CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012
Real Justice: Young, Innocent and in Prison: The Story of Robert Baltovich.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2012.
128 pp., trade pbk. & hardcover, $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0078-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0079-5 (hc.).
Bain, Elizabeth, d. 1990.
Judicial error-Ontario-Scarborough-Juvenile literature.
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Kim Aippersbach.
Before jurors consider their verdict, they are addressed by the judge. These final words are called a charge to the jury. In this address, the judge reviews the evidence heard during the trial. He or she advises the jury on how they might use the evidence as they seek the truth. As Rob listened to the judge in his case—Superior Court Justice John O’Driscoll—he found himself becoming deeply worried that the case against him was being stressed as the truth. Justice O’Driscoll said Liz probably hadn’t harmed herself. The judge also urged the jury to carefully consider evidence that Rob was in Liz’s car near Port Perry after she went missing.
“If Robert Baltovich is the driver of the car, where is he coming from at that hour in that car?” the judge asked as jurors listened. “What was he returning from doing?”
Listening to the charge, Rob felt rising alarm. He’s just repeating the Crown’s case! he realized. If you’re sitting on the fence, who are you going to go with? Are you going to go with the judge, or this guy who the police think did it?
Young, Innocent and in Prison is a book in Lorimer’s “Real Justice” series, “true stories about teens and young Canadians wrongfully convicted of murder.” The series is designed to be high-interest/low reading-level and to tie into social studies, civics, law and history curricula. This book includes black and white photos, a timeline, a glossary, an index and a page of further reading.
In 1992, Robert Baltovich was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2000, after eight years in jail, he was released on bail pending hearing of his appeal. In 2004, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the 1992 trial unfair and ordered a new trial. In 2008 Robert was found not guilty.
Young, Innocent and in Prison tells Robert’s story chronologically, from the day he met Elizabeth, through the day he noticed she was missing, through the investigation and his arrest and trial. It briefly describes Robert’s time in prison and follows the course of his appeal. There is also a chapter about Paul Bernardo, a convicted murderer who is a possible suspect for Elizabeth’s murder.
Jeff Mitchell has met Robert Baltovich, and he tells much of the story from Robert’s point of view. As Mitchell describes Robert’s experiences with the justice system, he explains how the system works; he shows some of the police investigation, and he includes key points of evidence and key arguments used by lawyers in the two trials. Mitchell also references the opinions of other journalists who followed the case at the time, including one who still believes Robert is guilty, even after the second trial cleared him. It is obvious that Mitchell believes in Robert’s innocence, but he does present dissenting voices.
Robert’s story is inherently interesting, and the book is thin and fast-paced, so it should hold the attention of its target audience. In order to fit into such a small book, much had to be simplified, and so anyone wanting to know the whole story will want to investigate the resources Mitchell includes at the end. The timeline and glossary are short but helpful. There is also a brief “Where Are They Now?” page telling what happened to the main characters mentioned. The photos include two pictures from inside the prison.
Mitchell’s writing is clear and simple, but sometimes sounds stilted. The challenge in high-interest/low reading level books is to be easy to read without being condescending, and Mitchell doesn’t always succeed. Robert’s character comes across as very bland, almost sanitized. Of course, Mitchell wants to present Robert in a positive way, but revealing a few personality quirks would have made him more rounded and interesting.
Young, Innocent and in Prison would make an excellent classroom resource for any study of the justice system. It puts a personal face on legal terminology and makes a potentially dry subject come alive. It will appeal to students interested in law, police work, or crime, and to readers who prefer biography and true stories.
Kim Aippersbach is a freelance editor and writer with three children in Vancouver, BC.
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