Story first published Nov. 20, 2005 By Darrin Bent
Almost 15 years after he was wrongly accused of murdering his mother, Gregory Parsons is finally moving on with his life
It’s been nearly 15 years since Gregory Parsons was targeted by police as the person who murdered his mother. It’s been nearly seven years since it was proven he wasn’t the murderer. It’s been three years since he signed what he believed to be starvation compensation for his ordeal.
It’s been two months since he has acknowledged that he’s been afforded the first real sign of justice.
In the spring of 2003 the Liberal government of the day made Parsons an offer he couldn’t refuse in order to settle a lawsuit he had launched alleging wrongful prosecution. However, the reason he couldn’t refuse the offer was because he was desperate for cash to support his family after years of failed businesses, lost opportunities and mounting debts due to the cloud of suspicion that followed him.
It seemed like a king’s ransom at the time, a total of $850,000. But when you take the lawyers fees away, the amount of money he owed those who bankrolled his defense and the other debts accumulated, he was left like most of us – with bills to pay.
The real benefit was that it afforded him the chance to invest in an annuity that pays his family even if he dies. In the end the amount wasn’t staggering when you consider he lost all the last teen years, all of his 20s and part of his 30s to a wrongly pointed finger of suspicion.
When he testified before the Lamer Inquiry, which delved into the circumstances surrounding the police investigation and his prosecution, he told the Commissioner of how he felt his dignity had been stripped from him in the five years after his acquittal.
“It’s a major embarrassment, people coming with hampers and food. God love the people who did it, but why should I have had to have done that? It was degrading through the whole thing.”
It was story of hardship that wasn’t lost on the Commissioner, but much to the chagrin of the Parsons legal team, Mr. Lamer did not have the authority to investigate the issues surrounding Parsons’ compensation. He did, however, offer criticism of the way things occurred.
“With regards to conditions, which were in my view, practically duress to enter into an agreement.”
The Final Chapter
He may not have realized it at the time, but those comments sparked concern in the province’s Justice Department. Minister Tom Marshall wasted little time in ordering a review of the conditions under which Parsons was compensated.
He wanted to know if the compensation was adequate under the circumstances or if more should be paid.
Not long after the review began government released a statement saying it would not deal with compensation as an issue until after the Lamer report had been finalized by Christmas of this year.
It was considered a setback and the Parsons side wondered if any momentum the compensation issue had gathered during the Inquiry, would be lost over time. As for Parsons, his lawyers told him to stand by, that he’s waited this long a few more months wouldn’t make that much difference.
Yet, in the background there was much action on the issue. In fact, quietly government had entered in to negotiations with Parsons’ lawyer prior to this past summer … offering a compensation deal that would pay Parsons an extra $500,000. This would bring his overall settlement near that of Guy Paul Morin. Morin, from Ontario, is one of the first Canadians compensated for being wrongfully convicted of murder. His settlement was $1.2 million, but he did spend a few years in jail.
Like most lawyers handling injury cases, Steve Marshall, Parsons compensation lawyer, treated the government offer as a negotiating start. It was a move that paid off for his client. In early September, Parsons signed a new deal that paid him an extra $650,000.
After 15 years of battling for innocence, justice and fairness, Parsons reaction to the end of his compensation ordeal was almost a plea for privacy, a plea for peace.
“The biggest thing is the closure. We’ve been fighting for years, fighting for the inquiry, fighting for fair compensation and trying to right this wrong. This is the final chapter, the big thing now is I want to go on with life with my family. A more private life.”
Parsons praised the government of the day for what he calls, righting a wrong. Justice Minister Tom Marshall said it was the Lamer comments after the emotional testimony given by Parsons at the inquiry, that brought the compensation question back to the table for government to deal with.
“I had concerns with comments that Mr. Lamer made at the inquiry when he indicated that Mr. Parsons may have been under duress when he accepted compensation.”
The Justice Minister said he then heard directly from Commissioner Lamer about the compensation issue and the concerns he had.
“Subsequently, he communicated directly with me and suggested that Mr. Parsons could have been in dire need at the time he accepted compensation, but that compensation may have been inadequate. He suggested that I revisit the issue of compensation to insure that a possible injustice did take place.”
The review was underway and the negotiations with Parsons were as well. After about eight months the issue was settled.
“After careful consideration we decided that additional compensation was the right and appropriate and fair thing to do under the circumstances.”
It’s a pot full of money, but Parsons isn’t a lottery winner. It’s not money that came by chance or wasn’t earned. He has this money by way of something that will haunt him all his days, his mother was brutally murdered and taken from him at a young age.
As well, one of his best friends betrayed him by committing the ruthless deed and then leaving him to hold the bag.
“I’m satisfied and I’m very happy that this wrong has been righted, but it’s hard to be happy to be compensated for such a terrible ordeal like my family had to go through. What this does give us is the peace of mind to live a comfortable life, something I’ve never had in my life.”
improving the justice system
The negotiator on Parsons’ behalf is well-known St. John’s lawyer Steve Marshall. He had a plan during his negotiations and that was to bring the Parsons’ amount close to the Guy Paul Morin amount.
“The amounts are very comparable. In these cases it’s very difficult to compare, it’s like two thumb prints, no two are identical.”
There is one final chapter in his saga, the release of the Lamer Inquiry Report later this year. It’s something Parsons says, despite his desire for privacy, he remains interested in the findings of the Commissioner.
“I called for the inquiry so there would be improvements to the justice system and I’m very confident in what Mr. Lamer is going to do,” says Parsons. “But at the end of the day the biggest thing now is for me to move on with my life and my family. It’s been a long road, it’s been 14 years.”
Parsons lives in St. John’s with his wife and two children. The Lamer Inquiry report will be in the hands of government by the end of the year.