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No weapon and no first-hand witness means defendant is not guilty, Craig Pope's lawyers argue

With his family members in the gallery behind him, accused murderer Craig Pope stands as Justice Vikas Khaladkar enters the courtroom Thursday morning. Having heard closing arguments from the Crown and defence as well as instructions from Khaladkar, the jury began its deliberations on a verdict in the murder trial at lunchtime.
With his family members in the gallery behind him, accused murderer Craig Pope stands as Justice Vikas Khaladkar enters the courtroom Thursday morning. Having heard closing arguments from the Crown and defence as well as instructions from Khaladkar, the jury began its deliberations on a verdict in the murder trial at lunchtime. - Tara Bradbury

‘The evidence points the finger at one man: Craig Pope,’ prosecutors tell jury

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

In their first few hours of deliberations, the jury pondering a verdict in the murder trial of Craig Pope returned to the courtroom once on Thursday, asking the judge for clarification of the definition of manslaughter.

Justice Vikas Khaladkar had given the jurors his charge - an instruction on how to apply the law in the case - Thursday morning, explaining they had three choices when it comes to a verdict: finding Pope guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Jonathan Collins, finding him guilty of manslaughter or finding him not guilty at all.

Khaladkar advised the jury to weigh all the evidence carefully, "without passion, sympathy or prejudice against the accused, the Crown or anyone else connected with the case."

The judge then sequestered the 12 jurors around lunchtime to begin their discussions in private. They will remain sequestered - at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court during the day and at a local hotel once they break for the evening - until they reach a unanimous decision in the case.

The jury will be accompanied by sheriff's officers at all times until then, and will have no access to their cellphones, TV or internet.

After receiving a clarification from Khaladkar, the jurors returned to their discussions Thursday, retiring for the evening shortly before 6 p.m.

Crown and defence lawyers gave their closing arguments to the jury in the morning, one side focusing on the many consistencies in the testimony of the witnesses at trial, the other side stressing the fact that none of the witnesses saw Pope stab Collins, and no weapon had ever been recovered.

Pope, 33, is accused of having murdered 36-year-old Collins by stabbing him once in the stomach during an altercation in the middle of Mundy Pond Road on Sept. 7, 2017. Collins, a father of two, died due to a stab wound that had pierced his abdominal aorta.

Jonathan Collins.
Jonathan Collins.

Prosecutor Shawn Patten was the first to address the jurors, telling them their question was not what happened, but who did it.

"The evidence in this case points the finger at one man: Craig Pope," Patten said.

The court heard over the course of Pope's two-and-a-half week trial that he and Collins had been riding around the city together in a taxi for much of the day in question, with cabbie Jeff Cromwell at the wheel. When they made a stop on Alderberry Lane in the afternoon, Pope's father drove up in a cube van, and handed one of the men $60. After that, a fight broke out.

Patten reviewed evidence from seven witnesses who had been in the Alderberry Lane/Mundy Pond Road area of St. John's the day Collins died, and had testified to having seen two men fighting, throwing punches at each other. They gave similar descriptions of the pair: one man, who was shirtless, was shorter, stocky and had tattoos. The other was tall, thin and wearing a red sleeveless sports jersey and carrying a backpack.

RNC photos revealed Collins, who was 6'4" tall, had been wearing a red sleeveless basketball jersey when he died, and a backpack had been located nearby. Photos taken of Pope at the time of his arrest, within an hour after Collins was injured, reveal him as stocky and having numerous tattoos.

Patten reminded the jury of evidence presented by forensic experts, who said fingerprints on the back windshield of the taxi belonged to Collins, while a palm print on the side of the cab was Pope's. Blood specks on Pope's jeans belonged to Collins, while blood drops on the outside and inside of the cab were Pope's.

"Any suggestion that Mr. Pope's blood randomly showed up on the exterior and interior of the cab at that crime scene, we suggest, is not reasonable," Patten said. "Ask yourself, why would he randomly be bleeding on the inside and outside of that cab?"

Patten pointed out witnesses said they saw Collins run toward Mundy Pond Road, with Pope following, fists up, looking to fight. A number of those who testified described Collins as defensive and trying to get away. None of the witnesses saw what had caused Collins to collapse, though they all testified to seeing no one else around the two men at the time.

Pope, returning to the taxi after Collins had collapsed and demanding to be taken to another location, told the driver to "Run buddy over," Patten said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, he did not ask Mr. Cromwell to call an ambulance, he did not say, 'Oh my goodness, what have I done.' You can conclude he wanted Mr. Cromwell to run him over so he could make sure Jonathan Collins was dead."

Testimony disputed

Defence lawyer Randy Piercey dismantled pieces of testimony of some of the witnesses, including that of Keith Doran, who had been working with Pope's father on the day in question.

Doran had testified their cube van had caught up to a taxi on Columbus Drive after both vehicles had left the scene where Collins collapsed. Through a conversation between open windows of the moving vehicles, Doran said, Pope's father asked, "What did you do to that poor young fella?" to which Pope, sitting in the front passenger seat of the cab, had replied, "I stabbed him."

Piercey noted that although Doran had been adamant he had heard the confession correctly, he had not mentioned that conversation to police when he gave his statement the day after Collins' death, and had testfied at a preliminary inquiry that he may have misheard what had been said.

When it came to witness Barry O'Keefe, a neighbourhood resident who testified he had seen Pope take something that may have been a knife from his sock, Piercey asked the jurors to look at police photos of the clothes Pope had been wearing when he was arrested.

"No knife came out of those ankle socks," Piercey said.

Piercey said the words "Run buddy over" could have been uttered out of anger or frustration, and not as a direction.

"It has nothing to do with whether or not (Pope) stabbed Mr. Collins," Piercey said.

Piercey urged the jurors to consider that no one had seen Pope stab Collins. Since no knife had been located, despite an extensive police search, there was nothing to prove Pope had stabbed Collins any more than there was proof Collins had fallen on a knife and injured himself, Piercey said.

"We know there was a second man there two, three, five minutes earlier," Piercey said, referring to Pope's father, who was not called by the Crown or the defence to testify at the trial. "That other man. Could it have been him? I'm not saying it was, but the Crown didn't call him to testify. That alone means you can't be sure."

The jurors will reconvene Friday at 10 a.m.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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