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

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Brodbeck tricked by rigged Sophonow Inquiry

Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck continues to propagate the canard that Tom Sophonow would have been aquitted at his many trials for murder if only the prosecution hadn't hidden crucial evidence from the defence.

His source for this hoax? The bogus inquiry set up by the provincial government under former Supreme Court Judge Peter Cory.

Brodbeck knows better. He's been corrected numerous times by The Black Rod in private e-mail exchanges. But he's decided that the facts don't matter when they contradict his personal crusade.

Inquiries need teeth (Saturday, July 15, 2006)...
The Sophonow inquiry exposed how police and Crown prosecutors withheld crucial evidence from the defense, in some cases "deliberately," that would have exonerated Sophonow at the time.
But they didn't. And to this day the police and prosecutors involved have never been held accountable for their actions.
Sophonow got his settlement from government, taxpayers shelled out $2 million for an inquiry, we learned what happened, but no one was held to account.
No police investigations, no prosecutions -- not even a reprimand.
So what's the point of these inquiries unless they hold the players in the justice system accountable for the decisions they make behind closed doors? ...

A brief background:
Thomas Sophonow, a resident of British Columbia, was arrested and charged with the murder of Barbara Stoppel, 16, in a Winnipeg doughnut shop on Dec. 23 1981.

His first trial ended in a hung jury, with a vote of 10 to 2 for conviction.

He was convicted at a second trial.

He won an appeal and was convicted at a third trial, but only after one juror was excused when the others complained she was refusing to examine the evidence because she believed she had a "psychic ability" which told her he was innocent.

He won another appeal in 1985 and the judges on the appeal panel ordered an end to further prosecutions.

In June, 2000, Police Chief Jack Ewatski announced that the police department was satisfied that Tom Sophonow did not kill Barbara Stoppel. But to this day he has never explained why.

The province ordered an inquiry into why Sophonow was prosecuted and convicted and whether he should get financial compensation for the time he spent in jail. Justice Cory was appointed to head the inquiry.

Now it gets interesting. Here's what Brodbeck ignores in his column.

The order-in-council appointing the Sophonow Inquiry specifically "emphasizes that the Inquiry is not to result in a retrial of Thomas Sophonow." Simply put, all the evidence pointing to Sophonow's guilt couldn't be introduced or argued, and everything that suggested his guilt had to be interpreted as if it couldn't be true.

The dice were loaded. The game was fixed.

Brodbeck is concerned that crucial evidence was withheld. Well, the worst offender seems to be Judge Cory. You can read his report forward and backward and you won't find any mention of Cst. Trevor Black.

The cell man.

Cst. Trevor Black, of the Vancouver police, was an undercover officer who was put into a cell next to Sophonow after Sophonow was arrested in B.C. He pretended he had been arrested on gun charges and he got to talking with Sophonow. You know...whatcha in for?

"Stabbing a girl in a doughnut shop," answered Sophonow, adding he "had nothing to hide."

According to Black's sworn testimony at trial, Sophonow told him that he had been driving around Winnipeg, then "went into the doughnut shop and locked the door." He had a cup of coffee, tipped the waitress, and left.

Then he made what the Crown later called the "most damning admission (he) made in all his conversations with police."

How, asked Black, could Sophonow lock the door? Did he have a key? Sophonow looked at the undercover officer and with his hand made a twisting motion.

The door to the doughnut shop locked when a bolt was twisted into the door.

But anyone reading the Cory report wouldn't know any of this. In fact, you would be left with a completely different impression of what happened---a completely deceptive account of what evidence was used to convict Tom Sophonow.

Cory notes (in the section titled Police Interviews with Thomas Sophonow in Vancouver/ Interrogation of Thomas Sophonow by Sergeants Wawryk and Paulishyn) that Sophonow told the inquiry that the Winnipeg policemen who interviewed him (Wawryk and Paulishyn) demonstrated to him how the lock worked.

He stated that during the course of the interview the officers made a twisting motion to show how the door of the donut shop was locked. (Inquiry, Vol. 3, page 144).

No mention of Cst. Black. No hint that Black was the first to question Sophonow about the lock.

But that wasn't bad enough. The sham inquiry got even worse when Cory accepted Sophonow's evidence holus bolus and painted Wawryk and Paulishyn as liars engaged in a cover-up.

One of the things that was not recorded by the officers was that a twisting motion was, in fact, demonstrated to Thomas Sophonow. This I find to have been done by the officers. I can come to no other conclusion on this matter. The Inquiry has proceeded on the basis that it was not Thomas Sophonow who committed the murder. It was not Thomas Sophonow who was in the Ideal Donut Shop sometime between 8:00 to 8:45 p.m. It was not Thomas Sophonow who went out of the donut shop, crossed the Norwood Bridge and threw over the railing the box, the twine and the gloves. Thomas Sophonow had no occasion to lock the door of the donut shop. He would not and could not have known how that door was locked.

This was how the inquiry was conducted.

Embarassing evidence was written out of existence. Sophonow's word was taken as gospel. And contradictory evidence had to be twisted or dismissed even if it meant that honest men were smeared.

And it was done without challenge by the news media. Not one reporter brought up Cst. Black's evidence. Not one disputed the railroading of Wawryk and Paulishyn.

Brodbeck wants to prosecute the police and Crown attorneys who sent Sophonow to jail. But he can't see the fallacy of his deluded reasoning.

The Cory Inquiry was held in a carefully constructed cocoon where the conclusion was reached first and the "evidence" to support it was collected afterward.

In any true court proceeding, the evidence would not be restricted by a political edict. Sophonow would get an extremely rough ride if he testified under oath at such a hearing, and evidence which might contradict his exoneration by Ewatski would be introduced, and that could prove embarassing to a lot of people.

In fact, we might even learn more about a piece of "crucial evidence" that Judge Cory carefully kept out of his report.

Testifying at the Inquiry Nov. 7, 2000, Sophonow made a startling admission. To our knowledge, it was repeated only by one reporter, David Roberts of the Globe and Mail, although another reporter confirmed the accuracy of his account to us.

Inquiry opens into wrongful conviction (Nov. 8, 2000, Globe and Mail)
"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 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."


"He'd also called his sister and asked her if police were looking for him in connection with the Winnipeg murder."

Now that's an unusual statement.
We're going to go out on a limb here and say the jurors would have been very interested to hear about this call. In fact, we suspect it wouldn't have helped his case any.

Why would he be asking about police interest in him?

"Mr. Sophonow had been at another doughnut shop on his way out of town and told the Inquiry he was under the impression that was the shop where the murder occurred." wrote David Roberts.

So he thought there had been a murder in a doughnut shop where he had been, but instead there had been a murder in a doughnut shop where he denied being. Uh, okay. Easy mistake. Although it raises a few questions about his knowledge of where doughnut shops in Winnipeg are, something he told police he knew nothing about.

But Brodbeck isn't interested in this kind of "crucial evidence". He has his mind on twine. Green twine, which is ironic since it's a red herring Judge Cory tossed into his report to divert the press. And Tom Brodbeck fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The argument goes like this:
- Barbara Stoppel was strangled to death by green twine.
- The twine was traced to British Columbia.
- Sophonow lived in British Columbia.
- A witness testified she once saw green twine in Sophonow's car.
- Sophonow was convicted, in part, because of the green twine.


- Before the first Sophonow trial, the Crown learned that a company in Portage la Prairie made green twine like that used to kill Barbara Stoppel.

- The Crown didn't tell the defence.
- If the defence had known, they could have shown the twine came from Manitoba and not British Columbia where Sophonow lived.
- The jury would have acquitted Sophonow based on the green twine evidence.

Okay? Except, here's the problem with that scenario:

- The green twine used to kill Barbara Stoppel was never linked to Tom Sophonow.
- There was so much green twine sold in B.C. and the west coast that it was probably harder to find someone who didn't have any of it than someone who did.
- Green twine was used to tie the Chistmas trees sold in the parking lot of the shopping centre where Stoppel was killed.
- The police traced the twine to a plant in B.C. using a yellow marker strand woven into the otherwise green twine expressly for that purpose.
- The Manitoba plant was shown a sample of the twine used to kill Stoppel and said they could only tell if it was theirs by a chemical test.

That means they either made a twine identical to the B.C. twine, right down to the yellow tracer which was supposed to show which plant it came from, or they made a different twine. Funny, how nobody says which of these scenarios is the true one.

When they finally did a chemical test on the twine, it was positive for the Manitoba plant. Which, again, raises the question of whether it was identical to the B.C. twine right down to the yellow tracer which was supposed to show which plant it came from (and which obviously didn't) or whether the Manitoba twine was different.

It doesn't matter.

- The Manitoba plant was in Portage la Prairie.
- Thomas Sophonow testified at trial that the night before he arrived in Winnipeg from Vancouver, he stayed in Portage la Prairie.
- That means that even if the twine came from Manitoba, Sophonow had opportunity to get some.

In fact, a jury might find it more likely that he got some in Portage la Prairie than in Vancouver.

Except that the twine was never linked to Sophonow, so whether it was made in Manitoba or B.C. played no role in convicting him.


But Judge Cory made a big deal about the twine. And the press made a big deal about the twine, except that none of the reporters mentioned that Sophonow stayed in Portage la Prairie.

A strange omission of the facts, then, and stranger still to see it omitted in Brodbeck's column, since he knows it from us. You might say he's "deliberately" fudging the evidence.

So? Is Sophonow guilty?

We can't say. He's obviously been exonerated, although we're still asking why. But we'll accept the police know what they're doing. At the same time, we won't accept that the police were to blame for his convictions.

The only person responsible for the conviction of Tom Sophonow was Tom Sophonow.

The evidence against him was circumstantial. The strongest was the identification evidence by people outside the doughnut shop when the killer walked out. And even much of that was suspect.

But the jurors got to see Tom Sophonow on the stand testifying in his own defence. And they determined he was lying.

The province knew that when they asked Judge Cory to head an inquiry. So they rigged the inquiry to eliminate any possibility that anyone could say Sophonow was lying about anything.

Everything he said had to be considered as true -- and any conflicting evidence had to be construed as false. That solved that problem.

Brodbeck regularly rails at government waste. Yet he's quite happy to see the province spend $4 million on a patently phony inquiry and another $2.6 million in compensation to someone responsible for his own conviction.


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