused it to happen. In the real world, is that not conflict of interest? Is it not also a group of people policing themselves? We frown on other groups such as lawyers and doctors doing that.

Does this mean that all politicians are now suddenly honest? What a joke!!!

R. St. Pierre
Saint John, N B

Janice W said...

A message to Mrs. Coffin.

Hello Marie. I saw you on TV a few days ago. You are hard working and dedicated. That is great stuff.

I would like to suggest though Mrs. Coffin, please light a fire under some more of the big media to get the story out across Canada. They have to remember that Canada extends a few miles west of the Ontario border.

I do support your efforts 100% and I like Mr. Stoddards web site. I have learned a lot over the months here about the case. Much more that what we could rely on the big media to tell us.

Janice W
Winnipeg, Manitoba

E Anders said...

We just came back from our annual winter holiday down south. A great thought returning home is that it is so nice to be coming back to Canada. It is so cruel that we have to mar those beautiful thoughts of our country with this stuff, and all because of a crooked government regime. For Gods sake Canada, fix this thing now.

E Anders
Toronto, Ontario

Anonymous said...

You have done an incredible job on this site in your depiction of this story. You have done with very limited resources what the big media can't come close to doing with being funded by the taxpayer.