A Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge has acquitted two people of criminal charges, determining that even though police had found drugs in the vehicle they were driving, they may not have realized the drugs were there.
Justice Donald Burrage acquitted Douglas Walker and Danielle Wight of possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, and possessing cannabis, cannabis resin and crystal meth last week, after a trial in Corner Brook.
The court heard an RCMP officer had stopped a blue Jaguar on the Trans-Canada Highway near Deer Lake on Feb. 8, 2017, finding Walker behind the wheel and Wight in the front passenger seat. The officer searched the vehicle and found a duffel bag belonging to Walker in the trunk. Inside were clothes, a physiotherapy appointment reminder and 508 grams of cocaine in a plastic bag wrapped in a towel.
The officer testified the towel had been neatly folded and placed on top of the other items, while the rest of the clothing in the bag was not. He told the court it had seemed out of place.
Also in the bag were 95 grams of cannabis and four grams of cannabis resin. No fingerprints nor DNA were taken from the items in the bag.
In Wight’s purse police found four needles, a cellphone and a set of digital scales, which Wight told them weren’t hers and may have fallen into her purse from the glove box as Walker had rifled through it, looking for something.
While in custody, Walker had asked police officers for pain medication from his personal belongings. An officer retrieved the pill bottle — which he testified he had not seen earlier and didn’t know how it had come to be among Walker’s items — and opened it to find 5-1/2 pills labelled “ICE” which were later determined to contain crystal meth.
While Wight did not testify, Walker did, and told the court he believed he and Wight had been set up. He had previously been involved with outlaw motorcycle clubs, he said, and believed there were people who wanted to see him in trouble with the law. Walker also told the court a beating he had received and a motorcycle accident he had endured, had left him with a bad back and an inability to lift heavy objects.
Walker said he had come to the island from Nova Scotia a month before his arrest, looking to purchase a Camaro from a person he knew near St. John’s. Leaving the ferry in Port aux Basques, he had picked up Wight and her boyfriend, who were hitchhiking. Since they had no money and nowhere to go, he said he offered to let them stay in his hotel room. The next day Walker went with the couple to the home of the man’s cousin for a short visit. He never saw any evidence of illegal drugs in the house, he testified, and said the cousin gave him some pills he assumed were wake-up pills containing caffeine. He put them in his prescription pill bottle, and they were the pills eventually found to contain crystal meth.
Walker said he parted ways with Wight and her boyfriend that day, and two days later he caught the ferry back to Nova Scotia. He never bought the car, he testified, saying his money had been stolen, but returned in February with the goal of getting his money back, buying the vehicle, meeting Wight’s boyfriend’s sick mother, and taking the man up on his offer to go snowmobiling. Walker testified he hadn’t wanted to use the washroom when the ferry docked, so he called Wight and her boyfriend and met them in Deer Lake, then went to the man’s cousin’s house so he could “freshen up.” He said he took his toothbrush from his duffel bag and went to the washroom, and he believed this is when someone put the drugs in his bag to frame him. Walker said the cousin had offered to sell him cocaine but he had declined.
Walker testified his duffel bag was already back in the trunk of his car when he emerged from the washroom. He and Wight got aboard the car and did some errands before heading to the motel where he was staying, with the intention to meet the others there. That’s when they were stopped by police on the TCH.
Wight’s boyfriend told the court he had noticed Walker seeming to have shoulder trouble, so he carried Walker’s luggage during both visits. He said he had brought Walker’s duffel bag into his cousin’s home on the second occasion, and had seen his cousin, who was doing cocaine, put something in the bag wrapped in a cloth. When Walker called out and asked for someone to put his bag in the car, the man said his cousin did it.
Burrage didn’t believe Walker’s explanation of having come to the province that January to buy a Camaro and returning two weeks later to complete the car purchase, meet Wight’s mother-in-law and go snowmobiling. Burrage also didn’t accept that Walker had driven from Port aux Basques to the Deer Lake area just to “freshen up.”
“This does not mean, of course, that his purpose was to traffic in cocaine, but his espoused motivation for coming to the island casts a shadow over his credibility generally,” Burrage wrote.
The judge didn’t dismiss Walker’s entire testimony, however, accepting that his back injury had prevented him from carrying his own duffel bag, as supported by the physiotherapy appointment reminder and Wight’s boyfriend’s testimony. He also accepted that Walker had been offered cocaine and had declined it.
Burrage accepted the testimony of Wight’s boyfriend when it came to him having witnessed his cousin doing cocaine and putting something in Walker’s duffel bag before putting the bag in the car. Burrage noted the man’s unease at testifying and his worry about “ratting out” his cousin.
“I am left with a reasonable doubt as to whether Walker knew there were drugs in his duffel bag at the time of his arrest,” the judge wrote, saying it was possible Walker was used as an unwitting mule to bring the drugs elsewhere. Burrage stressed he was not determining it was the cousin who had put the drugs in the bag, since the cousin was not on trial.
When it came to the crystal meth, Burrage noted the fact that Walker had asked the RCMP officer to retrieve the pill bottle for him while in custody supported his testimony that he thought the pills were simply caffeine.
Burrage acquitted Walker as well as Wight, and said other than her presence in the car, there was no evidence linking her to the drugs.