Samantha Burke says she doesn't believe it was Michael Hannaford; says it was 'probably some skeetbag'
Samantha Burke knows she was shot sometime around her birthday last year, and had two holes in her body to prove it. She just doesn't remember who did it.
In a recurring nightmare she's been having over the past four months, it's a man with blonde hair and bangs sitting in a black car outside the PowerPlex on Crosbie Road, pointing a gun at her from the window of the vehicle and firing as she walks down the street. It's at that point that she always wakes up.
This is what Burke testified when she took the witness stand in provincial court in St. John's Wednesday, and stood by her evidence as she was presented with a statement she had given police while at the hospital being treated for gunshot wounds. The details in the statement are similar to those in Burke's dream, though in the statement she said the shooter was her longtime friend, Michael Hannaford.
"I don't remember saying that to the police," Burke told prosecutor Paul Thistle at Hannaford's attempted murder trial Wednesday.
She didn't remember speaking to police at all, she said, and had no recollection of being in hospital.
Burke said she did remember it was the May 24th weekend as well as her birthday, and she had been awake for three days straight. She and another woman had spent about $2,000 on drugs and alcohol between them, Burke said, explaining she had long been addicted to crack cocaine, sleeping pills and Clonazepam at that time, and often suffered episodes of what she referred to as drug-induced psychosis, with hallucinations, paranoia and memory loss as a result.
"I know I was shot, yes, but I can't say he was the one who did it because I'm not certain." — Samantha Burke
She told the court she has now been sober for about four months.
Burke said she remembered getting into an argument with Hannaford after she tried to convince him to get her some cocaine in exchange for pills.
"We had a mild argument," she said. "It's not like we hadn't had one in 20 years."
Burke said she had gotten in a number of violent altercations with different people that night, and she remembered her cousin wanting to take her to hospital the following day for treatment of her injuries, though she didn't want to go. She said she had asked her cousin to drive her to Hannaford's house instead.
"I went to his house and got into an argument with him over $70. It was just a stupid argument," she said, testifying she couldn't remember many of the details.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard testimony from RNC officers who said they had responded to a report of an altercation outside Hannaford's Empire Avenue home and had arrived to find him, Burke and another woman outside the residence. An SUV with a broken window was parked in the driveway, and the second woman testified Hannaford had smashed it with a machete in an attempt to defend himself from Burke. Police found a sheathed machete inside the home near the front door.
While escorting Hannaford back outside and into the police vehicle, Const. Shane McClafferty said Burke had yelled at Hannaford, “When am I getting my $70 or I’ll tell them what you did to me!” Burke had then said Hannaford had shot her earlier that morning, before lifting her shirt to reveal a bloody bandage on her side, the court heard.
Police officers said Burke had declined medical attention at first, but later agreed to go to hospital and allowed police to photograph her injuries. Those photos, which were presented in court, show two circular wounds on Burke’s side, each about 10 mm wide. Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis said the wounds were consistent with the entrance and exit of a bullet from a small-calibre, low-velocity firearm.
Swabs taken from Hannaford's skin after his arrest turned up a single particle of gunshot residue on the back of his right hand.
Two .22-calibre guns were recovered from the area around Empire Avenue in the days after the shooting. One was found in a field near Hannaford's home and found not to have any usable fingerprints and a male DNA profile that did not match Hannaford's profile. The other was found in the bushes on a residential lawn on nearby Redmond's Road.
Police found a number of legal guns in a safe in Hannaford's basement and determined they had no connection with the shooting, though they did find one .22 calibre bullet.
Text messages gleaned from Hannaford's phone and presented in court earlier this week revealed an exchange between two people identified in the conversation as Sam and Mike, which began around 3:20 a.m. the day of the shooting. Sam texted Mike, asking for a half-ball (1.75 grams) of cocaine, and grew upset when he said it would cost $200. Sam later demanded Mike pay back the $70 that he owed.
"I'll knock on your door and tell whoever answers you ripped me off $70 and stole our scripts," Sam sent to Mike around 4 a.m.
"Waiting to see you come knocking on camera b'y," Mike replied. "If you're going to come knocking on doors, I got new toys I want to try out."
"You threaten me with a gun and you don't show up here, my word I'd be coming right to your house," Sam replied later.
In court, Burke said she had no recollection of the text exchange and didn't think she had participated in it.
"I know I was shot, yes, but I can't say he was the one who did it because I'm not certain," she told Thistle. "I really don't think it was him."
"You think a stranger shot you?" Thistle asked her at one point.
"Not a stranger. I don't know, probably some skeetbag I know in St. John's. I was a heavy drug user for six years," Burke replied.
When asked why she would tell police it was Hannaford who shot her, Burke said she had been suffering from psychosis at the time and had likely said his name because it was fresh in her mind, since they had recently argued.
Thistle pointed to parts of Burke's police statement where she told investigators she felt bad that Hannaford was arrested and that she didn't want him charged, even though he could have killed her.
"I don't know, probably some skeetbag I know in St. John's. I was a heavy drug user for six years." — Samantha Burke
Thistle asked Burke if she was worried about repercussions of reporting the shooting, pointing out that it might be considered ratting among those in the drug trade. Burke told him reporting an attempted murder or harm to a child is not considered ratting.
"If he tried to kill me, you really think I wouldn't want (him) charged? This is my life. It's serious," Burke said.
"If he really shot me, why would I want to protect him? If I was 100 per cent sure he did it, I would point the finger at him and that wouldn't be a rat."
On cross-examination, defence lawyer Tim O'Brien asked Burke if it was possible she had been shot by one of the people with whom she had gotten involved in violent altercations on the night in question. She said it was, though she didn’t remember who.
Thistle is applying to have Burke's statement to police accepted as evidence at trial in lieu of her testimony in court.
Judge Colin Flynn has consented to the application, saying he believed Burke was perhaps not being forthcoming in her testimony because of her friendship with Hannaford.
Thistle and O'Brien will make their final submissions on that application Thursday before Flynn renders his decision. The trial will then continue.