REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON THE COFFIN AFFAIR (27TH NOVEMBER 1964)
VOL. 1 CHAPTER 5
THE JEEP WHOSE PRESENCE IN THE GASPÉ PENINSULA OR IN THE VICINITY WOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN BY « EYE » WITNESSES AT THE TIME THE CRIMES WERE PERPETRATED.
A literal translation by Clément Fortin
As for Mr. Doyon, he has denied again before this Commission having said to Mtre Maher and to Mtre Gravel that he had seen jeep tracks in the vicinity of the place where was found the abandoned pick-up truck ; after having declared, however, that he recalled having said to Mtres Mtre Maher and Mtre Gravel that there must have been jeep tracks, « since we knew full well that a jeep had gone there », he changed his mind and said the he « assumed » that there must have been jeep tracks. He was however categorical on the fact of not having declared to Mtre Gravet and to Mtre Maher that he had seen jeep tracks on his trip with Sinnett. He denied
having told Mtre Gravel, as the latter had affirmed, that he had seen a moose near the Americans’ pick-up truck, but admitted that he might have talked about the old Lindsey’s bad temper. At the end of his testimony, he affirmed “that apart from the information that he might have communicated to Mtre Gravel and to Mtre Maher during that famous interview, he has not communicated any further information to the defence.
During his testimony, Mr. Doyon referred to a report dated October 13th that he had sent to the captain in charge of the judiciary police in which he reiterated not to have declared to Mtres Gravel and Maher having seen jeep tracks in the vicinity of the pick-up truck left by the American hunters, having noticed Mtre Gravel of the falseness of press releases about this and having received from Mtre Gravel the admission that the latter had probably made a mistake, since, that he, himself, never had been on the scene.
As regards Mtre Maher, examined briefly on this question, he declared having had only one interview, on this subject, with Mr. Doyon, that where he accompanied Mtre Gravel to Mr. Doyon’s residence. He affirmed that it was about jeep tracks, but that it was not about Doyon’s testimony at the trial ; he affirmed that Doyon declared to them that he and Sinnett had seen jeep tracks at the bottom and at the top of the hill where Lindsey’s truck was found. Mtre Maher recognized that Mr. Doyon was making such a statement for the first time.
Thus, while examining this first question, a problem arises clearly. What credibility may be given to diverse declarations made by Mtre Gravel, Mtre Maher and Mr. Doyon, as to what might have declared exactly Mr. Doyon to the two former during that interview of September 11th. This difficulty does not arise for the first time and, unfortunately, it will not be the last where the same difficulty will arise.
In this particular case, one must remember this, because it is important to explain what prompted Mtre Maher, Mtre Gravel and Mr. Doyon, when they had the interview with Doyon on September 1955; it shows well their state of mind! On the 16th September, in the same year, Mtre Maher, after having spoken with Mtre Gravel, signed a declaration about the jeep that he had searched accompanied by the reporter MacLean, in New Brunswick, and let doubts hang over the possibility that this jeep might have been that Coffin pretended having seen. We know, as we shall see hereafter when examining more particularly Mr. Arnold’s jeep, which, at the time of the trial, Mtre Maher was convinced that Mr. Arnold’s jeep was not that Coffin had pretended to have seen. There was thus a blatant contradiction between Mtre Maher’s conviction and the doubts that he deemed just to submit to the Department of Justice. Here are the explanations given by Mtre Maher as to his motives for sending this declaration, dated September 16th 1955, to the Department :
t. pages 9323 et 9324 :
« A. I had talked about it with Mtre Gravel, and we were still trying to spare the head of our client and then I made that declaration, I incorporated all those facts, and it is an attempt on my part to obtain a new trial, or at least a commutation ; now, I well know why you are asking me that, it is because you will tell me that at the trial I had figured that I was not able to link him to the jeep and here I say that it was possible that it might have been that jeep, I admit it, but… A. It is pleaded a little, you know, it is argued a little, it is for that reason that Mtre Deschênes ask me that question, but all means had been exhausted and then we were still trying, we tried until the end, either with the Supreme Court or with the cabinet of the minister of Justice, or the Sollicitor General. »
Q. If I understand well the last part of your testimony, it is, in view of the information that you have obtained from Mr. Harris, the New Brunswick lawyer, in your declaration that was just shown us, what is overdone, let’s say, to use that expression for the time being, what might have been overdone, are your conclusions ?
A. To my opinion.
Q. It is the opinion.
Mtre Maher’s testimony, as well as that of Mtre Gravel, of the 12th and 26th September, regarding the so-call admissions of sergeant Doyon, must be considered, appreciated and judged in view of the campaign launched, as early as the end of August 1955, obviously in anticipation of a possible failure to obtain from the Supreme Court the permission to appeal the final decision of the Québec Court of Appeal. It was indeed, in September and October and until the end of November that were taken feverish steps to obtain affidavits and declarations tending to weaken or contradict the facts on which justices of the Québec Appeal Court seemed to have mainly based their arguments to confirm the Percé verdict. Let’s enumerate briefly those steps, I shall examine them more thoroughly hereafter, whose purpose was obviously to constitute a file to be brought to the attention of the Department of Justice and which would be supported by an affidavit from Wilbert Coffin : to obtain receipts for payments that would have been made to Wilbert Coffin during May and June 1953 ; to obtain from Wilson MacGregor a statement voicing doubts as to what he had really seen in Coffin’s truck on his return from the bush on June 12th (« the muzzle of a gun or a piece of iron »), to obtain affidavits from individuals pretending having seen a jeep at a time and places convenient to the defence, namely from Hackett, Quirion and Dr. Attendu and the Tapp brothers, to obtain an affidavit from reporter MacLean about Arnold’s jeep, as to this jeep, at the time of the trial, he had come to the conclusion that it could not be the one Coffin pretended having seen; Dr. and Mrs. Wilson who pretended having seen a jeep on or about June 5th, 1953, at Rivière-du-Loup, a town located at approximately 500 miles from Gaspé and that they assumed it headed towards the Gaspé coast; to obtain an affidavit from a taxi driver who had picked Coffin on his escape and pretended having persuaded him to return to jail; affidavit whose manifest intention was to show Coffin’s good sentiments and to let everyone know that he did not feel guilty; Mtre Gravel’s and Maher’s affidavits; visit to the jurors with the purpose of prompting them to raise doubts about the validity of the decision they had returned. As we shall see, in the background of many of these efforts and activities, we notice Mtre Maloney’s advice and sometimes his influence, but mostly, it is that of Mtre Gravel with the advice he gave sometimes before, sometimes while others were pursuing these activities .
Parodying Voltaire, one observes that it is difficult to realize that a clock had functioned without a watchmaker.
As far as I am concerned, I express to you my deeply felt opinion that all those steps were part of an overall plan designed, no doubt, in extremis, but very skilful, to attempt to save from the gallows a condemned in whose non-guiltiness could not believe seriously those of his attorneys who had seen his contradictory declarations and contradicted by the proof submitted at the trial, and who knew of the falseness of the main affirmation in their client’s affidavit stating that he was prevented from testifying at the trial and the falseness of an insinuation in the affidavit stating the jeep Coffin identified on a photograph that was shown him might have been that he claimed having seen in the wood. (To be followed)