Acquittal and conviction in the murder of Christine Jessop: A look back at one of London, Ont.'s biggest trials
Guy Paul Morin speaks after being cleared in the death of Christine Jessop, Jan. 23, 1995.
LONDON, ONT. -- More than 35 years after Christine Jessop's death, Toronto police say Calvin Hoover is the person responsible for her murder.
It was a crime for which Guy Paul Morin was acquitted, then convicted and then finally cleared based on DNA evidence.
From the moment he was named a suspect in the vicious murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, Morin firmly maintained his innocence, but it wasn’t enough.
One wrongful conviction.
The legal system failed Morin and Jessop.
Christine Jessop was abducted after leaving her home in Queensville, Ont. on Oct. 3, 1984. Her decomposing body was discovered nearly three months later, on Dec., 31, in a farmer’s field about 55 kilometers away in Sunderland.
Police said she’d been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.
Durham Regional Police first became interested in Morin after Jessop’s mother labelled her next-door neighbour as a “weird-type guy.” In April 1985, acting largely on their assessment of Morin as being “weird,” he was arrested. In Jan. 1986 his murder trial began inside a London courtroom.
It was a case that the defence maintained was full of holes. A police officer was charged after it was discovered he had switched a cigarette butt found at the murder scene. There was also testimony from a known liar, who told the court he heard a jailhouse confession.
One month later, and almost a year after his arrest, Morin was acquitted.
In June 1987, the Ontario Supreme Court ordered a new trial, which began again in London in Nov. 1991. The retrial was delayed until 1992 by Morin’s own appeals based on the Crown’s non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence and by other issues, including the double jeopardy rule.
The second trial ran for nine months in 1992. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in Canadian history.
All of the people involved in the trial travelled to London from out of town, including the judge overseeing the case. They lived in hotels and ate in restaurants for roughly two-and-a-half years. Those expenses, plus legal fees, cost taxpayers approximately $11 million.
The jury deliberated for eight days, reaching a first-degree murder conviction. Morin was sentenced to life in prison.
A crowd gathers outside the courthouse in London, Ont. in July 1992 after Guy Paul Morin was convicted in the death of Christine Jessop.
In his final comments before Justice James Donnelly, Morin maintained his innocence.
“It’s a travesty of justice throughout this whole ordeal and what happened here today. I am appealing this verdict. That’s all I have to say.”
Defence lawyer Jack Pinkofsky wept into his hands after the verdict was read and could not stand next to Morin when the sentence was read.
“It was on Feb. 7, 1986, when Guy Paul Morin, was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Today, an innocent man was found guilty. We intend to appeal this verdict and restore the innocence of a person who had absolutely nothing to do with the abduction or killing of Christine Jessop,” Pinkofsky said outside of court.
An emotionally drained Bob and Janet Jessop emerged from court that day, somewhat relieved, but still holding the feelings of grieving parents.
“With respect to the verdict, no matter what, Christine will never be back with us. The only consolation of the whole affair is that it’s finally put to rest and maybe Christine can finally rest in peace,” Bob Jessop told reporters.
Janet Jessop expressed relief.
“Finally, the guilty one has paid for Christine’s murder.”
Crown Prosecutor Leo McGuigan said the evidence proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He described the case as “difficult” because it was based on “circumstantial evidence.”
"We commenced to build this case on small pieces of evidence and looked for the cumulative effect. Obviously, in the eyes of the jury, that was sufficient.”
Morin appealed his conviction.
Soon after, science brought justice.
Improvements in DNA testing led to a test in Jan. 1995, which excluded Morin as the murderer, just days before his appeal was to be heard. The trial for Morin’s appeal of his conviction was short, with the judge giving a directed verdict of acquittal on Jan. 23, 1995 in response to the DNA evidence that all parties agreed were accurate.
“I’m just in heaven. I’m happy. I’m free. That’s how I feel. Free,” an elated Morin told reporters on the day of his acquittal. “It totally exonerated me in both categories. Proving I - me, me here - did not do this crime.”
Morin’s father said, “I think there’s a lot of wrongs that have to be righted.”
Christine Jessop’s brother Ken, who was 14 at the time of his sister’s disappearance, broke down in court, and apologized outside of court for all that was said about Morin. “Every time you see the Crown or the police, they turn and tell you that this is the man…he’s going down this time.”
After 10 years of hearing that, Ken said he didn’t know what else to think. He felt “brainwashed.”
“Now I have to sit back and realize, and really let it sink in, that he’s (Morin) not the one who sexually assaulted her. That’s what this evidence proves. He’s now a free man. I hope he sues the a** off of them.”
Ken Jessop, Christine Jessop's brother, speaks after Guy Paul Morin was cleared in her death in Jan. 1995.
Morin told reporters that he believed he was just “the fall guy” or “the person to put the blame on.”
“In fact,” he said, “they did not get the guy.”
“They just put me under scrutiny and under the microscope and this is what happened in the end. They accused an innocent man for the last ten years, falsely, and now today, you are seeing me still speak. I made it.”
“This course of events,” as the provincial cabinet later said, “has raised certain questions about the administration of justice in Ontario.”
Morin’s wrongful conviction was the subject of a judicial inquiry. The inquiry into Morin’s case uncovered evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct. Wiretap and interrogation tapes were lost or erased, and potentially vindicating evidence was misplaced or tainted. Evidence was also found of misrepresentation of forensic evidence by the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences.
The Ontario government apologized to Morin for his prosecution and paid him $1.25 million in compensation.
On Oct. 15, 2020, nearly 36 years after Christine Jessop was sexually assaulted and killed, Toronto police identified the man they say is responsible for her murder. Through DNA evidence, police announced, semen found on Jessop’s underwear was matched last week to Toronto resident Calvin Hoover, then 28.
Hoover died in 2015.
“However, if he were alive today the Toronto Police Service would arrest Calvin Hoover for the murder of Christine Jessop,” Toronto Interim Police Chief James Ramer said.
In a statement released through his lawyer, James Lockyer, Morin said he is relieved for Jessop’s family.
“I am relieved for Christine’s mother, Janet, and her family, and hope this will give them some peace of mind,” he said. “They have been through a dreadful ordeal for 36 years since they lost Christine in 1984.”
Morin also thanked Toronto police for pursuing justice so many years after the murder.
“I am grateful that the Toronto police stayed on the case and have now finally solved it,” Morin said. “When DNA exonerated me in January 1995, I was sure that one day DNA would reveal the real killer and now it has.”
“Christine’s murder was a terrible and tragic event.”
Lockyer, who was instrumental in having Morin’s conviction overturned, also expressed relief at the news.
“At last. At long last,” he said.
Lockyer fought for Morin after he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. When new DNA evidence came to light, he successfully had the conviction overturned.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for for many, many years, like so many others, and it was very satisfying and a great relief to know that the real perpetrator of the crime has been identified.”
“It’s a shame that he can’t be apprehended, because he’s died, but nevertheless to have identified the person is tremendous.”
Toronto police had a key piece of evidence, a semen sample on Jessop’s underwear, but until recently they didn’t have a DNA match. So they turned to the science of genetic genealogy, which combines DNA analysis and family tree research.
Genetic genealogy uses existing DNA data to provide a possible family tree from a human sample. Rather than one suspect, the approach digs up a broad family lineage, from parents and siblings to distant cousins. It’s then up to investigators to use classic investigative tools, such as combing through historical records, obituaries, social media or other channels to winnow their search.
In this case, Toronto police sent the DNA sample down to a laboratory in the United States, because there are currently no Canadian labs that specialize in genetic genealogy.
Staff Supt. Peter Code noted that, while the findings from the genetic genealogy test were not considered evidence, they helped investigators create two potential family trees.
“After extensively combing through detailed reports and documents, the second family tree produced Calvin Hoover,” Code said at a press conference on Thursday.
Hoover was 28 when he killed Jessop, police said, adding that he and his wife had a “neighbour acquaintance” relationship at the time of Jessop’s death and that he may have worked with her father.