________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012


Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death: The Story of Steven Truscott.

Bill Swan.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2012.
152 pp., trade pbk. & hardcover, $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0074-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0075-7 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Truscott, Steven, 1945-
Harper, Lynne, 1946-1959.
Murder-Ontario-Clinton-Juvenile literature.
Judicial error-Ontario-Clinton-Juvenile literature.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Kay Weisman.

** /4



The jury foreman, rising, said, “We find the defendant guilty as charged with a plea for mercy.”

“The prisoner stand up,” said the judge. Slowly, a boy rose to his feet. Instead of being in court, he should have been starting the eighth grade. He was fourteen years old. The judge looked down at him. “Steven Murray Truscott, have you anything to say? Why the sentence of this court should not be passed upon you according to law?”

“No,” Steven replied.

“Steven Murray Truscott, I have no alternative but to pass the following sentence on you. The jury has found you guilty after a fair trial. The sentence of this court upon you is that you be taken from here to the place from whence you came. And there be kept in close confinement until Tuesday, the eighth day of December, 1959. And upon that day and date you be taken to the place of execution. And that you there be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

Swan recounts the details surrounding the wrongful conviction of 14-year-old Clinton, ON, native Steven Truscott for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper, in 1959. Using trial testimony, interviews, and other documents, the author details what is known about this disturbing crime and the investigation that followed it. Swan reports missed opportunities, overlooked witnesses, and mistakes at the trial that resulted in this miscarriage of justice. He follows the story through Steven’s incarceration and until his eventual exoneration in 2007.

     The details of this case are not for the faint of heart. The descriptions of Harper’s remains and clothing are sensational, and other particulars (such as the sores on Truscott’s penis and the fact that he “crapped” his pants while in jail) seem gratuitous, at best. There are no heroes in this story—not the bumbling police investigators, nor Truscott’s too-trusting parents who were convinced the system would work, nor the attorneys who made procedural mistakes, nor even two of Steven’s friends who lied on the witness stand, helping to convict him. Short chapters and direct writing filled with dialogue make this book easily accessible, especially to struggling readers. A centre section, filled with black and white photos of the principals and the crime scene, adds to the story’s authenticity and an appended glossary defines legal terms.

     Readers not familiar with the Truscott case will probably find this book of interest; whether or not schools and libraries want to promote this sort of tabloid-style journalism is another question entirely.

Recommended with reservations.

Kay Weisman recently completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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