Friday, September 11, 2009

One Man's Struggle to Find Justice and Clear His Name

One Man's Struggle to Find Justice and Clear His Name
by Heather Madore, from The Shield Magazine, February 2010.

It was a cool afternoon, some three decades ago.

At 1:20 p.m., the doors opened and everything seemed to move in slow motion.

He walked from his cell through the doors, across the yard, to the fence.

He stood looking up as the other inmates blocked off the way back, coming towards him, leaving him little choice.

As he had already written in a suicide note, he reminded himself, "Well if it's my day to die, then it's my day to die, and it's a good day to die."

In a super maximum-security prison, they shoot to kill and ask questions later.

His hands touched the fence, and his first move towards freedom -- one way or another.

That day John Caleb Moore made a choice. He chose to fight, to not simply sit back and accept the punishment.

To this day, Moore continues to fight his second-degree murder conviction in the death of a Sault Ste. Marie taxi driver for which he has always maintained his innocence.

The event
Early in the morning on June 30, 1978, taxi driver Donald Lanthier was found stabbed and strangled to death. Lanthier's body was discovered in a depression on the side of Third Line East in Sault Stre. Marie. Three men were charged in connection with the murder. Gordon Stevens was convicted of first-degree murder, and Moore andTerrance Hogan were convicted of second-degree murder.

John's story
"I wasn't even there," says Moore, now a Cambrian grad.

He says he spent most of the night before the murder driving around with his brother-in-law Richard Nicols. Earlier that day, he and Nicols had driven around with their friends, Stevens and Hogan.

"Just being in that car, being with them guys earlier in the day is the closest I came to knowing anything that happened."

During the summer of '78, the police approached Moore, then 23, three or four times, asking him questions.

"Asking what I knew, what I saw. I told them I didn't see much, know much. They really didn't bother me. They focused their intentions on Stevens and Hogan."

However, everything changed on Aug. 3 of that year.

"It was about 6:45 p.m., I was riding my bike to my father-in-law's place, and I got this uneasy feeling that something's going to happen, this very uneasy feeling."

As he approached the house, he spotted an unmarked police car. Going closer he saw his wife with their baby standing outside with her father. A police officer approached and informed Moore that he had a warrant for his arrest.

The trial began in January of 1979. During the trial, Moore says 35 people were called to the stand and none of them had any real evidence against him.

Still, after just two hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict for all three men. Moore was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison before eligible for parole.

He began his sentence at the Ontario Sault Ste. Marie Jail, but after being segregated and getting into a fight with the guards, he was transferred to the Sudbury Jail, and later to Kingston Penitentiary.

"I got sent to Kingston Pen. That was the first time I'd been in a penitentiary in my whole life. You walk into this place, and it's like, you just can't believe it. It's like a dungeon, very cold, very medieval."

Later he would be transferred to the super-maximum security prison Millhaven in Bath, Ont.

While at Millhaven, Moore found his life in danger. After hearing "That fucking Indian's going to die," over and over again, he went into his cell and organized two boxes. One was for his lawyer and one was for his family, along with the suicide note. Then he went out into the yard.

To his surprise he made it over the first fence no program. He began to climb the second, but grew tired, fell off and sprained his ankle. He lay between the fences for a while, and a guard came by in a truck.

"It was like he was looking right at me, but he didn't see me and he drove back off."

The guard drove off, and Moore got up, climbed over the fence and began to run across the field towards the bush.

While running, he heard the guard in the truck step on the gas. Pulling the truck up in the middle of the field, the guard got out with a shotgun in his hand. Moore remembers the guard trying to talk to him, but the words didn't register at first. When they did, he realized he was being warned that the guards in the tower were going to shoot him.

He turned to the guard and said: "You shoot me five times. I don't care. I'd rather be dead than spend the rest of my life in prison for something I didn't do."

Shortly after, he ended up back in "the hole" in the institution for 60 days.

Just before Christmas, he received a letter telling him his wife Cindy, who was pregnant with their second son, telling him that she couldn't wait for him and that it was over.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like I just didn't give a shit anymore. My whole lifeline was gone."

After getting the letter, Moore was transferred back to Kingston Penitentiary.

In December of 1981, Moore was given a new trial. During the trial, some of the evidence from the first trial was disallowed, but he was again convicted.

After the second conviction, he began to think about suicide again.

"Thinking, what's the use, you know?"

In 1982, Moore started a letter writing campaign to various MPs, and MPPs, and he began doing more research.

"Something just entered into me. I was right at that borderline (between light and dark), I could have easily slipped off to the dark side and went into anger, but for some reason that other energy came into me and brought me over to the light side."

While in prison, he went through a series of appeals but to no avail.

Eventually he was placed in the minimum-security Beaver Creek Institution, in Gravenhurst, and got a taste of freedom.

"I was on this work location working for the MNR. I built a lean-to and a little fireplace. One day I was there and I saw this buck about 300 yards away. I went and tried to get a closer look at him. As I got closer, a bunch of the deer started to run away. Something came over me and I started running after the deer. I ran after them, and I ran and I ran and I ran. It was just so awesome running. I just couldn't stop because when I ran, it was like everything, that freedom that I lost came back at that moment."

However, this freedom only lasted a minute, and Moore came to his senses and returned to work.

In 1987, section 21(2) of the Criminal Code, under which Moore was convicted, was repealed and deemed unconstitutional. His lawyers began another appeal, but again nothing came of it.

Also that year, he put in a request to be transferred to a halfway house in Sudbury.

In August of 1987, Moore was released from prison to Newberry House.

However, while he was no longer physically locked away, he still felt imprisoned.

"The hardest thing was not getting to watch my sons grow up. I don't have a relationship with them now. People don't understand that I've lost a lot more than anyone can imagine."

The fight
Since the day of his release, 23 years ago, Moore has been fighting to bring his case before the public, to reform the justice system, to demonstrate the racial bias that exists in the system, and to have his name cleared.

In addition he is writing a book about everything that he has gone through. With only two chapters left to go, he hopes that when people read the book, it will help put pressure on the government and have them review his case.

Aside from his book, Moore is also trying to get national media coverage. There have been many stories written about his case here in Sudbury and in the surrounding area, but he believes that national media media attention will help push his case forward.

He has a new video documentary up on Youtube called For Justice Sake, and a blog,, where readers can find his story, and letters from John, his lawyer and some of his supporters.

He has also put together a new brief for the government to try and get them to review his case.

Moore has no intention of giving up his fight until he reaches his goal of full exoneration.

"Justice is justice. It's for everybody, you can't just give up because 'they' say certain things, because they don't want to look at the facts."

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