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The murder trial of Brandon Phillips: what you need to know

The people and the evidence that played a part in the murder trial of Brandon Phillips.
The people and the evidence that played a part in the murder trial of Brandon Phillips.

As defence lawyers take their turn making a case before the jury, here's what's happened so far ...

After close to three weeks of testimony in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's, the Crown has rested its case against accused murderer Brandon Phillips and it's the defence's turn to present evidence. Here's a round-up of what's happened so far.

 

THE FACTS:

Brandon Phillips has pleaded not guilty to charges of first degree murder, armed robbery, wearing a disguise with the intent to commit a crime, and possessing a weapon dangerous to the public. He's accused of entering the bar of the Captain's Quarters Hotel in St. John's just before midnight Oct. 3, 2015, wearing a mask and armed with a loaded shotgun. After demanding money from the bartender, Phillips is alleged to have shot hotel patron Larry Wellman, who had tried to stop the robbery.

 

THE PEOPLE:

Brandon Phillips: Age 29. Phillips was arrested Oct. 10, 2015, at a Quidi Vidi Road apartment alleged to be his, and has been in custody since that time.

 

Tara Bradbury/The Telegram Brandon Phillips (left) is shown with his lawyer, Mark Gruchy, during a break in his trial at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's last week.
Tara Bradbury/The Telegram Brandon Phillips (left) is shown with his lawyer, Mark Gruchy, during a break in his trial at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's last week.

 

Lawrence (Larry) Wellman: Age 63. A native of Corner Brook, Wellman was a former firefighter and an engineer.
At the time of his death, Wellman and his wife were residents of Goose Bay.

 

Jeff Brace and Mark Gruchy: Defence lawyers. Brace and Gruchy have alleged Wellman's death was an accident, caused after he used a small table to strike the shotgun in an apparent attempt to disarm the robber.

Shauna MacDonald and Mark Heerema: Crown prosecutors, who allege Phillips was the gunman and is guilty of the charges before the court. MacDonald and Heerema have been brought in from Nova Scotia to prosecute Phillips, in an effort to avoid any potential conflict of interest in the case since Phillips' girlfriend at the time of his arrest was Jade Ball, daughter of Premier Dwight Ball.

Judge Valerie Marshall: Appointed to the Supreme Court in April 2009. She is presiding over the trial.

The jury: Six women and six men, chosen after a three-day jury selection involving a challenge for cause procedure. Generally used in cases that have seen significant media coverage leading up to trial, the procedure saw potential jurors asked a series of questions before being considered.

THE EVIDENCE:

MacDonald and Heerema have submitted a significant number of exhibits as evidence at trial, including surveillance video and audio from the hotel, showing the shooting; a toque with eye holes found on the street behind the hotel; a shot gun and sneakers seized from the Quidi Vidi Road apartment; pieces of wood found at the hotel; crime scene and autopsy photos; shotgun pellets removed from Wellman's wounds by medical staff; aerial photos of the Kings Bridge Road area near the hotel.

THE WITNESSES:

Sixteen witnesses have testified at the trial so far. Among them:

Linda McBay: Wellman's wife, who was with him at the time of the shooting. The couple were visiting from Goose Bay and had gone to the hotel bar for a quiet drink and to play the VLTs, she said.

RNC Const. Barry Reynolds: One of the first police officers on the scene, who held Wellman and attempted to comfort him until paramedics arrived.

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

Janet Hutchings: The bartender at the hotel the night Wellman was killed, and the person first approached by the gunman. Hutchings said the gunman had cocked his rifle and pointed at her, demanding money, before Wellman took his attention away. "Why are you pointing a gun at a lady?," she said Wellman asked the robber.

LINK: Crown rests its case against accused murderer Brandon Phillips

Shawn Deeley: A former military man now working in security, who was also a patron in the hotel bar when the robber entered. Deeley testified Wellman had swung a small table at the gunman and struck the gun multiple times.

LINK: Witness recalls staring down gun barrel

Dr. Simon Avis: The province's chief medical examiner, who testified Wellman died of blood loss from a gunshot wound to his right thigh that had struck his femoral artery. Wellman also had abrasions to his head, Avis said.

LINK: Wellman died of single gunshot wound: medical examiner

RNC Const. Pamela Pike and Const. Cynthia Crocker: Forensic identification officers who processed the crime scene and evidence. Crocker was also one of the officers who executed the search warrant at the Quidi Vidi Road apartment.

LINK: Mask, shotgun shown to jury at murder trial

Nigel Hearns: Gunshot expert with the RCMP national crime lab in Ottawa. Examined toque found by police and found it to contain a single particle of gunshot residue.

LINK: One particle of gunshot residue found on mask allegedly worn by Phillips

Florence Celestin: Forensic DNA expert with the same lab, part of the team that examined items seized by police at the hotel and the apartment. Phillips' DNA was found on the inside of the toque, she said, as well as on a shotgun shell, as well as on the tongue and laces of one of the sneakers. Wellman's DNA was found on the tread of one of the sneakers and a piece of wood taken from the crime scene. Trace amounts of DNA from unknown sources were found on the tongue of one sneaker, the shotgun shell and the wood piece, but not a measurable amount.

LINK: DNA on seized items matches Phillips, Wellman

Laura Knowles: Firearms expert with the same lab. Knowles testified the gun seized from the apartment had been sawed off on both ends. Upon testing, the gun consistently fired when struck with a mallet on the top, without a trigger pull, Knowles said, deeming it to be due to a manufacturing issue. Testing on model shotguns had the same result, she said. Knowles said pieces of wood found at the hotel and the apartment were a match for that model of gun.

LINK: Gun could have fired without trigger pull, expert says

RNC Const. Gregory Greeley: Greeley was tasked with surveillance in relation to people of interest in the murder case. Among them: Brandon Phillips, Jade Ball, two other men. Greeley said he had been sent to watch Dwight Ball's Tiffany Lane condo as well as two of his vehicles. Jade Ball was once a person of interest in the case, Greeley testified.

LinK: NL Premier Dwight Ball's daughter, condo, two cars were under surveillance during murder investigation

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:

Brace and Gruchy have yet to tell the court how they plan to proceed with their case, and haven't yet said how many, if any, witnesses they will call. The two lawyers have said they expect to be finished by the end of the week in any case, at which time the jury will begin deliberations.

 

tara.bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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