A long time ago...and far, far away...on a hot June evening, a young kid named Steve Truscott wandered down to the school yard, looking to hang out with his friends. He knew he had to be back home by 8:30 that evening to babysit, while his parents went out for a few hours. This kid was 14, he was in Grade 7, and it was June 9, 1959.
When Steve arrived at the schoolyard, one of his schoolmates, 12 year old Lynne Harper, asked him to give her a ride on his bike. She wanted to go to the highway, a short trip down the road from the air force base where they lived in Clinton, Ontario. She said she wanted to hitchhike down the highway to see the guy who had ponies on his farm. Steve agreed to give her a lift, she hopped onto the handlebars of his jazzy racer bike and they headed down the country road leading out of town towards the highway.
Lynne never came home that night. The police began a search for her, interviewing all of the kids who had seen her and spoke with her the night she disappeared. Her body was found 2 days later, in a stand of trees on Bob Lawson's farm. She had been raped and murdered.
Among the people the police interviewed was the 14 year old kid, Steve Truscott. He'd been the last person who said they'd seen her that evening, before she disappeared. He told the police he dropped her off at the highway, headed back home on his bike, and then stopped once a short distance from where he left Lynne, to look back towards the highway to see if she'd found a ride. He said he'd seen a gray 1959 Pontiac with a yellow bumper sticker stop, and he watched Lynne get into the car and saw it drive away, down the highway.
There were several of his friends who saw him ride across the bridge to the highway with Lynne, and then saw him coming back across the bridge...alone.
The local police did not believe this 14 year old kid. Steve was arrested, charged with murder, tried and found guilty...and then, unbelievably, sentenced to hang on the gallows.
The judge read out the sentence..."Steven Murray Truscott, I have no alternative but to pass the following sentence upon you. The jury have found you guilty after a fair trial. The sentence of the court is that you be taken from here to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement until Tuesday, the 8th day of December 1959 and upon that day and date you are to be taken to the place of execution and that you there be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And, may God have mercy upon your soul."
Many of us in this country were stunned. We had heard about what happened to Lynne Harper. We had heard that a young guy of 14 had been arrested for the crime. Unbelieving still, we followed the small smattering of news that came out of the courthouse in Goderich, Ontario and came into our small farming community in rural Manitoba. Before the age of CNN, tabloid journalism, paparazzi and sensationalism in print, there was not much news that went from the courthouse to our homes.
I remember my grandparents having hushed conversations about the sentence. I remember how shocked they were and how certain they were that Steve was not responsible for this crime.
I remember going to school and looking at the guys in my class who were 14, and knowing for a certainty that there was no way they'd ever hurt any of the girls in my grade like that. Then and there, I knew instinctively that this was a sham, a circus...that this boy was a scapegoat for something or someone else.
After his trial, Steve Truscott spent four months on death row, always worried he would die by the noose before his 15th birthday.
"At night time you lie there and cry," he admits today. "But it doesn't really accomplish that much. So after a while you even stop doing that. You kind of harden yourself up for what's to come."
One night, he heard pounding in the courtyard of the jail. He thought they were building the gallows to hang him the next day. Inhumane treatment for a 14 year old child.
Steve says now, "I woke up one day and somebody was building something outside the wall. You could hear the hammering, and I thought they were building a scaffold. And it's just kind of living in terror, and everyday you expect it to be your last."
Over the years, as I grew up, married, had my own children, I followed the smidges of news about Steve that leaked out into the light of day. There was precious little to hear, and it seemed to me that there was a lid being tightly held on this case.
In the 1960's, Isabel LeBourdais, a gutsy, ballsy woman heard about the case, spent some time checking things out and determined that this was "not a sick boy who was guilty, but a perfectly normal boy who was innocent."
Then, taking the findings of her research, she wrote a book based on her research reading through the transcripts and researching the evidence of the court. She called it "The Trial of Steven Truscott" and it became a flashpoint for Steve's case and a sharp, pointy little stick that dug at the conscience of the Canadian public and made people pay attention to the very real possibility that Steve was innocent.
Isabel was vilified by the press, the politicians and refused publication of her groundbreaking book by every single publishing house in Canada. Only a publisher from England agreed to take the book and publish it. This book started a groundswell of support for Steve and a demand for his release.
The federal government of the time, led by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, decided to commute Steve's death sentence to life, and so somewhat salving the government conscience, it seemed.
10 years after Steve was sentenced to hang by the neck, he was paroled. Quietly, almost secretly, he was called into the warden's office, told he was being paroled, told he would live under an assumed name, given over to his parole officer, Mac Stienburg, and then shown the door.
Steve lived with Mac at his home until he got his feet under him a little. Then, with Isabel LeBourdais' magic touch, he met a young beautiful woman named Marlene, who had been a staunch supporter of Steve's for all those years he'd spent in jail. They fell in love, married and raised 3 incredible children, in relative obscurity.
After the children left home, Steve and Marlene decided that it was time to find a way to clear his name, search for vindication, demand an accounting for the wrongful conviction that he has been shouldering for over 40 years.