Negotiators, a robot, gas, water and a battering ram: RCMP officers tried many ways to try to safely lure Leo Crockwell out of his mother’s Bay Bulls home during an eight-day standoff in December 2010, the Crown prosecutor told jury members Thursday.
“They wanted a peaceful resolution,” Elizabeth Ivany said during the opening day of Crockwell’s trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s.
“No one wanted a tragedy to be the end result in the matter.”
In her opening remarks, Ivany gave a general overview of the evidence that will be heard over the six weeks of the highly anticipated trial, which finally got underway after several delays.
Leadup to standoff at heart of trial
Crockwell has pleaded not guilty to eight charges — assault, assault with a weapon, uttering threats, mischief by inferring with the lawful use of property, discharging a firearm, possessing a firearm without a licence, careless use of a firearm and reckless use of a firearm.
Charges of attempted murder were dropped five months after he was arrested.
The 56-year-old has been behind bars since Dec. 11, 2010, not long after slipped past a slew of police officers by escaping through a side window in the house.
But it’s what happened in the days before that which will be at the heart of the trial.
It all started, Ivany explained, on Dec. 4, 2010, when the RCMP received a complaint that Crockwell had assaulted his sister and forced her and their mother out of the house, where Crockwell had also been staying.
Earlier that day, Crockwell’s sister — who had noticed Crockwell’s unusual behaviour days before — had tried to get in the kitchen, but Crockwell had the doorway blocked with a table. She pushed the table away and saw that he had a wet towel over his head and a gun in his hand, claiming there was a man upstairs.
When the woman replied with, “You mean the invisible man?” Crockwell ran after her, pushed her down and pressed the barrel of the gun to her neck, Ivany said.
The woman managed to get free and run to a neighbour’s house, where their mother had already gone out of fear.
When RCMP officers showed up, Crockwell refused to communicate with them. With word that he had firearms in the house, various specialized teams were set up.
Negotiators tried to convince Crockwell to surrender several time, but he refused.
Ivany said Crockwell fired several gun shots — up to six — from the house.
At one point, officer saw, via audio and video links set up in the house, Crockwell lying face down in the pantry. He was coughing and wheezing and had his firearm by his side.
Out of concern for his health, officers tried to enter the house, but was met with gunfire. Officers immediately pulled back.
A police robot was deployed to deliver a cell phone, letters and cigarettes to Crockwell and gas was sprayed into the house. On Dec. 10, officers sprayed water into the house to try and flush him out.
“It’s clear, Mr. Crockwell had no intention of leaving the home or listening to police,” Ivany said.
But despite all efforts, Crockwell still managed to get away undetected.
On Dec. 11, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary received a call from a woman, who said she and her boyfriend had just picked up Crockwell — more than 20 kilometres from the Bay Bulls house. They stopped for cigarettes at a corner store and dropped him off at a house on Petty Harbour Road.
RNC officers showed up and made the arrest.
Testimony in the trial will begin today. The Crown’s first witnesses, police officers, are expected to present several exhibits, including photographs.
There were no human casualties in the lengthy standoff with Crockwell, but there was certainly financial loss. The botched siege resulted in the Mounties spending more than $444,000.
The Bay Bulls home was also a complete loss after police flooded it with water in an attempt to flush Crockwell out.
The court case has also be an exhausting one. It’s been marred by several delays. Trial dates had been set three times before.
The current jury is the second selected over the last several months. The first one was dismissed in February after Crockwell switched lawyers for a third time.
Rosellen Sullivan first represented him and then Bob Buckingham before he settled on Ken Mahoney.
Prior to proceedings Thursday, five jury members requested exemptions. Justice Richard LeBlanc excused two men, replacing with two alternates. The jury is now comprised of four men and eight women.