Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mother's death no accident: son

Reopen case, medical examiner tells cops

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Did Jessie Garwood actually fall down those stairs? Or was she pushed to her death?

Her son, Jim Garwood, believes the latter, and he's been fighting for almost five years to get Winnipeg police to reopen their investigation.

"I want a sense of justice," Garwood said Tuesday. "Just because it's an old death doesn't mean it's any less important. I mean, do we pick our cases to solve?"

Garwood, a retired federal employee, has waged an ongoing fight to learn everything he can about his mother's death, and is preparing to file a wrongful-death claim against the person he alleges might be responsible for his 87-year-old mom's death.

He said according to police evidence collected in 2004, his mother, who had suffered from macular degeneration since 1997, died after tripping and falling down the basement stairs of her Windsor Park home.

Injuries 'not possible' in fall: Garwood

But a pathology report says she suffered 13 injuries to her head -- injuries Garwood claims are more consistent with an assault as there are only eight steps.

"If you trip and fall, do you hit your head 13 times?" Garwood said. "I don't think so. It's not possible to hit your head twice on each stair as you go down."

Garwood said Manitoba's chief medical examiner, Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, also believes foul play might have been involved in the woman's death.

Balachandra wrote a letter, dated Aug. 26, 2011, to Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill, suggesting investigators reopen the case.

"Although our office initially assumed the death was an accident, we later changed the manner of death to undetermined, as the death appears not to be an accident," Balachandra wrote.

"I think it would be prudent to investigate this case further, as it appears that foul play may have been involved in this case.''

Garwood obtained the letter through a freedom of information request.

No new evidence supports reopening investigation: police

But the Winnipeg Police Service said Tuesday it is confident its investigation in 2004 was thorough, and no signs of foul play were found.

That investigation has also been reviewed by an unspecified outside police agency.

"The independent review supported the original findings of the Winnipeg Police Service investigation," Patrol Sgt. Monica Stothers said in an email. "The Winnipeg Police Service is sympathetic to Mr. Garwood regarding the death of Jessie Garwood. However, there is no new evidence that supports reopening this investigation."

The case has been reviewed by police in Saskatoon. They came to same conclusion as Winnipeg police – that Garwood’s death was the result of an accidental fall.

But Garwood said based on the circumstances of his mom's death and the recommendation of Edmonton forensic consultant Joseph Slemko, the case should be reopened.

Slemko said in a report, after reviewing police photographs of the death scene, that Garwood "suffered numerous blunt-force impacts at locations that were not at the base of the (basement) telepost and that could not be caused by her own actions."

Slemko said he also believes blood splatters and stains at the scene were made by the actions of someone other than Garwood.

"This was not just your average accidental death," Garwood said.

"The police have, I believe, made serious errors in the whole sequence of events."

Woman sued for wrongful death

Garwood said he started his legal fight after reading the original pathology and police incident reports on the matter. He next took police to court to get all the evidence collected in their investigation, including 140 police photos of the death scene.

The file was also reviewed by former RCMP superintendent Glenn Woods, an expert in crime analysis.

"As things unfolded, I kept finding more things and bringing them to the attention of police," Garwood said, adding $14,000 was withdrawn from his mother's account before her death.

"This particular person wrote four cheques to herself and claimed when she spoke to police she had returned the money."

Garwood said the same person was the last to see this mother alive, and found her dead in the basement.

"Things weren't adding up to my satisfaction, and we've pursued it since then," Garwood said. "There are many inconsistencies in the police story."

'Would not have done anything to harm' Garwood: woman

Police have already interviewed that person; she has not been charged with any crime.

Garwood is suing her for wrongful death. The case is before the courts.

The woman declined to be interviewed, but made a written statement on the matter.

"Based on the advice of my lawyer... I do not think it is prudent to provide an interview at this time," the statement says.

"While I am certain that I was one of the last people to see Jessie Garwood alive, I confirm, as I always have, that Jessie Garwood was alive when I last saw her. I had nothing to do with the death of Jessie Garwood, which the Winnipeg Police Service have thoroughly investigated on more than one occasion.

"I have co-operated fully with the Winnipeg Police Service, and have stated repeatedly that I did not, could not and would not have done anything to harm Jessie Garwood or anyone else. Any suggestion by any person including Mr. Garwood will be vigorously defended by my counsel," the statement says.

"This constant campaign by Mr. Garwood to blame me for Jessie Garwood's death has had a devastating effect on my life, my well-being, and I look forward to the day when the Court of Queen's Bench dismisses this specious claim against me."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2012 A6

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 11:51 AM CDT: Adds statement from woman, information on Saskatoon police review.

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