Ottwa Citizen

Convicted killer's DNA not a match
New Brunswick police had never tested evidence in girl's 1993 rape, murder

Gary Dimmock, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, February 25, 2006

George Pitt always said the only thing he was guilty of was having bad friends, and that the only thing prosecutors put on trial was his lifestyle.

Now, 12 years after the New Brunswick man, an admitted alcoholic, was condemned to life in prison for the rape and murder of his six-year-old stepdaughter, authorities have finally tested seemingly key evidence from the crime scene and have found none of it matches his DNA, the Citizen has learned.

The New Brunswick justice department agreed last summer to begin testing the evidence after a Citizen investigation in 2004 revealed that while Saint John police collected crime scene exhibits -- including the girl's nightie, vaginal and oral swabs and four hairs found on her body -- they never actually sent it to the crime lab.
George Pitt
George Pitt

None of the freshly tested exhibits reveal his DNA profile.

Jerome Kennedy, a lawyer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, known for freeing Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall Jr. and David Milgaard, says the results are good news for Mr. Pitt, who has always maintained his innocence.

"If I were doing a trial here, I'd say to the jury: 'What do you expect to find here, and what does the absence of evidence tell you?' It tells you that you don't have the right guy because common sense in these circumstances (rape, murder, and dumping of the body) would tell you that you would expect to find (a DNA match)," said Mr. Kennedy.

Although Mr. Pitt's DNA didn't match the tested exhibits, it also didn't identify anyone else's, making it hard to identify another possible suspect.

"Trying to prove George Pitt's innocence is almost impossible unless we find the real killer," said Mr. Kennedy, who took up Mr. Pitt's case after reading the Citizen report.

That article also revealed that according to an internal Correctional Service Canada report, police kept investigating the circumstantial case months after Mr. Pitt's 1994 conviction. Moreover, the Saint John police chief actually named someone else as a suspect.
Mr. Pitt, now 40, was convicted in 1994 for the rape and killing of young Samantha Dawn Toole, found dead behind her home at the edge of the Saint John River on Oct. 2, 1993.

The six-year-old girl was raped, beaten, choked, then dumped at the river's edge and left to drown.

Her time of death was never determined, so it's not known if police could have found the missing girl before she was killed.

It is clear that police didn't take the missing-child report seriously. In fact, according to 911 transcripts that were not released at trial, the two police officers first dispatched to the Toole home laughed about it, and went about other business.

The girl's mother, Gloria Toole, had to call police four times over two and a half hours before police finally responded and issued a citywide missing child alert.

She gave her address and explained that she had left the child with a babysitter the night before, and that when she woke up, her daughter was missing. Ms. Toole had skipped line-dancing class at church for a night of drinking, and then slept in until noon.

The police dispatcher didn't ask for a description of the missing girl and said a cruiser, Car 109, was on the way. But privately, on the police radio, officers were laughing about it. "Huh, I bet she had no babysitter, no doubt," replied Const. Tom Clayton, the responding officer.

The dispatcher said the woman did have a babysitter, repeated that the girl was missing, then joked along, saying: "Just f---king typical."

Three hours after police took the call seriously, a neighbour found Samantha's body.

The girl, just a month into Grade 1, had brown shoulder-length hair, and a loose front tooth. When she was found, her stiff body lay face-up with arms at a 90-degree angle, fists clenched. Inside them, seaweed.

Her fingers, lips and earlobes were blue and her body was wet and cold.

She was bruised and scraped. She was wearing a dirty nightie and soaked, muddy socks.

Her left wrist had been fractured. Investigators later noted massive trauma to her vagina and rectum. She had been raped, choked and then drowned.

The case against Mr. Pitt was circumstantial. Prosecutors did not present the jury with a motive, nor a theory.

The court case was anchored in one detail: When the girl's mother came home at 4 a.m., Mr. Pitt was doing a load of laundry.
The crime lab did test the laundry and unearthed a square-centimetre of the girl's blood on a comforter. They also found a larger bloodstain, but analysts, using 1993 DNA technology, couldn't identify its origin.

Mr. Pitt said his drinking buddy had spilled beer on the comforter and he'd put it in the wash for fear Ms. Toole would be upset.
That same drinking buddy later lied at trial when asked his whereabouts on the eve of the killing.

The prosecution held up the comforter as a smoking gun at trial.

To believe in Mr. Pitt's innocence, you'd have to see nothing wrong with doing laundry at four in the morning.

In the legal brief that helped re-open the case for DNA testing, Mr. Kennedy writes: "A number of systemic factors identified in accepted cases of wrongful conviction are present in this case (i.e., police tunnel vision, eyewitness identification, etc.).... George Pitt, as a result of his background and lifestyle, was an easy target for the police."

Mr. Pitt is an alcoholic and his steadiest pay came from welfare.

The lawyer praised the New Brunswick government for not only testing the exhibits, but paying for it.

"The way they handled this case is a model for the way governments should deal with cases of potential wrongful convictions when organizations like AIDWYC come forward with real questions about the validity of the conviction," Mr. Kennedy said.

However, the New Brunswick government has not yet agreed to apply today's DNA testing methods to the comforter. It is expected that Mr. Pitt's lawyer will request that they re-test the comforter, for advances in DNA testing yield plenty from tiny samples like the one-centimetre bloodstain.

Mr. Pitt, serving life in a New Brunswick prison, has always maintained his innocence even though refusing to admit guilt makes it impossible for him to get early parole.

gdimmock@thecitizen.canwest.com


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