Photo of Perry Mason (Erle Stanley Gardner) dictating in his office.
Click on the above pictures to read a letter sent by Perry Mason to the Brossard Commission.
Chapter 2 ( Brossard Report, volume 2, pages 405-409)
THE COURT OF LAST RESORT
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
An organism in the United-States devotes itself to bringing to the attention of the American public what it considers weaknesses of the American judiciary system and attempts to reopen investigations and reviews trials, which might have given rise to miscarriages of justice. This organism is particularly known in Canada, and in this province, from publicity that Erle Stanley Gardner, a well-known author of detective novels, and, to a lesser degree, from the publicity that it received from the American magazine « Argosy ». This magazine publishes articles about investigations led by the Court of Last Resort.
It appears that this Court of Last Resort would have been interested, for a while, in the Coffin affair. Strictly speaking, it was not within the purview of our own inquiry to investigate into the activities of this Court of Last Resort around and about the Coffin affair. If we have done so, it is because Messrs. Belliveau and Hébert have talked about it in their books, and because Mtre Gravel and Mr. Hébert insisted, without respite, that this Commission called Erle Stanley Gardner to testify and that it inquired about the information that The Court of Last Resort might have gathered.
In his book, published in June 1956, Mr. Belliveau did not allude to an intervention, which might have taken place from The Court of Last Resort ; he contented himself in expressing, in veiled terms, the hope that such an intervention would take place
We have learned, from the copy of a letter dated the 13th of March 1956, transmitted by Mtre Gravel to the secretary of the American Bar Association, that, for several weeks already, Mtre Gravel was in correspondence with this Court of Last Resort ; we do not know if Mr. Belliveau knew about this correspondence when his book was published.
In his volume, « I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin », Mr. Hébert, at pages 114 and 115, deals at length with this American institution and is loud in his praises of it by way of introduction to quoting excerpts of an article published by Mr. Stanley Gardner in the magazine « Argosy » in April 1957. The most important passage of Mr. Gardner’s article quoted by Mr. Hébert is the following :
In the Coffin case, it would certainly seem that new evidence was uncovered which might have been favorable to the defendant, if presented to the trial Jury or at a new trial.
In his letter, which he has sent us on the 11th of May 1964, Mr. Gardner informed us that he did not at all looked personally in the Coffin affair and that he had entrusted Mr. Steeger of the magazine “Argosy” with the follow up. (See Mr. Gardner’s letter in clicking on the images above.)
Previously, on the 31st of March 1964, Mtre Jules Deschênes, legal adviser to this Commission, had written to the publisher of “Argosy” to ask him, among other things: « I would also like to know whether the Court of Last Resort made any field investigation concerning this case and, in the affirmative, whether the record and findings could be made available to me for examination ». On the 1st of May, he received from Mr. Steeger the following laconic telegram: “The material you requested is not available.”
The Commission had already been able to lay hands on the issue of the June 1956 magazine “Argosy”, where, in an anonymous article, a description was made of the Coffin affair, in reviewing, in substance, the information and hypotheses submitted by Mr. Belliveau and by Mr. Hébert in their respective books. There was absolutely nothing in this article that had not been brought to the attention of Canadian authorities. The main facts, if not the only ones, which had not been brought to the attention of the Percé jury or which had not been discussed before them, were those referring to jeep tracks in the Gaspé bush and to the would-be presence, in this bush, of jeeps, one of which might have been the one that Wilbert Coffin had seen. Had Mr. Steeger or his assistants led, themselves, an investigation ? The laconic answer of the 1st of May 1964 leads us to believe that nothing was done ; in any event, it does not show neither from the article of the magazine “Argosy”, nor from that of Mr. Stanley Gardner, nor from the letter of the latter of May 11th 1964, that an investigation had been led and pushed by The Court of Last Resort. However, we know from a post-scriptum to the letter of Mr. Gardner of 11th of May that the magazine « Argosy », after having announced in August 1956 that an article following that of the month of July 1956 would be published shortly, none was published and that “the subject was dropped”.
To bring out the little importance that one should have given to this intervention of The Court of Last Resort, intervention, which for intellectual purposes more or less honest, Mr. Hébert has tried to render important, we should point out the following information which has been communicated to us by Mr. Belliveau : a short while after the execution of Wilbert Coffin, a committee of five or six persons including Mr. Belliveau himself, was formed, in Toronto, for the purpose of rehabilitating, if possible, the memory of Wilbert Coffin. It would seem that the majority, if not the totality of the members of that committee, if we believe Mr. Hébert, were opposed to capital punishment, as Mr. Gardner has otherwise himself declared formally in the letter he transmitted to us. This committee formed in Toronto only met once. However, it had asked Mr. Belliveau to act as intermediary between it and The Court of Last Resort ; after many interviews with one Mr. Schindler, of the Court of Last Resort, Mr Belliveau « was sorrily disenchanted and disillusioned ». The committee does not seem to have taken active interest in the Coffin affair… unless some of its members had focussed their attention on our enquiry.
Thus, must be sent back, to the haze of imagination and oblivion, another attempt to mislead the public, in bringing to his attention discoveries, which do not appear to have been made, and for which, at any event, no proof seems to exist.