The case of Anthony Hanemaayer has all the hallmarks of a Kafkaesque nightmare. The roofer’s incredible experience began without him even being aware it was happening. It started early on the morning of September 29, 1987 when a man crept into the bedroom of a 15-year-old Scarborough girl around 5am.
The youngster’s screams brought her mother running into the darkened room trying to find out what was going on. That’s when she peered into the gloom and saw the figure of a man struggling with her daughter. He was armed with a knife and his intent was obvious. She stared at the intruder for nearly a minute as she attempted to fend him off, a fact she would later testify to in a courtroom.
Cops were immediately given a description of the suspect – his hair, his height, weight and eye colour. He disappeared after the attack and would be hard to find. But in a series of terrible coincidences that would forever change his life, Hanemaayer was working on a construction site just a few blocks away from the scene of the crime.
The victim’s mother contacted the company doing the building on a hunch, describing the assailant. Someone there thought it matched Hanemaayer and the ball began rolling to his eventual arrest.
When police learned he’d been convicted of what Hanemaayer himself calls “petty crimes” and was out on bail, their interest soared. He appeared to match the description of the suspect, and they began taking a closer look at what soon became their major suspect.
When the mother of the girl was shown a series of 12 photos and asked if the man who attacked her daughter was there, she quickly fingered Hanemaayer, despite the fact eyewitness testimony is often unreliable and she only saw him in the dark.
But it was enough for police to decide they had their man and they came to his Newmarket home to arrest him. A frightened Hanemaayer fled but eventually returned knowing he would have to face the charges sooner or later. That only heightened his appearance of guilt.
He turned himself in and prepared to win his case. The charge: assault and break and enter. The stunned young man, then just 19, repeatedly denied the attack, but no one would listen.
He eventually went to trial in October 1989, and with the eyewitness testimony and authorities both pointing the finger at him, his conviction seem assured.
With his lawyer telling him things didn’t look good, Hanemaayer took a terrible gamble, agreeing to plead guilty to the attack despite not having committed the act in the first place. A deal was worked out that would see him only receive eight months plus time served instead of possibly a decade behind bars. The alternative was too tempting: two years less a day.
It was the lesser of two evils and, backed into a corner and seeing what he once referred to as ‘guilt’ in everyone’s eyes in the courtroom, Hanemaayer took the deal. Halfway through the proceeding, he changed his verdict to guilty and was sent away for the shorter sentence, despite knowing he would forever be branded a convicted sex predator.
He did the time but not the crime and was eventually released. But the stigma remained. His marriage broke up. And he endured the harsh stares of an angry community.
It was hard for the young man to realize everyone believed he’d committed such a heinous act. But it was easy to see why. Despite his protestations, he’d admitted to it in court and served a prison sentence.
When the Paul Bernardo case hit the headlines in the early 1990s, Hanemaayer had no idea he would one day be associated with Canada’s most infamous criminal. The years passed and the truth about Bernardo’s activities as the school girl killer and the Scarborough rapist came out. He remains in jail indefinitely, tagged as a dangerous offender.
But when police went to question him in 2006 about a host of other crimes, the normally tight lipped serial killer confessed to the attack on the youngster, whose home was in the same neighbourhood where Bernardo lived before his now well known move to St. Catharines.
Bernardo remembered stealing the license plate off the car of his young victim’s family because it said “KAR KAR,” and he thought it would make the perfect gift for his now notorious spouse, Karla Homolka. Cops used that personalized plate to trace the crime back to the home of the girl who was attacked and realized what case Bernardo had been talking about.
But the news never reached Hanemaayer. It wasn’t until AIDWYC, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, got involved in the Robert Baltovich trial that lawyer James Lockyer came upon the jailhouse interview and made the discovery, eventually telling the now 40-year-old about the new evidence that would eventually lead to his complete exoneration.
But the advocate still doesn’t understand why authorities never took it upon themselves to reverse a giant miscarriage of justice and he’s now demanding an inquiry that could help answer that question.
It had taken nearly two decades but on Wednesday, the country finally heard confirmation of what Hanemaayer has insisted all along – he is, in the eyes of the law, an innocent man.