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Defence asks 'Wheres the threat?', RNC officer testifies violence was inferred
The Crown prosecutor says there is video evidence to prove Justin Jennings committed extortion when he showed up at a Mount Pearl man’s home and told him he had been sent there to collect a $37,000 debt.
The defence lawyer says the video shows nothing more threatening than the same types of demands she deals with all the time from her colleagues.
It will be up to Judge Mark Pike to decide whether Jennings is guilty or innocent, once he hears the rest of the evidence in the case in provincial court in St. John’s today.
The complainant’s doorbell camera caught an exchange on his front deck between him and a man alleged to be Jennings, 34, around suppertime May 27.
In the video, Jennings tells the man he’s there to collect $37,000 the man owes to someone else.
“What’s it regarding?” the homeowner asks.
“I’m not sure but apparently you’ve been told numerous times,” Jennings replies. “You owe someone 37 grand and you don’t know about it?”
“No,” the other man replies. “I’m pretty sure I’d know.”
Jennings tells the man the name of the person who sent him, saying, “He told me to get the money or something, man. I don’t know how you want to go about it. I don’t know what it is, but like I said, I’m just the person that’s here to hopefully make it so nothing else is going to happen, do you know what I mean? I think that if you owe money for something you got to pay it, but that’s beyond me. It’s not mine so I don’t know nothing about it.”
The man tells Jennings he hasn’t spoken to that guy in two years and isn’t aware of any debt. They have a mutual friend named Johnny, the man says in the video. He says he wants to sit down with the two of them to find out what the debt is all about.
“I’ll phone Johnny right now to see if he was talking to him,” the man says.
“I don’t know who Johnny is, if Johnny is the one putting it on you, so if you could make that happen, make it happen but this better happen now,” Jennings replies, telling the man he needs to pay a third of the debt that evening or “It’s not going to be good.” He tells him he’ll meet him at a nearby McDonald’s in an hour, since the man has children at home.
The man reported the conversation captured in the video to police the same evening, and testified in court.
“He said that if I didn’t come up with a certain amount of money by 7 p.m., then it was going to get a lot worse,” he said.
He explained that he didn’t know the man who knocked on his door but recognized him as Jennings from news reports.
“What did you take that to mean?” prosecutor Jude Hall asked him.
“It could mean any number of things,” he replied. “I could only assume it meant violence and not just a regular ask next time.”
RNC Const. Jeremy Babcock, who was lead investigator in the case, also took the stand as Jennings’ trial got underway. Defence lawyer Averill Baker asked him to point out how Jennings’ had allegedly threatened the man.
Babcock noted parts of the videoed conversation that included “Things will get worse” and “It’s going to get bad,” among other statements.
“I’ve had lawyers on the other side of civil suits say that to me,” Baker responded. “Where’s the threat?”
Babcock explained it was the conversation as a whole that he believed indicated a threat of violence. He pointed to a part in the conversation where Jennings appears to tell the man, “If you can’t pay with money you’ll have to pay with something else.”
“Again, no overt threat of violence, and if this were a legitimate debt, would you not agree that that’s a reasonable demand?” Baker asked.
“I don’t agree that it’s reasonable, but there is no specific act of violence mentioned,” Babcock said, acknowledging the violence was inferred.
Baker also took issue with what she said were gaps in time between the video clips provided by the complainant to police from his doorbell camera, suggesting investigators had taken his word that there had been nothing edited out.
Under questioning by Hall, the complainant said he had sent police every video his camera had captured from the time Jennings had approached his house to the time he left. The camera records upon detecting motion, he said.
“You didn’t leave anything out in between?,” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” the man replied.
Jennings’ trial continues today. It’s his second extortion trial this year: Jennings was cleared in mid-April of allegations he had used a gun to beat a man and had held him hostage before instructing him to leave and come back in a half an hour with $10,000. The judge in that case determined the complainant had been lying, either when he testified in court that he couldn’t remember what happened, or when he gave information about the alleged incident to police.