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Canadians Hold Vigils for Man Serving Time for NJ Slaying

January 21, 1985

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) _ Family, friends and sympathizers of a Canadian man imprisoned in New Jersey held vigils in several Canadian cities Sunday to protest what they consider his injust conviction and sentence on aggravated manslaughter charges.

Bruce Curtis, who turns 21 on Monday, is serving a 20-year sentence for his conviction in the July 1982 shooting death of a friend’s mother in Loch Arbour, N.J. Curtis insists the shooting was accidental.

More than 50 people, most from the Nova Scotia town of Middleton where Curtis lived, paraded quietly through a gathering evening snowstorm in Halifax, cupping their hands over candles to keep them lit.

″We alone, just as a family, are not making any impression on anybody political in either country,″ Alice Curtis, Bruce’s mother, told the group outside the U.S. consulate. ″We need your support.″

Other relatives spread out to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver to lead vigils. In Ottawa, four people withstood a subzero wind-chill factor to gather in front of the U.S. Embassy, singing and holding up placards.

Curtis, a graduate of the Kings-Edgehill private school in Windsor, Nova Scotia, must serve a minimum of 10 years.

In Montreal, about 40 people lit candles in a church and observed a moment of silence for the imprisoned Canadian. Jim Curtis told them about his son’s case and the $100,000 his family has spent so far on the case without results.

Curtis arrived in New Jersey on June 19, 1982, to spend some time with a schoolmate, Scott Franz of Loch Arbour in Monmouth County. The two had met while attending a boarding school in Canada.

Franz’ stepfather, Alfred Podgis, had rifles and guns in the house, and on at least one occasion shot at Franz, according to court records.

On July 5, 1982, Franz and his stepfather got into an argument and Franz shot and killed Podgis, court records showed. Hearing the shot, Curtis, carrying a rifle, ran down a narrow hallway toward the door where he ran into Rosemary Podgis, Franz’ mother.

Curtis’ lawyers said he accidentally shot Rosemary Podgis. The prosecutor said the shooting was intentional.

Franz pleaded guilty to killing his stepfather and was sentenced to 20 years. As part of a plea-bargain agreement, he agreed to testify against Curtis, who was charged with murder.

The jury found Curtis guilty of aggravated manslaughter. He did not testify during the trial.

Curtis is serving his 20-year term at the Bordentown Youth Correctional Institution.

Curtis’ supporters say Franz changed his story and lied to convict Curtis in return for a more lenient sentence. Curtis’ original lawyer called the conviction a ″legal lynching,″ a term echoed at Sunday’s vigils.

″He’s surviving,″ Mrs. Curtis said of her son. ″He says his internal clock stopped in 1982 and he just goes at this life from day to day as if he were living a nightmare.

″One day he’s going to wake up and forget it - at least we hope it isn’t going to be 20 years before he wakes up.″

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