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St. John's judge ponders ID and intent in attempted murder case


Did Michael Hannaford shoot his longtime friend — and if so, why?

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The attempted murder case against Michael Hannaford comes down to two things.

There's no doubt Samantha Burke was shot sometime around May 18 of last year, as evident by medical records, police officer testimony and the two round holes on the front and back of her torso, near her waist.

Crown and defence lawyers aren't disputing the fact that Burke and Hannaford argued over text messages on the night in question, over a $70 debt seemingly related to drugs.

The issues with which provincial court Judge Colin Flynn is tasked are whether or not Hannaford was the one who shot Burke, and, if so, whether or not he had intended to kill her.

After a trial that began in the spring and continued periodically until defence lawyer Tim O'Brien presented the final piece of evidence Thursday afternoon, the case is now in the hands of the judge, who will return with a verdict on Dec. 13.

Michael Hannaford is led out of a provincial court in St. John's.
Michael Hannaford is led out of a provincial court in St. John's.

Hannaford, 27, and Burke are said to have been longtime friends at the time he was arrested at his Empire Avenue home on May 18, 2018. 

RNC officers responded to a report of an altercation at the residence and arrived to find a barefoot Hannaford with Burke and another woman outside the home. An SUV with a smashed window was in the driveway, and the second woman testified Hannaford had broken it with a machete. A machete was found just inside the front door of the home.

An officer testified he was escorting Hannaford to a police cruiser when Burke yelled out, “When am I getting my $70 or I’ll tell them what you did to me!” 

She then lifted her shirt to reveal a bloody bandage on her side, which covered what looked like the entrance and exit wounds from a bullet.

Text messages suggested Hannaford and Burke had argued over a drug debt earlier that morning, and there was some suggestion of a gun. In another text exchange on the phone from the same time, the phone owner wrote to another person, asking, "Got any rounds?"

A gun was recovered by police in the bushes on a residential property near Hannaford's home, but it did not contain his DNA and did not match the description of the gun Burke had given police. A single particle of gunshot residue was located on Hannaford's right hand after he was arrested.

Burke gave a 40-minute audio-recorded statement to police after they brought her to the hospital, and she was clear in her identification of Hannaford as her shooter, expressing shock that he had done it.

Testifying in court, Burke said she had been awake for three days and severely intoxicated by drugs and alcohol on the night in question and had no memory of the events or who had shot her, though she didn't believe it was Hannaford. 

She had gotten in a number of violent altercations with different people that night, she said, and was experiencing a drug-induced psychosis when she told police Hannaford had shot her.

Flynn opted to accept Burke's statement to police over her testimony in court as evidence at trial, saying he didn't believe what she said on the witness stand.

In his closing submissions Thursday, O'Brien argued that Burke's credibility is a serious issue.

"She was either lying in her statement or lying in court," he said. "Either way, I suggest it affects her credibility."

O'Brien reiterated that Burke's description of the gun didn't match the weapon found by police, and the lack of Hannaford's DNA. There was no evidence of gunshot residue presented to the court apart from the one particle on Hannaford's hand, he said.

"She was either lying in her statement or lying in court." — defence lawyer Tim O'Brien

To that end, O'Brien submitted documents from a local gun range bearing a signature believed to be Hannaford's, suggesting he or someone with the same name had paid for time at the practice range in the week before Burke was shot.

Police recovered no evidence of a shooting outside the PowerPlex on Crosbie Road, where Burke had told police Hannaford shot her while sitting in his vehicle, O'Brien pointed out. 

Surveillance footage from the sports complex contained no evidence.

When it came to the text messages, O'Brien said, "It's clear there was an argument, but I don't think it's clear that it escalated into a shooting. I don't think anything we have here is sufficient to say Mr. Hannaford was responsible."

O'Brien said the court also had no reliable evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hannaford had the specific intention to kill Burke, even if the court accepts he had a gun.

"It's just as believable that the purpose could be to intimidate," O'Brien said.

Prosecutor Paul Thistle said Burke's clear and detailed statement to police, the text conversation, the gunshot residue and Hannaford's conduct on the day of his arrest pointed to his guilt.

"The evidence was that (Hannaford and Burke) were longtime friends, but he answered the door barefoot and swinging a machete," Thistle said. "That suggests anger and aggression and is consistent with other evidence. The only rational explanation is his involvement in the shooting."

The texts established a motive and circumstantial evidence of Hannaford's involvement, Thistle said, and any gunshot residue from the shooting range a week earlier would not have remained on his hand, according to testimony from a forensic expert about the dissipation of the residue in general.

Thistle presented the judge with details of other cases in the country where courts have determined that pointing a loaded gun at somebody's torso amounts to an intention to kill them.

"If (Hannaford's) intention were to bluff, why did he need rounds that night?" Thistle said. "The fact that he did not succeed or that he's a bad shot is not mitigating."

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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