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RNC officer breaks down on stand recounting final moments of shooting victim Larry Wellman

Brandon Phillips stands in Courtroom No. 4 at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Friday morning, as Linda McBay prepares to resume her testimony after a break.
Brandon Phillips stands in Courtroom No. 4 at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Friday morning, as Linda McBay prepares to resume her testimony after a break. - Tara Bradbury

‘He just took his last breath’

It was a Saturday night and RNC Const. Barry Reynolds was on street patrol in St. John’s, parked at the corner of George and Adelaide streets, watching people come and go. It was just before midnight and he was about to take his lunch break when a call came over the radio.

First, dispatch described an incident of unknown trouble at the Captain’s Quarters hotel. Minutes later came more detail: a man had been shot in the lobby.

Driving in the direction of the hotel on Kings Bridge Road, Reynolds radioed back to ask if the shooter was still on scene. Getting closer to the hotel and not yet having gotten a response, Reynolds got a little anxious. Then came the reply: “Yes.” There was something in the dispatcher’s voice that gave Reynolds the feeling this call was going to be significant.

Reynolds parked in the driveway of the hotel and drew his gun, moving cautiously behind bushes and making his way to the door. He looked up and saw someone in the window, moving frantically with their hands in the air, as if they were being held up. Then the door flew open and a woman ran out, screaming about a gun and a person on the floor inside.

Believing there was a shooter still in the building, Reynolds’ thoughts raced. Was he going to be killed? Would he have to make the decision to shoot someone? He thought of his wife and his daughters. He turned the corner and went inside.

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On the floor, face down in a puddle of blood, was a man. Reynolds went to him, bent down and felt for a pulse — there was one. He could hear the man breathing.

The woman who had run outside came back in, crying.

“Do something for him!” she screamed.
“Get her out!” Reynolds yelled back, and another officer led the woman back outside.

Paramedics were called. After checking the room, Reynolds went back to the man on the floor and found his breathing had become laboured. He and another officer turned the man onto his side.

Kneeling next to the victim, Reynolds cradled the man's head in his hands. The man looked at him, unable to speak. Reynolds raised the man’s shirt where he appeared to be bleeding and saw a hole. He knew at that point there was a slim chance the man was going to live.

Reynolds laid in the growing pool of blood. “The paramedics are on their way, you’re in good hands. Just concentrate on your breathing,” Reynolds told the wounded man, holding him in his arms.

Once paramedics arrived, they quickly got to work. The man looked at Reynolds over an oxygen mask and blinked once; it gave Reynolds hope that there might be a chance he’d make it. At one point the man reached toward his injury, and Reynolds blocked him, taking his hand and telling him to try to relax and let the paramedics do their job.

Suddenly, the man’s breathing stopped. Reynolds waited for him to take another breath, and looked to see his chest rise. It didn’t.

“Guys, he just took his last breath,” the police officer told the paramedics, who began CPR.

This was all part of Reynolds’ testimony at the murder trial of Brandon Phillips in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Friday afternoon. Speaking quietly — and having trouble speaking up, even when asked to a number of times — Reynolds gave his version of the events of Oct. 3, 2015 in detail, breaking down in sobs a number of times.

He spoke of continuing to search the hotel once the injured man, identified as 63-year-old Larry Wellman, was loaded into the ambulance and taken to hospital. He met a young couple on the stairs, he said, who were looking to get out of the building.

“One minute I was faced with going into an active shooter situation, to wondering if I was going home, to holding an injured man in my arms, watching him take his last breath, to talking to this couple on the stairs as if nothing had happened, as if I had just walked into the Captain’s Quarters,” Reynolds told the court, pausing and sobbing into a tissue.

He told of his difficulty writing up notes about the incident, about blasting the Tragically Hip in the car on the way home, and about going into his house and seeing his wife.

“She just looked at me. She knew something serious was wrong,” he said. “At that point the floodgates opened and I cried and cried and cried and cried in her arms. I cried myself to sleep.”

Phillips, 29, sat with his lawyers, Jeff Brace and Mark Gruchy, as Reynolds and others took the stand Friday. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, armed robbery, assault with a weapon, possessing a weapon dangerous to the public and wearing a disguise with the intention of committing a crime in connection with the shooting death of Wellman.

Among the other witnesses to testify Friday was Linda McBay, Wellman’s wife of 11 years. The pair was living in Goose Bay and visiting McBay’s mother in St John’s, looking to buy a home here, she told the court. That Saturday night they had decided to go to the Captain’s Quarters because it was quiet and not crowded, and they just wanted to get out of the house. They chatted, ate wings and fries, and played the VLTs, she said.

Wellman, who was on a turnaround from his job as a project manager at Churchill Falls, had gone to the bar to get them both a last drink before they left, and McBay noticed it seemed to be taking him a long time.

McBay said she looked up and saw a man in a black hoodie with his arms out, the hood down over his face. She would later tell police the man had blonde hair and fair skin. McBay told the court she had called out to Wellman and when he turned toward her, he had blood running down his face and dripping off his nose.

“I just knew he had to be hit in the head, because it was a lot of blood,” she said.

McBay said she ran up to her husband, who was struggling with the unknown man, and grabbed his coat, trying to pull him away and get him out of there.

“And then we were on the floor,” she testified. “There was blood everywhere.”

McBay said she never saw a gun and never heard a shot. She ran around frantically, screaming, she said, and gave her cellphone to the bartender to call for help. She remembered seeing the lights of the police cars and running to the door. The next thing she can recall, she told the court, she was standing outside with two police officers, who told her she couldn’t go back in.

McBay removed her glasses at various points and cried as she recalled her husband’s final moments. She went in a police car to St. Clare’s hospital behind the ambulance, she said, and didn’t have a chance to see him when she arrived at first. A nurse came out and McBay asked if she could see Wellman.

“She said, ‘You’d better be quick.’ I didn’t have a chance to see him. I went out and they were wheeling him down the corridor and there was someone on top of him doing CPR,” McBay testified. Later, a doctor came and told her Wellman was in the intensive care unit and she could soon see him.

“He’s a very, very, very sick man,” McBay said the doctor told her.

Two members of the jury, a man and a woman, wiped away tears as McBay spoke about waiting in the ICU for the chance to see her husband.

“A nurse came out. She said, ‘Here,’ and she gave me (Wellman’s) ring in a plastic bag,” McBay said, pausing and crying. “She said, ‘We’re going to give you this in case his hand starts swelling and we can’t get it off.’ I felt that was probably not true.”

McBay said she saw her husband minutes before he died, and told him she loved him.

Crown prosecutor Shauna MacDonald showed McBay the surveillance video that had been played for the court on Wednesday, and McBay identified herself, Wellman, the bartender and the gunman in it, as well as their voices.

When MacDonald presented her with a dark green ball cap in a clear, sealed bag and asked her if she knew what it was, McBay looked at it, but didn’t touch it.

“That’s Larry’s hat,” she said.

When it was the defence’s turn for cross-examination, Gruchy stood up and addressed McBay.

“I actually have no questions for you now,” he said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Two other RNC officers took the stand Friday: Const. Barry Osmond, who had been tasked with measuring the scene and preparing diagrams of the area for investigators, and Const. Shane Boland, who was one of the first responding officers at the Captain’s Quarters with Reynolds.

Boland said he remained with Wellman as he was taken to hospital, riding in the ambulance and scrubbing in for the operation room. Boland said Wellman had a large gunshot wound in his abdomen, and the surgeon had advised there was only a slim chance he’d survive.

“While I was in the OR I was asked a couple of times if I was OK. It was a scene I’ll never forget,” Boland said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Gruchy briefly cross-examined Boland, questioning him on his notes from that night.

“Did you actually see what happened?” Gruchy asked.

“No,” Boland replied.

Phillips’ trial, which is expected to last six weeks, will continue Tuesday morning with testimony from more witnesses.

 

Tara.bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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