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One bullet wound, two weapons, one tiny particle of gunshot residue on alleged attempted murderer's hand

Michael Hannaford takes his seat behind his lawyer, Tim O’Brien, in provincial court in St. John’s Monday. Hannaford has pleaded not guilty to a number of charges, including the attempted murder of a woman he is alleged to have shot in May of last year.
Michael Hannaford takes his seat behind his lawyer, Tim O’Brien, in provincial court in St. John’s Monday. Hannaford has pleaded not guilty to a number of charges, including the attempted murder of a woman he is alleged to have shot in May of last year. - Tara Bradbury

Court hears details from forensic experts in the trial of Michael Hannaford

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Think of gunshot residue like flour, and you can easily imagine what happens to it once it's released as a gun is discharged.

Essentially soot, the residue will disperse once a gun is fired, covering the weapon as well as the hand of the person shooting it. Like flour, gunshot residue (GSR) isn't sticky, and is easily transferred with contact, or washed away with soap and water.

As you might expect with flour, GSR particles are easily lost. After about three hours, most of the residue is gone. After six hours, it's not unusual for only a handful of particles or less to remain. Twelve hours in, forensic analysts may not recover any residue at all.

This was what forensics specialist Nigel Hearns of the RCMP's national crime lab testified in court Monday at the attempted murder trial of Michael Hannaford.

Hannaford, charged with shooting a woman in the side with a .22 calibre firearm in May 2018, had a single particle of gunshot residue on the back of his right hand when he was arrested.

Exactly where the particle came from isn't clear. Legal guns found in a safe in Hannaford's home were determined to have no connection with the shooting, though police did find one .22 calibre bullet.

A .22-calibre gun was recovered from a field near Hannaford's Empire Avenue home days after the shooting, but it contained no usable fingerprints and the only usable DNA — determined to be that of a male — did not match Hannaford's profile. Two other DNA profiles on the gun were too weak to be determined.

On Monday the court heard about a second gun, also .22 calibre and also located in the grass in the days after the reported shooting, this time on a residential property near the end of Redmond's Road, a dirt road off Empire Avenue.

"My wife and I were cleaning our yard and she saw what looked like a camouflage long gun case," explained the male homeowner from the witness stand.

The case was in the bushes near a ditch at the front of their property, and after partly unzipping it to see if there was anything inside, the couple called the police.

An RNC officer came to the home and opened the case, finding a gun, an empty magazine, and a lock and key inside. She took it to police headquarters and secured the gun and the other items separately in property lockers.

Hannaford, 27, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to murder Samantha Burke by shooting her, assault causing bodily harm, uttering threats, pointing a firearm, damaging property, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and unauthorized possession of a firearm.

The court has heard from RNC officers who said they responded to a report of an altercation at Hannaford's home on May 18 of last year, and arrived to find Hannaford outside the residence with Burke and another woman. 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 yelled at Hannaford, “When am I getting my $70 or I’ll tell them what you did to me!” Burke then told McClafferty that Hannaford had shot her earlier that morning, and lifted her shirt to reveal a bloody bandage on her side, the court heard.

Michael Hannaford is escorted from the courtroom by sheriffs during a break in his trial Monday earlier this year. - SaltWire File Photo
Michael Hannaford is escorted from the courtroom by sheriffs during a break in his trial Monday earlier this year. - SaltWire File Photo

McClafferty testified Burke had told him that she and Hannaford had planned to meet at a store near her house around 5:30 that morning so he could repay her $70 he had borrowed from her. She reportedly came out of her Crosbie Road residence and saw Hannaford sitting alone in a car in the nearby PowerPlex parking lot with what she described as a rifle, then heard several loud pops.

“She said Mr. Hannaford had been sitting in his car and she was approximately five feet away. He said, ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ and she said, ‘Go ahead,’ and then she got shot," another RNC officer testified earlier in the trial. A search of the PowerPlex parking lot turned up nothing.

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 testified Monday morning that he had reviewed Burke's medical file related to the injuries, as well as the photos, and believed she had been shot by a small-calibre, low-velocity firearm. The bullet pierced Burke's tissue and exited her body without entering her abdominal cavity, Avis said.

"This particular wound itself was not life-threatening," he explained, but acknowledged Burke's injuries could have been more severe had the bullet entered her body a centimetre to the right.

Hannaford's trial will continue Tuesday with forensic evidence gleaned from a number of cellphones taken from his residence and vehicle, and is expected to wrap up on Wednesday with testimony from Burke.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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