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Pope family maintains he has been wrongfully convicted
Yvonne Noseworthy, began her time in the witness box at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Wednesday by asking the judge in a very quiet voice for permission to show the room some photos of her son.
"This is a picture of my little boy when he made his kindergarten graduation," she said, speaking up and pulling a glossy 8x10 school photo from a folder in front of her. She showed the photo first to Justice Vikas Khaladkar, and then to Craig Pope, sitting in the prisoner's dock.
One by one, she pulled out photos from other school years – Grade 1, Grade, 2, Grade, 3, right up to high school — saying she wanted to show the court how her son, Jonathan Collins, had been a beautiful boy from a loving home.
In the gallery at the back of the courtroom, members of Pope's family expressed their irritation.
"F---," one man said as Noseworthy continued.
Collins died on Sept. 7, 2017 of a single stab wound to the stomach that pierced his abdominal aorta. After a trial and half a day of deliberations last June, a jury determined Pope, 33, was guilty of second-degree murder.
Having to sit through the trial was an addition to her suffering, Noseworthy told the court.
She described receiving the call letting her know her son, grown up to be a 36-year-old father of two, had been stabbed and was in critical condition in hospital, and her despair and guilt over not being with him as he lay bleeding.
She spoke, sobbing, of the moment she was informed Collins had died, and of being denied the ability to see him for a week, since his body was evidence in a crime investigation. The next she saw him, she said, was at the funeral home.
"I wasn't prepared then and I'm not prepared now," Noseworthy said.
She spoke of the anxiety, depression and hopelessness she has felt for the last two years, likening her waves of grief to a tsunami. Her doctor sent her for an EKG due to chest pain, she explained, saying her broken heart wasn't physically measurable on the test.
"I am a homicide survivor and I have been given a life sentence," she said, ending her address to the court.
Noseworthy was one of three of Collins' family members to present their victim impact statement at Pope's sentencing hearing Wednesday.
Stefanie Roberts, Collins' sister, looked directly at Pope at times as she presented her statement, saying part of her had died with her brother and detailing what she said is a daily struggle to find motivation to keep going without him.
"The hurt and the anger I get now when I see so many horrible people running around without a care in the world, living for decades longer than Jonathan had the chance to," she said, crying. "The goodness in his heart should have earned him more days, months, years. Jonathan deserved better.
"Jonathan should still be here right now, giving me a reason to laugh instead of cry. Jonathan should still be here right now, alive and well."
David Collins, Jonathan's father, said his son had struggled with drug addiction and had been attempting to overcome it for years. At one point, after completing rehab in another province, Jonathan returned to Newfoundland and gave speeches at local high schools, encouraging students to stay away from drugs. He slipped in his recovery at times, but was on a methadone treatment program when he died, Collins said.
Collins said one of the hardest parts of the trial for him was hearing the results of the toxicology tests completed as part of his son's autopsy. A therapeutic dose of methadone was found in his blood, and no other opiates.
"That particular piece of information, to me, made his loss a bit more tragic," David said. "He was trying so hard to get his life back in order."
Collins spoke of his son's two children: a daughter, age 17, who had just started reconnecting with her father when he died, and a son, age seven, with special needs.
"He struggles with the loss of his father, mostly quietly, sometimes angrily," Collins said, recounting a moment where the boy asked about the "bad man that killed my dad."
"Where he is special needs, I think he's probably going to be into adulthood before we fully realize the impact losing his father has had."
A second-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence, but the number of years to be served before parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years.
Crown prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jude Hall and defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan are in agreement on a suggestion that Pope serve a mandatory 12 years before he is eligible for parole.
The Crown stressed the significance of Pope's prior criminal record, which includes 21 convictions and a history of violence; the defence submitted letters from professionals in the prison system indicating Pope had been working to overcome addictions issues since he has been in custody.
Through evidence presented at trial, the court heard Pope and Collins had spent much of Sept. 7, 2017 together as passengers in a taxi, asking the driver to make a number of stops around St. John’s before ending up on Alderberry Lane in the centre of the city.
Pope’s father is said to have arrived in a van with a coworker and handed $60 to his son. A fight broke out after that, with multiple witnesses describing Pope as the aggressor, chasing Collins around the taxi and down the street onto Mundy Pond Road.
That’s where Collins collapsed. None of the witnesses saw a stabbing, though they all reported seeing only Pope near him at the time. A weapon was never recovered.
Pope returned to the taxi. The driver testified Pope had demanded to be taken to Cowperwaite Court, off Elizabeth Avenue, before telling him to, “Run buddy over.”
Pope was arrested within the hour inside a plastic surgeon’s clinic in that neighbourhood, after RNC officers saw him and another man walking in the area.
Pope's family insists he has been wrongfully convicted, maintaining since his trial that he is innocent and naming another man they say is responsible for Collins' murder. As they did when the jury convicted Pope, they expressed that opinion Wednesday, telling media outside the courtroom, "Today is the day they're going to put an innocent man in jail."
Piercey advised the family to control their emotions in court; Pope's mother, who cried at points during the hearing, asked him how.
"You need to relax," Pope was heard telling his loved ones when court adjourned after a break. "Calm down."
Khaladkar will return with his decision Oct. 4.