'I don't want to see the Supreme Court again': Donald Marshall Jr. fought the law twice. Yesterday, he won again.
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, September 18, 1999
Donald Marshall Jr. fought the law twice. On Friday, he won for the second time.
It took the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq 19 years to be exonerated after being falsely convicted of murder in 1971. Six years ago, after being charged for fishing illegally on Mi'kmaq land, he decided to fight another uphill battle, this time for the treaty rights of his people.
Mr. Marshall, who celebrated his 46th birthday this week, began a life sentence for murder in 1971 when was 17. He was released 11 years later when a witness came forward to say he had seen another man stab black teenager Sandy Seale in a Sydney, N.S., park in 1971.
Mr. Marshall had said all along that both he and Mr. Seale had been attacked by the same person who had lunged at them uttering racist insults. Police said they had caught Mr. Marshall in several lies and didn't believe the story about a third man. They didn't check it out.
A 1989 Royal Commission into Mr. Marshall's case damned the Nova Scotia legal system and said young Marshall had been the victim of incompetence fueled by racism.
''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, '' said the report.
After yesterday's victorious Supreme Court ruling, the reticent, soft-spoken Mr. Marshall was praised for his fortitude and resourcefulness.
Mr. Marshall, reluctantly back in front of the cameras, said simply that it had been another long struggle he could have done without.
''At times I almost gave up,'' he said. ''I never thought I'd be in the spotlight again. I've dealt with the Supreme Court twice already and I hope to God I don't have to do it again. I'm just glad it's over with.''
Mr. Marshall was compensated for his wrongful imprisonment: $300,000 as a basic settlement, plus a monthly payment for life.
Anne Derrick, Mr. Marshall's lawyer during the dark days of his first fight for justice, said yesterday that her former client has no enthusiasm for being entangled in the legal system and loathes the limelight.
''Junior is a shy man,'' she said, ''but he is a loyal person. Fighting this treaty case wasn't without personal cost but he persisted because he believed in the principle.''
Ms. Derrick, who wasn't involved in the fishing rights case appeal, said Mr. Marshall was often angry at the system while he fought against the murder conviction but did not emerge from the experience embittered.
''The extraordinary thing is that it didn't strip away his humanity.''
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.
''He was separated from his culture,'' said lawyer Ms. Derrick. ''His trajectory got distorted. Still, as this case demonstrates, he has significant leadership qualities.''
Mr. Marshall said yesterday he just wants to lead a normal life.
''I don't want to see the Supreme Court of Canada again,'' he said.