BOOK REVIEW – Murder that wasn’t
By Gilles Renaud
By Gilles Renaud
731 words – MR >>> BOOK REVIEW
TITLE: Murder That Wasn’t – The Case of George Gwaze
AUTHOR: Dr. Felicity Goodyear-Smith
PUBLISHER: Otago University Press: Dunedin, New Zealand, 2015
REVIEWER: Gilles Renaud
Police officers in Canada and throughout the common law world will profit immensely from this recently published book concerning the investigation and trials of a father for the sexual violation and murder of his young daughter.
The case is eerily reminiscent of the prosecution of William Mullins-Johnson in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, documented fully by Justice Stephen T. Goudge in
A well-educated and well-to-do Zimbabwean-born veterinarian who had recently immigrated to New Zealand was charged with horrific offences, including suffocating the victim to avoid detection.
The rigorous and thought-provoking analysis makes plain that the accused is totally innocent of any wrongdoing. He endured arrest, detention and two trials (and a prosecution appeal), leaving aside scathing condemnation by the media in this Internet driven world. Others will face the same horror unless we take pains to learn from the errors of this miscarriage of justice.
As a trial judge and former prosecutor, I wish to underscore that the police correctly charged Gwaze on the strength of apparently obvious trauma to the anus, together with subsequently discovered seminal material on the child’s underwear that was linked to her father. Indeed, reading the book’s initial pages touching upon this evidence, I conclude that police would have been liable to professional misconduct accusations had they done otherwise.
Nevertheless, the author argues – based on her professional qualifications as an experienced forensic physician and as documented in her meticulous account of the case, including a detailed and searching examination of the myriad medical observations and conclusions – that the prosecution ought not to have been carried forward.
The text suggests in the clearest of terms that the “guilty” theory put forward originally was based on an incomplete factual understanding of the case, especially the presence of blood (suggesting trauma), and the objective belief that the child’s anus was torn (if, in fact, it was) by an object such as a phallus. This was the product of a faulty appreciation of how complex and intertwined diseases, notably HIV in the case of a child, destroy the body internally and externally. In brief, the child was killed by a rare illness that produced a fulminating and irreversible sepsis and not through human hand.
The police, prosecution and Crown experts are taken to task throughout the book for not understanding the complex medical processes at play. If this criticism is fair, a question I leave to the reader to answer, I suggest that the police are the least likely to be held to account. They appear to have held a good faith belief in the expert opinions advanced throughout their investigations that the child died from a terrible assault.
I doubt that many investigators could suspect that seminal material on clothing or sheets might be innocently transferred during the course of being washed, to address just one of the many counter-intuitive points raised in the course of the investigation’s “post-mortem.” That being said, police officers are to be faulted for failing to read books such as these, or the relevant chapters at the very least, since they analyze closely the numerous developments in scientific knowledge and investigative techniques touching upon medical controversies.
In a subsequent case, investigators will be better equipped to ask the searching questions that arise such as how best to cut underwear or other material to avoid contamination, and how to test fairly and fully the defence hypotheses that are advanced, such as whether repeated washing may result in transferring biological material.
In conclusion, cases such as this represent signal challenges to the police and all of us in the administration of justice profit immensely when the work of dedicated writers is read in the correct spirit: that of educating us to avoid past errors.
Dr. Goodyear-Smith has written a detailed account of what appears to have gone terribly wrong in this investigation. Ignore this valuable guidance at your peril.
Gilles Renaud is a former assistant crown attorney who was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in January 1995. Justice Renaud has published eight books on law, on topics relating to evidence, sentencing, advocacy and judging including two in the French language and one book of short stories.