Thursday is the 13th anniversary of a little girl’s death in Truro.
It’s been 13 years and two days since Shannon Mercer watched her granddaughter flick seeds from the squash they were cutting up for Sunday dinner at the family dog.
“She wanted to be a ballerina,” said Mercer of three-and-a halfyear- old Samantha.
“Aleisha (Samantha’s mother) is a mess right now with the anniversary approaching.”
This is the story of the emotional wreckage left behind not just by a child’s death, but by a family’s experience with this province’s justice system; a family that spent $22,000 on a lawyer to seek an inquiry into the police investigation into Samantha’s death.
They didn’t get a public inquiry, but instead two reviews — one internal and one by retired Prince Edward Island justice Gerard Mitchell.
In 2016 Mitchell found the Truro Police Service bungled the investigation into Samantha’s death but also that the police service’s mistakes wouldn’t have changed the legal outcome:
Aleisha’s then-boyfriend, Terry Dean Allen, was acquitted in a 2009 judge-only trial.
Two requests by Mercer and Debbie Dalrymple, Samantha’s great aunt, to meet with the mayor and police chief have been refused.
“We put the (request for a meeting) to our legal department and that’s where it stayed,” said Mayor Bill Mills last week.
From Mills and the chief of police the family wants an apology for the handling of the investigation.
“This province has an Apology Act — you can apologize in Nova Scotia without accepting any liability whatsoever,” said Brian Bailey, the lawyer who previously represented the Mercer family in their campaign to get a public inquiry. “There’s no rhyme or reason (to refusing to meet with them).”
Two Sundays ago, Mercer and Dalrymple sat at a kitchen table in Truro that was completely covered by stacks of paperwork.
It’s a growing mountain of documents that live in a cabinet in Dalrymple’s kitchen and which the pair regularly take out to pour over again and again.
The warrants, autopsy findings and doctors’ assessments are marked by Mercer and Dalrymple with post-it notes and passages underlined — brutal passages written in the cool hand of medical professionals about what happened to the body of a little girl. It took Mercer a decade before she could gather the strength to read them and now she can never forget.
“I don’t worry that we’ll never get justice,” said Dalrymple. “There is a God and he works in mysterious ways. We just have to keep getting the story out and someone will come forward who saw something.”
But the story’s been out for a long time.
At about 3:30 p.m. on March 1, 2005, Terry Dean Allen dropped Aleisha Mercer off at work at the Convergys call centre. Samantha was left in the care of Allen — Aleisha’s boyfriend who had moved in with them a week earlier.
Three hours later Allen brought Samantha to the hospital with a fatal head injury, retinal hemorrhages, six fractured vertebrae, a fractured arm, and dozens of bruises on her back, left thigh, left leg and left forearm.
At his trial for manslaughter, Allen would testify Samantha got the injuries falling down the stairs and that he didn’t take her to the hospital until after he smoked a joint with friends because he didn’t realize their severity.
In 2009 Judge Alan Tufts acquitted Allen on the basis that the Crown’s evidence was circumstantial.
An appeal by the Crown was dropped.
Former justice minister Diana Whalen said that the Crown would not be seeking a retrial.
While Mitchell’s review found serious flaws in the Truro Police Service’s handling of the investigation, it also found the department has made great strides since 2005 and is now capable of investigating complex cases. The Department of Justice has also instituted Mitchell’s recommendations that audits be done of the capacity of small municipal police forces, and that they make additional resources available to them to enhance their ability to handle complex investigations.
Aleisha Mercer is working as a welder in Alberta and trying to pay off the line of credit on which she placed lawyer Bailey’s fees.
Last June, Terry Dean Allen pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine and marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, as well as to possession of the prescription drugs Clonazepam and Apodiazapam (benzodiazapam). He is currently serving a two-year sentence on those charges.
Meanwhile the mountain of documents in Dalrymple’s kitchen keeps growing.
Though the legal system has moved on from the Samantha Mercer case, the little girl’s grandma, mother and great aunt never intend to be done with it.