48 Years Later, Bugs Clear Convicted Murderer

With help of maggots, entomologists show murder occurred later than believed.

ByABC News
October 24, 2007, 9:23 AM

Oct. 24, 2007 — -- A man who was convicted 48 years ago of the hideous rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl has finally been exonerated, but it took a few hundred flies and the young science of forensic entomology to win his freedom.

Steven Truscott was only 14 years old when he was sentenced to die in Canada by hanging for the murder of a childhood friend, Lynn Harper.

His sentence stimulated debate over the death penalty, primarily because of his youth. Although this debate contributed to the abolition of capital punishment in Canada, Truscott still served 10 years in jail and has spent the rest of his life living in the shadow of an unwarranted conviction.

Attorney James Lockyer of Toronto argued passionately before the Ontario Court of Appeals on behalf of Truscott, who has proclaimed his innocence over all these years, and in the end the court agreed with those claims, at least partly.

Last month the court quashed the conviction, labeling it a "miscarriage of justice."

The ruling wasn't a surprise to entomologist Richard Merritt of Michigan State University -- one of a dozen certified forensic entomologists in the United States -- whose testimony in the trial was "critical," according to Lockyer. The proof, Merritt argued during a rigorous seven hours testifying, was provided by the flies that would have landed on the young girl's body within minutes of her death.

"I was brain dead at the end," said Merritt, who has become somewhat passionate in his defense of Truscott.

"It was a horrific crime," he said in an interview. "I could never imagine how this kid who went to school with this girl and was a friend of hers could have done this."

Truscott was the last person seen with Harper, late in the afternoon of June 9, 1958. She was a passenger on his bike on the outskirts of their Canadian village. Her body was found two days later near the place where the two had been seen. Lynn had been raped and strangled with her own blouse.

Timing became key in the trial and subsequent appeals of the case.