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Harrowing surveillance video viewed at Phillips murder trial

Brandon Phillips (left) speaks with Mark Gruchy, one of his lawyers, during the first day of testimony in his murder trial at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Thursday afternoon.
Brandon Phillips (left) speaks with Mark Gruchy, one of his lawyers, during the first day of testimony in his murder trial at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Thursday afternoon. - Tara Bradbury

‘Nobody be a f---ing hero,’ masked suspect is heard saying

The audio alone was chilling.

“Put the f---ing money in the bag right now!” a man yells. “Nobody be a f---ing hero!”

“Larry! I’m telling you, Larry! F--- off!” a panicked woman screams.

“This one’s f---ing loaded!” the first man’s voice yells. “Save your husband! Save his life.”

A gunshot sounds, then screaming.

And then feeble words from Larry Wellman, 63, who lay fatally injured on the floor near a pool table at the Captain’s Quarters hotel.

“I love you. I love you,” he repeats, as his wife, Linda McBay, yells, “Are you happy now? Larry! Larry! Oh my God.”

The video images, grainy and choppy, were also horrifying.

A man in a black mask and jacket is seen walking into the hotel bar, gun in hand. Wellman approaches him, hands up as if trying to reason with him. The masked man moves around, appearing to point the gun.

McBay rushes to try to stop her husband, getting between him and the gunman and trying to push Wellman backward. Wellman picks up what appears to be a stool and thrusts it towards the masked man.

Wellman then falls backward to the floor, mostly off-camera. There’s blood.

And so began the trial of 29-year-old Brandon Phillips at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Thursday afternoon, after opening statements from Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema and defence lawyer Mark Gruchy.

The video was captured by surveillance cameras inside the Captain’s Quarters on the night in October 2015 when Phillips is alleged to have killed Wellman as he robbed the hotel bar, armed with a modified shotgun.

Wellman’s daughter, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, sat in the front row of the public gallery as the video was played in the courtroom. One juror had a pained look on her face as she watched the screen.

Phillips has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery, assault with a weapon, possessing a weapon dangerous to the public, and wearing a disguise with the intention of committing a crime.

Heerema was first to address the six-woman, six-man jury, telling them the things they will see and hear over the next six weeks could be upsetting. Wellman and McBay, who lived in Goose Bay, were at the hotel having a drink and playing the VLTs when the masked man entered and demanded money, Heerema said. Wellman tried to intervene in the robbery and was shot, later dying in hospital.

Heerema told the jurors that he and co-prosecutor Shauna MacDonald would call witnesses and present evidence that would pick up where the video left off, connecting Phillips to the crime. An RNC officer searching outside the hotel after the shooting found a toque with eye holes, later found to have Phillips’ DNA on the inside and gunshot residue on the outside, Hereema said.

Investigators also located, in a nearby home where Phillips was observed coming and going, a pair of sneakers with both his and Wellman’s DNA on them, Heerema said. A sawed-off shotgun was found wrapped in a sweater underneath the sofa cushions, Heerema said, and shotgun ammunition was also located in the house.

Gruchy, in his opening remarks, introduced himself and co-counsel Jeff Brace, and reiterated what Heerema had said about the nature of the evidence to be presented, warning jurors it could be hard to see.

“You will find there are a lot of twists and turns, both in the law and in the story,” he said. “You’ve heard and been beseeched to keep an open mind throughout this trial. That’s all I’m asking.”

Gruchy said the central issues to be considered are identity and intent, adding there would be “witnesses who will bring in very real evidence about what happened at that moment when the gun went off.

“You’re going to hear evidence that hasn’t even been alluded to yet,” he continued, insisting the jury pay “very, very, very close attention” to the evidence of witnesses who were in the hotel bar.

“What you’re about to do is one of the most consequential things you’ll ever do in your lives,” he said in closing. “Thank you.”

Const. Dave Squires, a 20-year veteran of the RNC tasked with recovering and processing surveillance recordings, was the first to testify, explaining to the court how he obtained and processed the audio and video from three cameras at the Captain’s Quarters.

McBay will be first to take the stand when the trial resumes Friday morning, with Justice Valerie Marshall presiding.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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