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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Assessing the Trial Evidence Against Robert Raymond Cook

Robert Raymond Cook
In my last post on The Work of Justice - The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover I outlined the circumstances of the brutal slaying of Robert Raymond Cook’s family for which he was convicted and hung in 1960.

Pecover provides a great amount of detail on the evidence at Cook's the trials with one huge gap in his review and analysis. From the start Pecover is clear that he thinks Cook should not have been convicted on the evidence presented at his two trials for capital murder.

Pecover gets so caught up in detail at times. He goes over small issues with contradictions such as why Cook was stopped by the police during the day prior to the murders. He spends pages dealing with the missing Friday newspaper and speculation it was used to help cover the bodies.

There were areas where the defence could realistically raise questions. While not well done the defence did raise the issues.

It was never established whether the shotgun used in the killings was owned by Cook’s father or was brought to the house the night of the killings.

That there were 15 unfired shotgun shells in the suit, bedroom and garage is unusual as Cook’s father was not actually hunting.

As well there was a blood stained white shirt that no direct evidence could explain how it ended up in the family home.

While the suit was blood stained in the crotch and legs there were no blood stains on Cook’s shorts or his socks.

The gap in Pecover’s book concerned the the details of the commission of the murders. Not surprisingly Pecover does not want to dwell on the gruesome particulars. The parents, in bed, were killed by shotgun blasts fired at close range and the children, from 3 to 9 years of age, were beaten to death by the shotgun. No defence counsel or advocate for an accused will want to explore those details but they cannot be ignored and how the killings were done may support the prosecution or the accused. He spends not even two paragraphs on how the murders were committed. It was a major weakness in the book not to analyze the evidence of the killings in the same detail as the other evidence.

I wondered from the opening pages what alternative killer the defence would present to the jury. I knew the defence could not succeed without either an alternative or an alibi. Cook had been at the house the night of the murders and the next day he possessed his father’s identification and the family car. Those facts effectively prevented a successful defence limited to questioning the sufficiency of the Crown case.

At both of his trials his defence counsel sought to advance the theory of a mysterious stranger entering the house Thursday night after Cook had left the house and brutally killing his family. The defence of the mysterious stranger is among the most difficult in criminal defence. Who might this stranger be? Cook had no credible suspect.

Cook did present an alibi defence but it arose in questionable circumstances being only being raised by Cook to his counsel shortly before the first trial.

Cook had asserted that at the time of the murders he was in Edmonton committing the break and enter of a dry cleaning business with another professional criminal, Albert Victor Wilson.

While there was no proof of communication between them they were inmates at the same time in the Fort Saskatchewan jail prior to Cook's the first trial.

Any chance of success for the alibi was shattered in a Hollywood moment of cross-examination. In his evidence Wilson stated that he had searched a toolbox in the station wagon Cook was driving for a screwdriver so they could pry open a grate to gain access to the dry cleaning business. On cross examination the Crown Prosecutor, Wallace Anderson, had Wilson go from the witness box to the evidence table and open the toolbox and pull out what Pecover describes as “a torrent of screwdrivers”.

What was shocking to me as a defence counsel is that Cook’s counsel had insisted the toolbox be an exhibit. He had clearly never looked inside the toolbox. How could a defence lawyer not check the contents of the toolbox?

Pecover identifies other flaws in the work of defence counsel. I expect he is correct but beyond the startling gaffe with the toolbox I do not think they played a significant role in the trials.

I thought Pecover underplayed the significance of the jury seeing the witnesses. It is stated repeatedly and correctly by appellate courts that it is as important to see how the witnesses give their evidence as what they say in court. Cook and Wilson were not credible.

With no identifiable alternative killer and the alibi defence in tatters and Cook acknowledging he had lied to police in parts of his statements Cook was doomed to conviction. 

In my next post I will assess the reliability of the conviction.
The Work of Justice - The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover


  1. This is really interesting, Bill. And it strikes me as I read it that it's a reminder of how important careful preparation for a trial really is. For instance, why wouldn't the toolbox have been checked? And, although I'm not an attorney, I can say that, if I were on a jury, and the theory of a mysterious stranger was brought up, I would need a lot of convincing...

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Going through the fundamentals in important in every profession.

      Now with regard to the jury the defence does not need to do "a lot of convincing" but it does need to do "enough convincing" to raise a reasonable doubt. Neither jury had reasonable doubt.