WAS WILBERT COFFIN GUILTY?
I continue the presentation and translation of Part V of the Report of the Royal Commission of Enquiry on the Coffin Affair (hereinafter called the Brossard Report). In this last part, you will, in particular, make yourselves acquainted with the declarations made by Wilbert Coffin’s mother before the Brossard Commission and the removal by night of Jack Eagle’s rifle by Coffin’s counsel.
(My literal translation)
B. The declarations of Mrs. Albert Coffin
Mrs. Albert Coffin, mother of Wilbert Coffin, testified at the preliminary enquiry; her testimony at this enquiry was not communicated to the jury at the trial and she did not testify before them; she might have been called as witness, however, if Wilbert Coffin had testified. Now, before this Commission, Mrs. Coffin, invited to testify at the request of Jacques Hébert, offered voluntarily and freely the Commission the information to the effect that when his son came back from the bush the evening of June 12th 1953, he told her that he had seen a station-wagon (not a jeep) nearby the pick-up truck of the American hunters, the day where he had returned to the bush with young Lindsey; Mrs. Coffin hinted to us that it was because of what his son had told her that she showed so much interest, at the time of the trial of her son, in the information she had received that a station-wagon had been seen, at the time of the trial, by Lorne Patterson, a garage keeper of Rivière Madeleine. Mrs. Coffin’s testimony contradicts Wilbert Coffin’s account on the pretended presence of a jeep, a circumstance so important that it had been the object of Messrs. Gravel’s and Hébert’s attempt to create, not a certainty, but doubts as to the existence of this unknown and abstract jeep. In my opinion, Mrs. Coffin’s testimony stroke a fatal blow to this Coffin’s mean of defence.
C. The Jack Eagle’s rifle removal by night
More important and more significant yet as circumstantial evidence tending to confirm Coffin’s deceitful attitude and consequently increasing presumptions of his guiltiness was the proof regarding the removal by night of Jack Eagle’s rifle during the night from the 27th to 28th August by Maître Raymond Maher, Coffin’s counsel, on the instructions and information of his client.
I have explained at length, in a previous chapter, the reasons that brought me to that conclusion; I do not think necessary to repeat them and I simply refer to that previous chapter.
Whatever might have been, from a professional point of view or even from a penal point of view, what Maître Maher did is something other persons than I will have to judge and qualify, I am profoundly convinced that the removal of that rifle by Maître Maher, upon the instructions and the information of his client, and that the acquired knowledge by Maître Gravel of the removal of that rifle by Maître Maher, before the Percé trial, constitutes perhaps the most incriminating fact for Coffin; if that fact had been known by the jurors, it would had been certainly extremely harmful to Coffin in the chain of circumstantial evidence put forth by the Crown.
In other respects, not only this Coffin’s lie, at paragraph 32 of his affidavit, as to his pretended ignorance of the circumstances in which the rifle was removed constitute in itself an extremely grave and incriminating factor, but it also brings out the bad faith in his explanations as to the reasons for which he had concealed this rifle under un fir tree; those explanations, in themselves unlikely, then become also definitively deceitful; he who never brought a fire arm with him when he went in the bush, he brings this Jack Eagle’s arm to his camp “shortly after July 20th, because it was my intention to resume my work as a prospector”; …”my reason for this attempt at concealment of the gun was some fear I had of the game warden’s discovering it”; and why this fear? “I had been told that if I were caught with a rifle again in the bush I would be given a substantial jail term”. On the one hand, he brings a rifle to his camp because he wants to go prospecting, but on the other, he conceals it because he is afraid to be caught in the bush with this arm in his possession. Since he does not wish to be caught with this arm in the bush why does he bring it at his home to conceal it rather than leaving it where it was or return it to his owner Jack Eagle? And why after having concealed it, and having his lawyer removed it while he had just been accused of murder, and why, after having kept silence until the trial and at the trial and having been found guilty of murder, does he lie one year later, as to his pretended ignorance of the removal of the rifle?
Decidedly, those circumstances, had they been known by the jury, would have been extremely harmful to Coffin in the chain of overwhelming circumstantial evidence.
I am of the opinion that the facts that I just explained in paragraphs A, B and C of section 2 preceding constitute in themselves a serious circumstantial evidence, not only because of Coffin’s deceitful attitude, but also because he resorted to lies to mislead the justice as to his conduct between the 10th and the 12th June 1953.
3. As to the facts other than those we spoke of in the preceding section 1 and that the defence would have known after the trial, only one would have taken place after the trial and before the execution: the modification brought by MacGregor to the testimony he had made in Percé; one would have been known a long time after the execution: the existence of that famous mysterious note; among other, the only one which was not known to the defence, even although they were not filed before the trial, the facts pertaining to the meetings of a jeep by doctor and Mrs. Wilson, the Tapp brothers, the Dumaresq’s, the Hackett’s, doctor Attendu and Régis Quirion; all other might had been known by the defence if they had really happened.
We know, as to Wilson MacGregor, how little faith may be granted to the declarations he made, in September 1955, in comparison to those he made at the trial and before the trial; we also know that counsels for the defence did not deem advisable, no doubt because they considered that it was dangerous to cross-examine Wilson MacGregor as to what he had seen in the back of Coffin’s truck, which, taken from the proof angle, was equivalent to the admission that Wilson MacGregor would not say the contrary of what he had previously declared.
We know that the famous mysterious note has never existed and only existed in the imagination of newspapermen too anxious to find sensational news or in the unbalanced memory
of a former policeman bitter and desirous to express his rancour. The proof of this note could not have been made at the trial more than it could have been in the course of this enquiry.
We know that the preponderance of proof made before us tends to establish in a convincing way that the jeep seen by the Tapp brothers and the Dumaresq’s was nothing else but the jeep of doctor Burkett and that the description of the occupants of the Wilson jeep did not correspond with the one Coffin had given in his declarations of 1953 and it was thus as to the Hackett jeep.
We know, as to the Attendu and Quirion jeeps, to what extend would have been weak the proof of the presence on the crime scene of any other jeep but that of doctor Burkett and that it would have been impossible to trace, for having them identified by whosoever at the trial, and any other pretended jeeps and their occupants.
We also know that it would have been impossible, as the case was before us, to connect any other jeeps to the one about which Wilbert Coffin had given different descriptions as to the jeep itself and as to its occupants.
Regarding the other facts, namely, the absence of finger prints on the booze bottles found in the bush, the absence of proof to the effect that the reputation of Lindsey, senior, may have had in Altoona and regarding the money he may have had at Altoona and as to the money he might have had on him at Altoona, the defence might have been able, at the trial, to obtain on those subjects additional information, with however the little success that we now know, whether at the cross-examinations of Mrs. Lindsey or Mr. and Mrs. Claar, or by means of a defence that it might had been able to make, but that it chose not to make for the reasons that we are aware of.
And this brings me back to the initial question: the defence has not called Coffin to be heard as well as other witnesses to try to establish any of the alleged facts in Wilbert Coffin’s affidavit and that it knew at the time of the trial because it knew that it would be fatal to confront Coffin with his previous contradictions and impossible to stand in a convincing way to the evidence the Crown had laid against him. In my opinion, any proof that Coffin might have been able to present, had he offered a defence, whether to sustain the allegations contained in his affidavit of 1955, whether to establish the facts other than those which were then to his knowledge could have been able to contend a) the conclusive evidence of the facts laid in proof against him at the trial, b) the effect of the contradictions in his previous declarations and of Mrs. Coffin’s testimony and moreover c) the fatal fact for him of the removal of Jack Eagle’s rifle on his instructions and information.
I have already expressed the opinion that the decision of Coffin’s counsels to not call him to be heard or to not call witnesses to be heard on his defence for fear of being himself obliged to testify, was a wise decision, for which they may not in any way be blamed; I now express the opinion that the fact of the removal of the rifle by Maître Maher under the instructions and information of his client constituted another peremptory and imperative reason to not call him to testify.
FOR THESE REASONS, I AM UNDER THE OBLIGATION TO EXPRESS THE OPINION THAT THE PROOF, AS I THINK CONVINCING, WHICH HAS BEEN SUBMITTED TO US TEND TO CONFIRM – AND NOT TO CONTRADICT – THE VERDICT OF THE PERCÉ JURY AND THE DECISIONS OF OUR COURTS TO THE EFFECT THAT COFFIN WAS NOT INNOCENT OF THE MURDER FOR WHICH HE WAS ACCUSED.
Is it to say that Coffin, even guilty, would not had been acquitted by the jury if all the facts which have been laid in proof before us had been laid before the jury? It is a question to which it may not be answered with whatever certainty, considering the imponderables of a jury decision; however, I feel it is my duty, for reasons that I have already given, to affirm that, if the facts laid in proof before us had been before the jury, A VERDICT OF GUILTINESS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN, IN MY OPINION, AND FOR THE AFORESAID REASONS, A VERDICT CONTRARY TO THE PROOF SUBMITTED.