Forensic experts found a single particle of gunshot residue on a mask allegedly worn by Brandon Phillips the night Larry Wellman was killed.
Gunshot residue expert Nigel Hearns, who works at the RCMP national crime lab in Ottawa, testified at Phillips’ murder trial in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Friday. He was the one who tested the navy blue toque — with eye holes cut into one side — for residue after RNC forensic officers sent it to the lab in October 2015.
Hearns provided the court with a copy of his report, showing a magnified image of the particle. Removed from the toque with an adhesive, the particle was partially obscured, but matched the chemical analysis and accepted shape of gunshot residue, he said.
“If an object is exposed to gunshot residue, it will remain there until it’s removed,” Hearns explained to Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema and the members of the jury. “If you don’t wash it, it stays.”
Mask, shotgun shown to jury at Brandon Phillips murder trial
On Thursday, RNC Const. Lisa Anderson testified she had discovered the toque on the sidewalk on Forest Road the morning after Wellman, 63, was fatally shot at the Captain’s Quarters hotel Oct. 3, 2015. Wellman and his wife were patrons of the hotel bar when a masked man armed with a sawed-off shotgun, allegedly Phillips, entered and demanded money from the bartender. Wellman attempted to intervene in the robbery and was killed.
RNC forensic identification officer Pamela Pike also testified Thursday, saying she and a colleague were processing the crime scene inside the hotel about nine hours after the shooting when they were called out to seize the toque.
Defence lawyer Jeff Brace cross-examined Pike on her handling of the toque, questioning her on the possibility that gunshot residue from the crime scene could have landed on her uniform and transferred to the toque, even though she had donned new gloves.
Hearns said Friday gunshot residue would likely not have transferred from the officers’ hands if best practices, such as the use of new gloves, had been followed.
Defence lawyer Mark Gruchy questioned Hearns on the particle.
“What we’re talking about is a single particle that is partially obscured,” Gruchy said.
“It was still visible enough to make an assessment,” Hearns replied, saying it was typical for gunshot residue particles removed from a found object to be obscured by fibres, dirt or other debris. “My thoughts at the time, I didn’t have any doubt.”
“You had to look at it for a while to make up your mind,” Gruchy said.
“As I always do,” Hearns answered.
In his remarks to the jury at the start of the trial, Heerema said forensic experts also discovered Phillips’ DNA on the toque. The court has yet to hear from a DNA expert in that regard.
On Monday, a firearms expert is expected to take the stand.