Sunday, October 16, 2016

Canada: Retired police officer writing new book about Thomas Sophonow's wrongful conviction

Nearly 35 years after 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel was strangled in a Winnipeg doughnut shop, a former detective sergeant involved in the case feels his work still isn't done.

Andrew Mikolajewski retired in 2014, after 28 years with the Winnipeg police force. Now, he's writing a book about the case in an effort to reveal insight into the investigation of Stoppel's death, what led to the wrongful conviction of Thomas Sophonow and how other wrongful convictions can happen.

"In essence it explains the necessary ingredients for Tom's wrongful conviction, the consequences of inaction and the challenge for the Winnipeg police service to be accountable," said Mikolajewski.

Stoppel worked at the Ideal Donut Shop in St.Boniface. She was strangled in the woman's washroom on December 23, 1981 and died in hospital days later. Sophonow had been in Winnipeg to visit his young daughter at the time. Police announced Sophonow had been arrested and charged with murder on March 12,1982. He spent nearly four years in jail and went through three trials before he was acquitted on Dec. 12, 1985.

Mikolajewski was one of the people assigned to take another look at the homicide case in 1999, more than a decade after Sophonow had been acquitted of second degree murder.

His work helped lead the way to Sophonow's exoneration in 2000, and identified Terry Arnold as a new prime suspect in the case. Arnold was found dead of an apparent suicide in Victoria, B.C. in 2005. In a note, he denied killing anyone.

Mikolajewski isn't ready to disclose details about what he's writing, but said he hopes it will help people understand the truth about what happened during the course of the Stoppel investigation and bring closure to the families affected.

A lecture he received by an inspector in charge of the homicide division during a recruit class in 1986 is one of the things that has kept him motivated.

"He let us know that the most important person in a homicide case is the victim and that we look after the victim's interest," said Mikolajewski. "As far as I'm concerned, that wasn't done and now at this time I feel like I can do it."
Thomas Sophonow forever changed by wrongful conviction

Sophonow now lives in British Columbia with his family and spends his time working to restore his New Westminster home. He's spoken to Mikolajewski and thinks the book will give an inside look into what went wrong in his case.

After time in therapy, Sophonow doesn't think about what happened the way that he used to. Still, he's not the same person he was before living though the nightmare of a wrongful conviction, which included years spent living under a cloud of suspicion until his exoneration.

"I went in as a happy fellow," said Sophonow. "Came out as a cold, unfeeling person. Trying to get back to that happy person."  

He can remember what it's like to be convicted for a murder he didn't commit.

"The only real scary part of it all was when the cell doors slammed behind you," said Sophonow. "Because everything before that was 'Well I didn't do it. You know I will be found not guilty'.... But, it isn't until you are found guilty and the door slams behind you then you come to the realization that this is it. And the only thing that had me going after that was my appeals. I've always won my appeals."

'Tunnel vision' by investigators who focused in on Sophonow as a suspect and flawed police lineups were among some of the key factors identified by an inquiry into Sophonow's wrongful conviction.

Sophonow believes public and political pressure to find someone also played a role.

"What I've learned after my exoneration and everything is that if they would only have read a couple of (police) reports, they would have known that I didn't do it."

He believes what happened to him will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Original report here

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