A provincial court judge criticized an RCMP corporal’s investigation in a drug case Tuesday afternoon, saying the officer had tunnel vision when it came to the accused and had neglected to pursue other evidence.
“I suspect that it’s more than a gap in evidence,” Judge James Walsh told Crown prosecutor Neil Smith during the trial of Stephen Parsley in St. John’s. “It’s more like a canyon.”
Parsley, 30, was acquitted on five drug charges last year — one count of possessing illegal drugs and four counts of possessing them for the purpose of trafficking. His lawyer had successfully challenged the validity of the warrant obtained by police to search Parsley’s family’s property where the drugs were found, saying the grounds to obtain the warrant weren’t sufficient. As a result, the evidence from the search — just over 48 pounds of marijuana, 10.5 pounds of cocaine and 13 grams of ecstasy — was excluded from the trial, gutting the Crown’s case.
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In June, Parsley’s acquittal was overturned on appeal, and a new trial was ordered. Over 10 days spread out over the past three months, the court heard evidence from police officers and Parsley’s father and brother.
In May 2014, police obtained a warrant to search a home and sheds on Empire Avenue, where it was believed Parsley was living, though his brother testified it was actually he who was living there with two roommates, and Parsley had moved out seven months earlier.
With help of a sniffer dog, officers located the drugs in plastic bags and duffel bags in three locations in the shed, with the cocaine and ecstasy in a bag on the seat of a side-by-side utility terrain vehicle. Parsley’s fingerprints were recovered from two vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana.
The UTV was found to be registered to another person, though RCMP Cpl. Lee Lush, lead investigator in the case but no longer stationed in this province, testified police didn’t pursue that person as a suspect, but he didn’t have an answer when asked why.
“Where’s my evidence that connects (the cocaine and ecstasy) in any way, shape or form to Mr. Parsley?” Walsh asked Smith.
Smith said the proximity to the bags with Parsley’s fingerprints on them, and all the evidence as a whole, suggested the drugs belonged to Parsley.
Walsh asked if Lush’s failure to investigate the owner of the UTV was due to wilful blindness. He also pointed out Lush didn’t ask Parsley’s grandmother, who was living next door, if she had keys to the shed, but instead asked her if she could get in contact with Parsley.
“You know I sat as counsel on the Lamer Inquiry,” Walsh said. “That’s tunnel vision. We’re not asking anyone for keys because we want him at the scene. We want him to let us in.
“My reading of Cpl. Lush is that he did not conduct a very open and thorough investigation. Even if I discount the charter application (to exclude the evidence), you’re still stuck with Cpl. Lush’s testimony.”
Smith acknowledged the lack of evidence when it comes to the cocaine and ecstasy, but pointed out the evidence related to the marijuana was much stronger.
Parsley’s case will be called again in court Jan. 3, when the defence will present their closing submissions.