The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, February 13, 2006

W5 repeats Sophonow myth while Ewatski keeps the secret

Okay. We waited a week for W-5 to say they made a mistake. To say they got it wrong. To say, oops, so sorry, the researcher screwed up.

It never happened. So we'll say it.

W-5 made a mistake. They got it wrong. Somebody screwed up, royally.

Last weekend CTV ran a W5 show about the wrongfully convicted. If memory serves us well, there are about 40 people across Canada whose convictions for major crimes have been overturned by new evidence. As always, one of those on the list is Thomas Sophonow.And, just as always, W-5 showed no understanding of the case against him or the evidence used to convict him.

That aside, there's no excuse for reporter Victor Malarek to have made the egregious error and say that "DNA evidence would finally and fully exonerate Sophonow."

Let's be perfectly clear. DNA evidence did not exonerate Tom Sophonow. We don't know why Tom Sophonow was exonerated.

Police Chief Jack Ewatski has never explained why he said in 2000 that he knew Sophonow was innocent of the murder of Barbara Stoppel. Justice Minister Gord Macintosh has never said why he gave Sophonow a cheque for $2.6 million.

What we know for certain, is that DNA evidence played no part in it.

Oh, you wouldn't know that if you depended on the Mainstream Media for your "facts."

CBC News Online September 15, 2004
On June 8, 2000, Winnipeg police announced DNA evidence cleared Thomas Sophonow in the killing of doughnut shop clerk Barbara Stoppel.


Series Title: AS IT HAPPENS
In 1981 Thomas Sophonow was arrested for murder. After 3 trials and 4 yrs in jail, DNA analysis has finally proven his innocence.

Or, even....

Wrongfully Convicted Database Record
"Wrongfully convicted three times of the 1981 murder of shop clerk Barbara Stoppel. Acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in Dec. 1985 and released from prison. Winnepeg (sic) police announced on June 8, 2000 that DNA evidence had cleared Mr. Sophonow."

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

On the day he made Tom Sophonow one of the heroes of the unjustly convicted, Ewatski told the press only that Sophonow was cleared because, when he was arrested, the police did not have "a specialized homicide unit, a computer dedicated to crime analysis, and (certain) forensic techniques."

The Winnipeg Police website has a section dedicated to unsolved murders and, there, it states:
On June 8, 2000, Jack Ewatski, Chief of Police, exonerated Sophonow of any wrongdoing after an internal analysis of the case determined he was not responsible.

Again. No DNA.

But the urban myth still perpetuates. We guess it makes a better story than: Sophonow is free and we made him a millionaire but we won't tell you why.

Errr. Actually, it doesn't.

But for reasons unknown, MSM reporters have never gotten around to asking the obvious question: why, Chief Ewatski, did you exonerate Tom Sophonow?

The province tried to deflect the question by rushing to an inquiry by Justice Peter Cory. He supposedly looked into why Sophonow was wrongfully convicted. He actually did no such thing. The Cory inquiry was a charade, designed to throw the public off the trail. Why?

Cory said in the introduction to his report
that the legal authorities agreed Tom Sophonow "had no involvement" in the murder of Barbara Stoppel and "the Inquiry is not to result in a retrial of Thomas Sophonow."

In other words, all the evidence that was presented to three juries that showed Sophonow was guilty, could not be examined, other than to show why it was wrong. That's like having an inquiry into why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers actually won the 2001 Grey Cup -- by examining why every touchdown scored by the Calgary Stampeders should have been disallowed.

Even so, Cory produced two pieces of evidence, which, if known to the Sophonow juries, would have cemented his convictions.

Cory made a big deal about the twine used to strangle Stoppel. Police investigators determined the twine was manufactured in Washington State and sold in large quantities to customers in British Columbia, where Sophonow lived. It was always a tenuous clue at best since the actual murder twine was never linked to Sophonow.Cory decided to do his best to discount even the smallest link to the murder weapon and at the same time show that the police screwed up by not properly testing the evidence.

The twine, he declared, was not from Washington. It was actually manufactured in Manitoba. The police were wrong. The juries were duped. So there....except....

How did he reach that conclusion? Well, he said that the Manitoba manufacturer of green twine used a chemical tracer which was found in the murder twine in 2000. Uh, huh. Except for one problem, or is it two?

- Police, using old-fashioned techniques like taking the murder twine apart, determined it was one-eighth inch polypropeline twine consisting of seven green strands and one yellow strand which acted as a marker. That's so, in case of a problem with a batch of the twine, the purchaser could determine where it was made. And that turned out to be the Powers Company in Washington State.When re-examined, the twine allegedly was found to have a "chemical marker" of some kind. This lead police to another manufacturer, Berkley, which had a plant in Portage La Prairie.

- Cory seized on this to make two points necessary for his job of blaming police for Sophonow's convictions:

1. the murder twine was actually made in Manitoba, so the west-coast link to Sophonow was disproved, and
2. the police screwed up because they didn't test the twine for the chemical marker in 1982. Bad police. Bad.

Okay, here's the problem. Berkley reps were shown the murder twine in 1982, and said it wasn't their's.
Cory admits that: The Powers Company indicated that it was their twine and the Berkley Company, from a visual inspection, indicated that it was not their product. We assume that "visual inspection" means that they eyeballed the murder twine and said "Not ours, we don't have a yellow thread."

Instead, the judge writes, "there was a very significant condition attached to the opinion of Berkley. It inserted a chemical trace element into its twine." This is supposedly what was discovered by the re-test almost 20 years later. Or was it? Powers made a twine with a yellow marker thread. Berkley did not. Or else there would be two companies making the exact same twine with the exact same distinguishing element. Does that make sense?

If twine had a yellow marker thread, it was made by Powers. If the retested twine had the Berkley "chemical trace element", it also had to have the yellow marker thread, or else it was not the murder twine. Simple.Without clearly explaining why the yellow strand is excluded as a clue, all you're left with is that there were two rope companies, one in Washington and the other in Portage la Prairie.

Ahh. Portage la Prairie. You mean the town where Thomas Sophonow spent the night before coming to Winnipeg?

Instead of distancing Sophonow from the twine used to kill Barbara Stoppel, Cory actually made a closer link than the prosecutors did at the trials. If, indeed, the twine used to kill Barbara Stoppel was made in Manitoba. Not that it mattered, since, as we said, the murder twine was never connected to Sophonow in the first place.

And there was one more thing that surfaced during the Cory inquiry. Like that odd statement Sophonow made to the hearing. It was only reported once, in the Globe and Mail, but The Black Rod has confirmed it with reporters who attended the hearing.

Reporter David Roberts wrote:

" The inquiry also heard yesterday that it was Mr. Sophonow himself who apparently got police interested in him as a suspect when he made a report to RCMP in British Columbia about a missing woman they were seeking.

He said she resembled a woman who he'd planned on seeing in Winnipeg, but who wasn't there when he arrived. He'd also called his sister and asked her if police were looking for him in connection with the Winnipeg murder."

...asked if police were looking for him in connection with the Winnipeg murder.We bet the jurors would have been electrified if they heard about that call. Apparently, nobody, especially not Judge Cory, asked him what he meant by it?

Just as nobody has asked Police Chief Jack Ewatski why he exonerated Tom Sophonow and cost the city of Winnipeg $2.6 million.

There were hints the police had another suspect. An arrest was imminent. DNA would prove the suspect's guilt. That was in 2001. Five years later, and we know no suspect was ever charged. The only suspect ever named by police denied killing Barbara Stoppel and an internal police report says investigators had no usable evidence against him and needed a confession. He eventually committed suicide without confessing anything.

On the other hand, prosecutors obviously had a case against Sophonow, even if Cory wasn't allowed to say it. The jurors who heard the evidence accepted it.

Jury #1 was hung 10-2 with the majority voting for conviction. Jury #2 was unanaimous, Guilty. And Jury #3 voted Guilty, too, after one member was removed for refusing to decide on the basis of the evidence presented in court.

There's no doubt the case was purely circumstantial. There was no physical evidence against Sophonow. And the eyewitness evidence was shaky, even then. But the police witnesses were strong. And then there was the testimony of Thomas Sophonow. It seems that whenever jurors heard him in person, they decided the police were telling the truth and he wasn't.

The reason Sophonow was convicted on the murder charge was---Sophonow. Not police misconduct. Not faulty evidence.

Let's be clear. We don't say Thomas Sophonow is guilty of murder. The courts have overturned each of his convictions. We're saying the main reason he was convicted in the first place is because of his own actions and testimony. He admitted he never told police his alibi for the night of the murder because he wanted to get a free ride to Winnipeg. Does that make sense to you? It didn't to the jurors.

And after hearing him testify, the jurors gave the police witnesses the benefit of the doubt whenever they contradicted his account of what happened.

He wasn't railroaded. He was the engineer.

Chief Jack Ewatski of the Winnipeg Police Service now says he's convinced Sophonow had nothing to do with the murder of Barbara Stoppel. We don't know why. And we have 2.6 million reasons to ask.

Why the secrecy? That's a secret held by Police Chief Jack Ewatski.

And since last week, we know that jurors don't believe he's telling the truth, either.

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