EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT, PART VII, VOLUME 2,
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The order-in-council has given the Commission the mandate to investigate the “credibility of the statements made by Francis Thompson to the Miami police, in November 1958”.
In order to report with full knowledge of the facts, the Commission has inquired into all aspects of this funny incident and it has heard, on this sole subject, 36 witnesses and collected 66 exhibits.
The study of this question suggests the following division:
I - Francis Gabriel Thompson’s personality;
II - The Miami events;
III - Notary J. Conrad Moreau’s trip;
IV - Thompson’s alibi;
V - Thompson’s credibility;
VI - Conclusions.
B) THE VINCENT PATTERSON CASE;
C) THE QUESTIONING OF WILBERT COFFIN, MARION PETRIE AND LEWIS SINNETT;
D) THE TWO PRISONERS WHO WERE PROMPTED TO TESTIFY AGAINST COFFIN
THE TWO PRISONERS WHO WERE PROMPTED TO TESTIFY AGAINST COFFIN
In his book “I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin”, Mr. Hébert devotes three pages to wpuld-be attempts from the police and Crown attorneys, and most particularly, from captain Matte and Mtre Noël Dorion, to obtain, through illegal means, that two prisoners, who for a few days had occupied a cell next to that of Wilbert Coffin, at the Québec City jail, testify on admissions Coffin might have made to them. As he has done unfortunately in several other passages of his book, Mr. Hébert has used a few true facts to weave around them a web of falsenesses, inaccuracies, insinuations and accusations of exceptional gravity.
To understand well the gravity of those insinuations and accusations, on the one hand, and on the other, how they were ill-founded, it would be proper, I believe, to quote in extenso the lines of Mr. Hébert’s book :
Pages 53, 54 and 55 :
(Beginning of Mr. Hébert’s text)
« On the other hand, Mtre Noël Dorion, the principal Crown attorney, had had, on several occasions, talks with the detainee Réal Marleau, who was waiting for his trial for a hold-up, and who shared with Coffin and four other detainees, cell No. 6, at the Québec City jail. A few steps from there, Marleau’s brother was also detained. The latter had for cellmate a man named Morin, charged of having wounded a Lauzon bank manager during an armed robbery. Morin was also questioned by the Crown which was looking for testimonies against Coffin.
Then it was captain Matte, of the Provincial Police, and other gentlemen of the Crown, who asked those detainees charged with hold-up (a serious crime whose sentence is left partly to the discretion of the judge), for a relatively direct proof of Coffin’s guiltiness.
Réal Marleau – who was thereafter sentenced to five years in penitentiary, - would have said, according to the Provincial Police, that Coffin had confessed to him. Nevertheless, he refused to testify at the trial as the Crown had hoped for, and the deal that consisted in reducing Marleau’s sentence in exchange for his testimony, was, so it seems, too obvious for the Crown to insist.
Several years after the Percé trial, on the 29th of March 1956, Mtre Paul Miquelon, then Mtre Noël Dorion’s partner, affirmed that the detainee Réal Marleau had told him about Coffin’s confession.
« During Coffin’s trial, Mtre Miquelon had said, that that man declared to the Provincial Police that Coffin had recognized his guiltiness, before him, of the murder of the young Lindsey. Marleau therefore hoped that he would benefit from a certain clemency.”
To that, Mtre Gravel answered immediately : « It’s absolutely false. At the time of Wilbert Coffin’s trial, at Percé, Marleau was taken to that place by detective Pat Mercier, of the Provincial Police, and to the chalet occupied by captain Alphonse Matte. Matte was the main investigator in this case; and when Marleau was taken to him, he threatened him to prompt him to testify. »
Captain Matte did not deny all these facts, but declared that he had never threatened a prisoner! This affirmation by captain Matte is even more amusing since he did not only threaten but kicked detainees.
After the Marleau operation setback, the Crown and the police directed their attention to Morin, another detainee who might be tempted by a mouth-watering proposal. There was a little technical problem: Morin did not speak English and Coffin did not speak French. To solve this problem, the police thought of using Réal Marleau’s brother, also a detainee, as intermediary.
According to reliable information obtained, at the time, by Mtre Gravel, the police had asked Morin to come and swear before the Percé tribunal that Coffin had confessed his crime to his cellmates, at the Québec City jail. Morin had spoken of this police proposal to his mother who had come to visit him a few days later. Mrs. Morin implored her son to tell but the truth.
Despite all that, Morin was taken under escort from Québec City to Percé, on the 20th of July, ten days before the beginning of the trial. Before leaving, Morin asked detective Pat Mercier, who accompanied him, permission to pay a visit to his mother. After her son’s departure, Mrs. Morin, anxious and moved, hurriedly called the office of Mtre Gravel. She declared that the police tried to force her son into saying things he knew nothing about.
En route, Morin enjoyed a prince like treatment by the police. Not only the sad Québec City prison menu was replaced for him by roast beefs and roasted chickens, but the “dangerous detainee” (according to the police) was permitted to bathe on a Gaspésie beach. In his Percé cell, where he stayed until the 22nd of July, Morin was well supplied with food, reading and beer.
At last, in the night of the 22nd of July, police and Crown representatives, deeming their prey sufficiently lured or enticed by this treatment of favour, requested from Morin to testify on what was essential.
At the end, neither MarLeau nor Morin testified against Coffin, but those ploys by the attorneys and the police illustrate once more the methods used by the police and the Crown before and during the Percé trial. They do not put our mind at ease, on the other hand, about the value of the testimonies that were heard by the court and on the quality of the principles that the Crown dared to put forward. »
(THE END OF JACQUES HÉBERT’S BOOK QUOTATIONS)
Let us summarize roughly what proof was made in each of the two cases mentioned by Mr. Hebert.
It is accurate that following information received by police officers, whose work put them in contact with certain prisoners, information about the fact that the two prisoners mentioned might have obtained from Wilbert Coffin a confession or incriminating information for him in the course of conversations that they would have had with him, while he was in a cell next to that of Coffin at the Québec City jail, one tried to get information from those prisoners as to the confession they would have heard from Coffin.
The Réal M. case
This prisoner had been sentenced to five years in penitentiary, on the 23rd February 1953, consequently, a few months before the murders in Gaspésie and more than fifteen months before the Percé trial. Therefore, Mr. Hébert’s affirmation that this prisoner was « subsequently sentenced to five years in penitentiary » and is mischievously suggestive that « he was at the time of the Percé trial charged with a crime whose duration was left partly to the discretion of the judge ».
On the strength of the above mentioned information received from police officers, Mtre Noël Dorion, in his capacity as Crown attorney, had with this prisoner, not several meetings as claimed by Mr. Hébert, but only one, in his office where the prisoner was brought from the St-Vincent-de-Paul penitentiary, in Montréal, by officer Mercier. The testimonies of this former prisoner himself, of officer Mercier and of Mtre Noël Dorion attest uniformly that he was not from Mtre Dorion the object of any threat or promise, that he was not the object of threat neither by officer Mercier nor by whomever, as to the reduction of his sentence (this was not possible anymore because he was already sentenced for over fifteen months) and for an earlier parole, that he did not communicate to Mtre Dorion and officer Mercier any secret, confidence or admission that Coffin would have made to him, because he did not receive any and that after this sole interview in the office of Mtre Dorion, he was taken back to the St-Vincent-de-Paul penitentiary; no one took him to Percé and he had no interview with captain Matte.
Therefore, they are false those affirmations and insinuations by Mr. Hébert that Mtre Noël Dorion promised this prisoner, inter alia, a reduction of penalty or a reduction of his sentence in exchange of his consent to testify at the Percé trial, that he was brought to Percé by detective Mercier and that he was not a bit threatened neither by captain Matte nor by whomever.
Regarding the same prisoner, the honourable justice Paul Miquelon, former Crown attorney with Mtre Noël Dorion, declared never having met the prisoner in question, never having told Mtre Gravel that this prisoner had told about Coffin’s confession that he pleaded guilty for benefiting of a certain clemency, the whole contrary to the information Mr. Hébert claims having received from Mtre Gravel.
On the other hand, after Mtre Gravel expressed serious doubts as to having communicated such information to Mr. Hébert, Mr. Hébert admitted tardily that such information was not communicated verbally by Mtre Gravel but that he might have discovered it in Mtre Gravel’s scrapbook.
The Gaston M. case
As to the second prisoner, a young man, he was imprisoned at the Québec City jail awaiting his trial, from the 3rd September 1953 to the 13th of July 1954. He was then transferred to St-Vincent-de-Paul; during his stay, he occupied for a while a cell next to that of Coffin and talked to him, although with difficulty, because, at that time, according to what he has told us, his knowledge of the English language was limited; he remembers however on one occasion that Coffin asked him a question : « Did you hear about a rifle at the Québec bridge? » While he was at St-Vincent-de-Paul, officer Mercier took him to the Québec City jail; from the Québec City jail, he was driven in officer Mercier’s automobile, who was accompanied by his spouse and his young daughters, to the New Carlisle jail where he slept; from the New Carlisle jail, he was taken to Percé where he had a fifteen minute interview with Mtre Noël Dorion (this took place during Coffin’s trial), then he was taken back to Montréal by officer Mercier. His departure from St-Vincent-de-Paul had taken place on the 27th of July 1954 and his return to this institution took place on the 6th of August 1954.
This prisoner’s journey, with officer Mercier’s wife and children, no doubt represents « the trip under good escort to Percé » that Mr. Hébert mentions. Officer Mercier has informed us that during the journey, whether outward or return, he treated this prisoner the same way he treats all prisoners he accompanies on journeys of this kind and there was no different treatment on the return journey in comparison with the outward one, as opposed to what Mr. Hébert affirms that the roast beef and the roasted chicken on the return journey was replaced by the bad coffee and pork beans of the New Carlisle jail. Examined before this Commission, this prisoner affirmed never having been threatened by whomever and no pressure was exerted on him for testifying, he never complained to his mother that the police forced him to make statements on Coffin, but that his mother might have, however, during a very short visit that officer Mercier authorized him to pay her before the departure for Percé, think that the police would try to have him say « things » and, at last, having declared to Mercier, when he picked him up at St-Vincent-de-Paul, that he knew nothing.
Mtre Noël Dorion affirmed that, while questioning this prisoner briefly, at Percé, Gaston M. told him that he could not have talked to Coffin because he did not understand English at all; realizing that this prisoner was not willing or could not testify, he said that « you will not be called to the witness stand, that’s all, you cannot be a witness ».
Mtre Dorion affirmed categorically and convincingly that no pressure was made on the prisoner neither from his part nor from police officers who were with him during the interview; he added that he only had seen that prisoner on that sole occasion.
For his part, captain Matte declared not remembering having been present when Mtre Noël Dorion interviewed this prisoner and was not aware that this prisoner was lured by a preference treatment.
As to the prisoner’s mother, this lady remembers having called Mtre Gravel immediately after her son’s departure; she informed us that her son did not tell her that the police « was forcing him to say things he knew nothing about Coffin », she might have, because of nervousness, given Mtre Gravel information that might have given the impression, because she did not like that, in the course of a short visit that her son had paid her, officer Mercier tells her : « Tell your son to speak. »
As to Mtre Gravel, he confirmed having been called by the prisoner’s mother, declared that the source of information that he might have communicated to Mr. Hébert and whose information is reported in his book, was the declaration that the mother declared having made to her son that she had prayed him to tell the truth.
For his part, Mr. Roland Mercier declared to us having asked the prisoner’s mother to ask her son to tell the truth if he knew something about the Coffin affair and that it is possible that he had told his mother that he was trying to obtain pardon for her son, if it was possible, but he does not believe having told her that if she could convince her son to speak, he could be freed earlier.
From all that has been said, it appears clearly that no pressure, no threat were exerted on the second prisoner, neither by captain Matte nor by Mtre Noël Dorion. On the contrary, as soon as Mtre Dorion realized that this prisoner did not want to say anything or had nothing to say, he decided to not call him to the witness stand; it also appears that this prisoner was not given a preference treatment with a view to prompt him to testify on facts that he affirmed not knowing; on the other hand, it would seem that officer Mercier took upon himself to ask the prisoner’s mother to convince her son to tell the truth; «took upon himself » because we gather from officer Mercier’s testimony that he did not know exactly why this prisoner was taken to Percé, even though he might have known that it would be in connection with the contact he had with Coffin. Officer Mercier’s behaviour was not illegal, but, to say the least, it was tactless and this officer is blameworthy.
One thing is for sure, in the two cases, neither one nor the other of the two prisoners were prompted to testify wrongfully against Coffin, that neither one nor the other prisoners testified and that no prejudice was caused to Coffin, from the one hand, and that, on the other hand, officer Pat Mercier’s tactless behaviour towards the second prisoner’s mother may not, in any way, justify the erroneous accusations brought by Mr. Hébert against captain Matte and against Mtre Noël Dorion, regarding the two prisoners, nor justify, as a conclusion of his false story of the absolutely regular steps taken by the police to make sure the statements that one or the other prisoners might have made regarding Coffin’s confession, the unjust allusion “to police and juridical behaviour used by the police and the Crown before and during the Percé trial that were not very reassuring” as stated by the author, “on the value of the testimonies that were heard by the tribunal and on the quality of the principles that the Crown dared to put forward”. (TO BE CONTINUED)
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