Family delivers emotional testimony

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Rosie Gillingham
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Leo Crockwell’s mother, sister break down in tears during trial

Catherine Crockwell testified Wednesday at the trial of her brother, Leo Crockwell, at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s. The woman told the court her brother assaulted her and held a gun to her neck. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at her son across the room and spoke to him directly.

“I have to be honest, Leo. I love you,” 88-year-old Margaret Crockwell said while testifying at the trial of her son, Leo Crockwell, at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s Wednesday.

“I love my son, but that day, something really happened to your mind. It happens to the best of people.”

Her voice quivered as she spoke. She stopped briefly to wipe tears from her face.

The small-statured woman — who sat on the other side of the courtroom instead of on the witness stand — was under direct examination. Yet, in answering questions, she often spoke directly to Leo, who was seated a few feet away from her at the lawyer’s table.

But it was that moment, when she professed her love to her son, that seemed to pull at the heartstrings of many in the courtroom, including the jury.

As Margaret spoke, a jury member was seen wiping tears from her eyes.

Leo gave his mother a brief, warm smile and lowered his head.

It highlighted what was an emotionally charged day of testimony.

Earlier in the day, Leo Crockwell’s sister, Catherine Crockwell, took the stand, recalling the day she said he assaulted her, but also pointing to the good times they had.

But it was Margaret’s words that were most touching.

The woman began by recalling the events of Dec. 4, 2010 — what would turn out to be the start of an eight-day standoff between Leo Crockwell and the RCMP at the family’s Bay Bulls house.

Earlier that morning, Margaret said, she got out of bed, came downstairs and tried to get in the kitchen, but couldn’t open the door because there was furniture pushed up against it from the inside.

She knocked and called out to Leo, but there was no response.

When she finally managed to squeeze through the door opening, she said she saw Leo sitting in a chair with a gun across his lap and a small wet, brown towel over his head.

When she asked him about the gun, he didn’t answer. When she asked about the towel, he told her it was to keep him awake.

She said Leo then asked her where is the man upstairs and asked her how she got out.

She knew something was wrong.

But she said she had a sense of that days before because Leo had been acting strange.

The woman said she had slept in her clothes the night before because she was “nervous going to bed,” referring to Leo’s behaviour.

Margaret said when Catherine then came downstairs, he asked his sister where the man was upstairs. She replied, “You mean, the invisible man?”

That triggered Catherine to run out of the house, with Leo chasing her.

She didn’t see what went on between them, but said she knew she had to get help. She left the house and called on two neighbours, who were outside working at their garage.

It would be the last time she would stay at the house her late husband had built and where she lived for 45 years.

A few times during her testimony, the soft-spoke woman would say something that made Leo laugh.

She ended her testimony by saying, “So, that’s the truth, Leo. I always tell the truth.”

Leo, who is representing himself, chose not to cross-examine his mother.

Lawyer Randy Piercey, who is acting as amicus curiae, or mediator in the trial, also passed on questioning her.

As the woman was slowly walking out of the courtroom, she stopped where Leo was sitting and kissed him on the cheek.

Catherine’s testimony was a little more straight-forward.

She said when Leo asked her about the man upstairs, “I thought I’d get a grin out of him, but he was very serious …,” she said. “I thought it was like a joke because I knew no one was up there.”

She said he ran after her and when she opened the back door to step onto the patio, he pushed her down.

When Crown prosecutor Elizabeth Ivany asked Catherine why she ran, she replied, “I realized at the time he was actually believing what he was saying. He was not dealing with reality. So, I wasn’t taking chances. I said I’m not staying here for more questions.”

When she fell on the patio, she said, she felt a gun being held to the back of her neck. She turned and pushed it away.

She said Leo then kicked her in the neck and face.

“I felt the tears coming down my face,” she said.

When she got up and went over with her mother to their two neighbours, she realized her mouth was bleeding.

She and her mother got in the neighbour’s pickup truck and drove to a nearby gravel pit, where one of the neighbours called police.

“Nobody wanted to phone the Mounties, but we didn’t know what else to do,” Catherine testified.

“Actually, that was the last thing we wanted to do.”

Catherine also said Leo had been exhibiting unusual behaviour in the days leading up to Dec. 4.

She said he would let things go unrepaired in the house, “which was strange for Leo.” He barged in the bathroom when she was using it, shunned Catherine’s friend because he was of German decent, was stocking up on cigarettes, told lies and would easily get upset.

One morning, Catherine said, she heard a loud bang only to come down and see a bullet hole in the kitchen wall. When she asked Leo about it, she said, he said to her, “I’m going to waste you away. I should’ve left you where you were.”

She said RCMP officers seemed more concerned about that comment than she did.

“Sometimes he’ll say stuff to you, but doesn’t mean anything. He was harmless in that way,” she said.

She then broke down in tears.

“He was good to me. When all this happened I felt really bad … We’ve been through a lot, but we stick together,” she said.

“That’s why I felt bad when they had to call police. (Jail) is not the place for him. He only wants to be left alone.

“I said to one of the officers, ‘I know my brother really well and he’s one step ahead of you.’ …

“I said if they think he’s a fool, they’re the fools.”

Leo Crockwell faces charges of uttering threats and assault with a weapon, as well as several firearms charges that allege he fired at police officers.

Leo’s brother, Bill Crockwell, is expected to take the stand today.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Newfoundland Supreme Court, RCMP

Geographic location: Bay Bulls

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