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Accused murderer was arrested with victim's blood on his clothes, DNA expert reveals in St. John's court

Craig Pope looks at a loved one in the gallery as he is escorted from the courtroom during a break in his second-degree murder trial Tuesday.
Craig Pope looks at a loved one in the gallery as he is escorted from the courtroom during a break in his second-degree murder trial Tuesday. - Tara Bradbury

Medical examiner says Jonathan Collins died when his abdominal aorta was pierced

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It wasn't Jonathan Collins' blood that had dripped on the exterior and stained the interior of the yellow taxi in which he was riding the day he was fatally stabbed.

The blood — located on the passenger side rearview mirror as well as on the inside of the passenger door and on the dashboard — belonged to Craig Pope, the man accused of murdering Collins and then fleeing the scene in the same cab.

The jeans Pope was wearing when he was arrested did contain Collins' blood — a small stain of it on the front, along with stains of Pope's own blood and a stain with the mixed DNA of two people.

DNA expert Louise Cloutier from the RCMP’s national crime lab in Ottawa prepares to testify via videolink in the St. John’s murder trial of Craig Pope.
DNA expert Louise Cloutier from the RCMP’s national crime lab in Ottawa prepares to testify via videolink in the St. John’s murder trial of Craig Pope.

Louise Cloutier, a biology forensics specialist and expert in DNA with the RCMP's national crime lab in Ottawa, presented the results of testing on swabs from the vehicle and clothing during Pope's second-degree murder trial in St. John's Tuesday afternoon. Cloutier testified via videolink from Ottawa.

Cloutier also presented the results of DNA testing on two knives seized by police as part of the murder investigation — one from a backpack found on the ground where Collins had collapsed, and the other turned in to them months later by a woman who believed it may have had a connection to the case. No blood was found on either knife. Collins' DNA, mixed with a small amount of DNA from an unknown person, was found on the handle and blade of the knife from the backpack. Mixed DNA from at least three unknown people was found on the second knife.

Cloutier's evidence joins witness testimony, fingerprint evidence, and surveillance footage captured outside a local supermarket, which were shown in the courtroom Tuesday, to suggest Pope, 33, and Collins, 36, were together in the cab on the day Collins died in September 2017.

Witnesses have told the court they saw two men get out of a taxi on Alderberry Lane, off Mundy Pond Road in St. John's, and get into a physical altercation before the taller of the two - later determined to be Collins - fell to the ground. The second man left in the taxi, witnesses testified.

Pope was arrested within the hour after police, learning he had been dropped off near the west end of Elizabeth Avenue, followed him inside a plastic surgeon's office. He has been in custody ever since.

When he was arrested, Pope had an open wound on his lip.

Police and passersby, including a nurse, attended to Collins in the street while waiting for paramedics to arrive, doing CPR and putting pressure on a single stab wound in his abdomen. He was rushed to the Health Sciences Centre by ambulance.

Dr. Simon Avis, the former chief medical examiner for the province, also testified Tuesday, telling the court that staff got to work giving Collins "vigourous medical treatment" in an attempt to save his life. They opened his chest to manually massage his heart, Avis said, and put IVs in "every access point to try and get fluids and blood in him."

Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis leaves the courtroom after testifying Tuesday at the murder trial of Craig Pope. Now retired, Avis conducted an autopsy on Jonathan Collins, determining Collins died due to blood loss when his abdominal artery was pierced.
Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis leaves the courtroom after testifying Tuesday at the murder trial of Craig Pope. Now retired, Avis conducted an autopsy on Jonathan Collins, determining Collins died due to blood loss when his abdominal artery was pierced.

"Unfortunately, given the extent of the blood loss and the time (that had elapsed), it wasn't successful and he was eventually pronounced dead."

Collins' immediate family, who have attended every day of the trial so far, chose to be absent from the courtroom during Avis's testimony. Pope's family has also been attending the trial every day.

Avis, who conducted Collins' autopsy, said the father of two had died from a single small stab wound about an inch wide, reaching just over four inches inside his body and piercing his abdominal aorta. The weapon did not necessarily measure four inches long, Avis explained, saying factors like compression and thrust can come into play.

Collins also had wounds on his upper and lower lip, Avis said, as well as some insignificant abrasions on his knee and elbow.

Toxicology testing revealed Collins had Naloxone in his blood - administered to him after he was stabbed, when a police officer believed Collins might be experiencing an opiate overdose - as well as a level of methadone consistent with a treatment program. There were also traces of Ritalin and marijuana, Avis said, noting none of those substances had contributed to his death. Collins had no sign of any other injury or health condition that would have had a role, either.

On cross-examination, defence lawyer Randy Piercey asked Avis how long a person could remain active after receiving a wound like the one Collins had.

"For a brief period of time," Avis replied.

"Could he run?" Piercey said.

"Yes," Avis said. "When the heart stops, the brain and body has oxygen for about 15 seconds, so whatever you could do in 15 seconds."

Piercey — and forensic investigators who previously testified — noted Collins hadn't appeared to lose a lot of blood at the scene where he collapsed.

Avis said this was due to the depth of the wound, and that the bleeding had mainly been internal.

Avis also told the court he had examined the two knives seized by investigators. He determined the knife that had been turned in to police had not caused Collins' injury. Based on its measurements, Avis said, he could not rule out the possibility that the folding knife from the backpack had been involved.

Pope's trial continues Wednesday.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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