Right charge, wrong file

Man acquitted of breaching court orders after judge notices error

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on February 19, 2014
Jonathan Rowe.
— Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

The Crown called it a straightforward case.

It turned out to be anything but.

Jonathan Eugene Rowe of

St. John’s was on trial Tuesday in provincial court for breaching court orders.

But just as lawyers finished presenting final arguments, the judge discovered a big problem — Rowe was

facing the wrong charges.

“I don’t have the right informations be­fore me,” Judge Jim Walsh declar­ed as he held up court documents. “This is not the right recognizance.”

The charges put before the court for the trial was a recognizance on Rowe, but was a different one issued at a different time.

“The evidence before me has not been breached. … The recognizance entered into evidence was not subject before the court.” Walsh said.

“I have no choice but to acquit him on both counts.”

At that moment, Rowe’s girlfriend jumped out of her seat with excitement and embraced Rowe, who was sitting in the prisoner’s seat in front of her.

Walsh’s discovery of the incorrect charges came as a surprise to everyone in the courtroom, including Crown prosecutor David Bright and defence lawyer Marcus Evans.

It happened after 2 1/2 hours of testimony in the trial, which saw three RNC officers take the stand for the Crown. Rowe and his girlfriend, Sara O’Keefe, took the stand for the defence.

Rowe was placed on strict court orders after he was granted bail from his 2012 arrest for allegedly being an accessory to murder.

Since then, police have kept a close eye on him.

But officers claimed Rowe wasn’t home on Nov. 2, 2013, when they came to his house to check on him and ensure he was abiding by his curfew. The officers arrived at 11:45 p.m., 45 minutes past his curfew.

Const. Colin Deacy testified Tuesday that he knocked several times on Rowe’s door that night and even banged. He said he noticed the TV in the living room was on, but there was no sign of Rowe and no sound from his three large dogs, which barked loudly on previous checks.

Rowe and O’Keefe said they were in bed asleep. But Rowe said they would have heard the knocks and their dogs’ reaction if officers had been there.

“No one banged on my door,” Rowe said.

“So, in essence, you have no explanation (why you didn’t come to the door)?” Bright said to Rowe in cross-examination.

“No explanation at all,” he said, “because I was home, like I was every other time they checked on me.”

Rowe said he’s been diligent in adhering to his conditions and didn’t even go to his girlfriend’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party because alcohol was being served. Rowe is not permitted to be in any establishment that serves alcohol.

In final arguments, Evans said Rowe has been following the court’s instructions and knew “police had a microscope on him and that they were keeping a close eye on him.” He said it’s also possible Rowe didn’t hear the knocks.

Bright said, “The facts are surprisingly straightforward.” He said the officers also gave straightforward evidence.

“It’s clear Mr. Rowe was not present in the home,” he said.

But in the end, it didn’t matter, as the judge noticed the mistake in charges.

But Rowe has a more serious charge to face.

The 31-year-old is charged with being an accessory to murder by reportedly helping Philip Wayne Pynn afterwards.

Pynn, 27, and Lyndon Malcolm Butler, 23, are jointly charged in connection with the shooting death of Nick Winsor, who was killed at a house on Portugal Cove Road in the capital city on July 9, 2011.

Both face a slew of charges, including second-degree murder and attempted murder.

Their eight-week trial is tentatively set to begin at Newfoundland Supreme Court Sept. 9.

Rowe’s trial is scheduled for Nov. 12-28.

As Rowe left the courtroom, he told reporters that the media and police are trying to tarnish his name. Rowe had said on the stand that he has found a good job as a welder and is just trying to live his life.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt