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Witness tell St. John's court that murder suspect tried to pull Jonathan Collins out of cab, looking for a fight

Craig Pope (left) speaks with defence lawyer Randy Piercey as his second-degree murder trial is adjourned in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Wednesday. Justice Vikas Khaladkar (background) is presiding over the jury trial, which will resume Thursday.
Craig Pope (left) speaks with defence lawyer Randy Piercey as his second-degree murder trial is adjourned in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Wednesday. Justice Vikas Khaladkar (background) is presiding over the jury trial, which will resume Thursday. - Tara Bradbury

‘It looked liked a fight was about to break out’

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Lee Gillis was home on Alderberry Street one sunny day in September 2017, watching TV in his living room with a cold drink and an open window when he heard a commotion outside.

It sounded to him like a fight was about to break out, so he got up and went to look outside.

There was a taxi pulled up to the curb about 100 feet from his house, and a white box truck pulled up alongside it. It was the truck that first caught his eye, he said, since it was facing the wrong way on the one-way street.

Jonathan Collins.
Jonathan Collins.

Testifying in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Wednesday morning, Gillis said he saw a man — muscular and shirtless, with crew-cut hair and mirrored sunglasses — standing next to the cab, yelling at someone in the back seat. The man slapped the outside of the cab near the rear passenger door, Gillis said.

"He was yelling something along the lines of, 'Come out you f---ing bitch,’" Gillis said, describing the man's tone as "motivated but not furious."

The shirtless man then opened the car door and reached in, seeming to try to pull the other guy out, Gillis said. At the same time, the back door on the other side of the car, and the passenger, a thinner man wearing a red sleeveless sports jersey, got out.

"It looked like a fight was about to break out," Gillis said. "The man (in the jersey) started hopping away, and I say hopping because he was doing a quick side-step type of thing. The shirtless man was approaching him with his fists up, clearly looking for a fight."

Gillis said there was a third man near the cab, a man he figured was in his late 50s or so, sort of watching what was happening.

"I thought the person could have been a kind of mediator, but I didn't see any evidence of that," Gillis said.

Gillis told the court the man in the jersey headed down Alderberry Lane toward Mundy Pond Road, not turning his back. He was "prepared for a fight but creating distance" from the shirtless guy, who was still advancing with his fists up, Gillis said.

As they went out of his line of vision, Gillis said, he sat back down in his living room. A few minutes later, he went back to the window for another look. The white truck had moved up the street and was pulled over behind the cab, blocking most of his view, he said.

"I saw the shirtless man return to the cab, but I don't remember what he did when he got there," Gillis testified. "He seemed to be sort of calm. He didn't seem agitated, just seemed like someone going about their business."

Gillis took the stand as the 18th witness called by prosecutors Jude Hall and Shawn Patten in the trial of 33-year-old Craig Pope.

Pope has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the stabbing death of 36-year-old father of two Jonathan Collins on Sept. 7, 2017.

On cross-examination, Gillis said he had not noticed any tattoos on the shirtless man, though other witnesses described him as having multiple tattoos. Photos taken of Pope after his arrest revealed a number of prominent tattoos.

Two other witnesses also testified briefly on Wednesday, both telling the court they were passing by the Alderberry Lane area in vehicles when they saw two men run onto Mundy Pond Road, appearing to be in an altercation. The taller of the two men collapsed on the road, they both said, though neither witness was able to say what had caused him to fall.

"I remember him having a red shirt and I remember him clutching his stomach, his abdomen, leaning over like he was in pain," said Joe Mitchell, who had been driving west on Mundy Pond Road on the afternoon in question. His view of the man was through his rearview mirror, he explained.

Collins was rushed to the Health Sciences Centre in an ambulance, but died shortly thereafter due to a single stab wound that had pierced his abdominal aorta.

A knife found in a backpack at the scene of the fatal stabbing of Jonathan Collins in St. John’s. Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis told police he was unable to rule out the knife as the murder weapon. (RNC Photo)
A knife found in a backpack at the scene of the fatal stabbing of Jonathan Collins in St. John’s. Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis told police he was unable to rule out the knife as the murder weapon. (RNC Photo)

Pope is alleged to have left the area in the cab, and was dropped off in a residential area near the west end of Elizabeth Avenue. He was arrested in that area about an hour later. He and Collins were both noted to have open wounds on their lips.

None of the witnesses who have testified so far reported seeing either Collins or the shirtless man — alleged to be Pope — with a weapon. A police search of the Alderberry Lane area as well as the area where Pope was transported turned up nothing.

Police found a folding knife inside a backpack located on the ground where Collins collapsed. DNA testing revealed no traces of blood and only Collins' DNA, though medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis testified he was not able to rule out the knife as the weapon responsible for Collins' death, due to its measurements.

A second knife was turned in to police by a woman months after Collins died, though testing revealed no indication of blood or DNA from Collins or Pope. Avis determined the knife was not the weapon used, based on its size.

Forensic investigators located Collins' fingerprints on the back windshield of the cab, and Pope's palm print on the side of the vehicle, in the same area Gillis said the shirtless man had slapped the car. Blood drops located inside and outside the cab were determined to have come from Pope, while blood stains on the jeans Pope was wearing when he was arrested were revealed to belong to Collins.

The driver of the taxi in which Collins and Pope were allegedly riding on Sept. 7, 2017, which is also alleged to be the taxi in which Pope left the scene of the stabbing, is expected to testify when the trial resumes Thursday.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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