CTV Canada

Mullins-Johnson acquitted in 1993 death of niece

Mon. Oct. 15 2007

William Mullins-Johnson
William Mullins-Johnson becomes overwhelmed with emotion while testifying in Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Monday, Oct. 15, 2007.
by John Musselman

An Ontario man who spent 12 years in prison for the 1993 death of his four-year-old niece was acquitted by a provincial court on Monday.

William Mullins-Johnson, of Sault Ste. Marie, broke down and hugged supporters after an Ontario Court of Appeal justice apologized for the wrongful conviction.

"It is regrettable that as a result of flawed pathological evidence you were wrongfully convicted and you spent so long in custody," said Justice Dennis O'Connor.

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant also apologized for the suffering Mullins-Johnson has endured.

"I wish to extend our sincere, profound and deepest apology to Mr. Mullins-Johnson and to his family for the miscarriage of justice that occurred," said Michal Fairburn, a lawyer for Bryant.

The court ruling came after Crown prosecutors said a forensic expert noted there was no evidence of homicide or sexual injury in the case.

Mullins-Johnson had been asking the appeals court to quash his conviction, enter an acquittal and acknowledge his innocence.
The court's decision came as a "tremendous relief" at the "end of a long battle" Mullins-Johnson told reporters.

His lawyer, James Lockyer, added that he was pleased with the decision.

"They can't recreate the past, they can only deal with the present," Lockyer said.

"I think what they did today was the right thing to do."

In an emotional retelling of the events that led up to his niece's death Mullins-Johnson broke down in tears as he recounted the horrific morning the child was found dead.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Mullins-Johnson told the court through sobs during his appeal hearing.

He said he was heartbroken after Valin Johnson had been discovered dead in her bed.

But he described his life following the event as "hell" because he was charged, convicted of first-degree murder and imprisoned in connection with the death.

"It destroyed me. It ruined my name. It ruined my reputation. It ruined any opportunity I had," Mullins-Johnson said.

Mullins-Johnson was freed on bail in 2005 pending a ministerial review after it was revealed key forensic evidence that could have been used in his defence was mislaid by pathologist Dr. Charles Smith.

A coroner's review of Smith's cases found he came to questionable conclusions in 20 child autopsies, 13 of them resulting in criminal charges. Smith's work is also the subject of a public inquiry scheduled to begin next month.

Dr. Charles Smith
Dr. Charles Smith, whose pathological findings wrongfully convicted William Mullins-Johnson.

James Lockyer
James Lockyer lawyer for William Mullins-Johnson speaks to CTV's John Musselman following his client's acquittal on Monday, Oct. 15, 2007.
Valin Johnson
Valin Johnson, whose death courts found was wrongfully attributed to William Mullins-Johnson.

Earlier this year, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson referred the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal after he acknowledged a "miscarriage of justice may well have occurred."

Crown prosecutors had said on Monday that an acquittal is imperative because the evidence that sent Mullins-Johnson to prison is unreliable.

In an opening statement, Crown prosecutor Ken Campbell said six "world renowned experts" found there was "no evidence of homicide and no evidence of sexual injury" to indicate Valin was sexually assaulted and strangled.

Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen, testified there were anal and neck injuries, which were used to support a finding of sexual assault and homicide, were misread by Smith.

Pollanen said the bruising around the girl's neck was more likely caused by blood pooling after death, while the small lacerations found on a tissue sample appeared to have been made accidentally during the sample collection process.

The subsequent autopsy was unable to determine an exact cause of death.

Mullins-Johnson is being represented by Lockyer and David Bayliss, lawyers representing the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.

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