Saturday, August 8, 2009

Donald Marshall Jr. dies at age 55

Donald Marshall Jr. with his mother Caroline Marshall in 2003

Donald Marshall Jr.
was wrongly imprisoned for murder at age 17 and spent 11 years in jail. He was convicted, after a three-day trial, less than six months after his arrest. Even when the Court of Appeal finally acquitted Mr. Marshall in 1983, the judgment blamed him in part, absolving the police of any responsibility, saying that Mr. Marshall had contributed in large measure to his own conviction and that there wasn't really any miscarriage of justice.

It was not until Jan. 26, 1990 that he was completely exonerated when a royal commission released its final report. The inquiry concluded that far from being guilty Marshall was the victim of racism and incompetence on the part of the police, judges, lawyers and bureaucrats. “The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall Jr. at virtually every turn from his arrest and wrongful conviction for murder in 1971 up to and even beyond his acquittal by the Court of Appeal in 1983,” the commissioners declared.

"Mr. Marshall's father was the Grand Chief of the Mi'kmaq nation, a position for which Mr. Marshall would have been a likely successor. Being wrenched as a young teen from the cocoon-like environment of his reserve, and slapped into a maximum security prison for 11 years, likely prevented him from becoming grand chief when his father died eight years ago."

Justice Denied is an excellent film about his ordeal based on a book by the same title. The CBC characterized him this way: "The name Donald Marshall is almost synonymous with 'wrongful conviction' and the fight for native justice in Canada."

He had another fight with the justice system when he was convicted of "fishing eels out of season, fishing without a license, and fishing with an illegal net. Marshall had been convicted on all three counts in Provincial Court. The conviction was upheld by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. He then took his case to the Supreme Court, arguing treaties from the 1760s gave him the right to catch fish for sale and excused him from current fisheries regulations.

The Supreme Court agreed" on September 17, 1999.

In early August 2009, Mr. Marshall was admitted to hospital in Sydney, suffering from kidney failure, probably as a consequence of the anti-rejection drugs he had been taking since his double lung transplant six years ago. He died, aged 55, at 1:30 a.m. Thursday in the intensive care unit, surrounded by relatives."

Rest in Peace Donald.