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Jonathan Collins smiled, gave peace sign as he died, St. John's court hears

Jonathan Collins, 36 and a father of two, died of a stab wound to the abdomen on Sept. 7, 2017.
Jonathan Collins, 36 and a father of two, died of a stab wound to the abdomen on Sept. 7, 2017. - Contributed

Emotional testimony from RNC officer as the murder trial of Craig Pope begins

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

RNC Const. Trevor Kennedy was just two minutes away from the Alderberry Lane and Mundy Pond Road area of town when he received a call about a reported stabbing on the street.

Arriving just after 3:30 p.m. that sunny day in September 2017, when temperatures in St. John's were close to 30 C, Kennedy noted a small crowd had gathered, and a man was lying unconscious in the middle of the road.

Craig Pope, 33, sits in the dock in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning flanked by sheriffs, waiting for his second-degree murder trial to begin.
Craig Pope, 33, sits in the dock in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning flanked by sheriffs, waiting for his second-degree murder trial to begin.

After blocking off the street to prepare for the incoming ambulance, Kennedy went to assess the man, and was greeted by an off-duty nurse who offered her help. She performed chest compressions, and another woman monitored the man's pulse, as Kennedy cut off the man's belt to examine what he thought was a leg wound. The man — later identified as 36-year-old David (Jonathan) Collins — actually had what appeared to Kennedy to be a stab wound on the lower left side of his abdomen, and Kennedy applied pressure to it until paramedics arrived.

"It wasn't very big, but it was clear, it was precise, and it appeared to be deep," Kennedy said Tuesday afternoon.

When Collins began foaming at the mouth, Kennedy provided Narcan — a temporary antidote to opioid overdose, allowing a person more time to get medical treatment — to paramedics to administer to him. It had a small positive effect, he said, though Collins didn't regain consciousness. Paramedics got Collins onto a stretcher and in the back of an ambulance, and headed to the Health Sciences Centre. Kennedy went with them.

"While in the ambulance, things started to go a bit south," Kennedy testified in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's.

The police officer grew emotional and at times paused, turning away from the jury and recomposing himself. In the courtroom gallery, Collins' loved ones wept.

Collins began convulsing, Kennedy said, and his heart rate alternated between very high and very low. Kennedy asked the paramedics if they had ever seen that before and they said no. Kennedy, who testified he knew the situation was serious, held Collins' hands. Up until then, Collins had been mostly unconscious, not moving much and only slightly groaning.

"For one moment in the back of the ambulance he did open his eyes and he did look at me," Kennedy said, his voice trembling. "He gave me a slight smile and he gave me a peace sign. After that point, I didn't see another sign of life."

Medical staff at the hospital attempted further life-saving measures when Collins arrived, but he succumbed to his injuries.

Kennedy told the court that Collins' mother, father and sister had arrived at the hospital, and he informed them of Collins' death.

All three sat in the courtroom Tuesday, holding each other and crying as the details of Collins' last moments were recounted.

Kennedy was the second witness to testify for prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jude Hall as the trial of Craig Pope got underway Tuesday. Pope, 33, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in connection with Collins' death.

Collins was a father of young children, and his family members say they remember him for his kind heart, big smile and equally large spirit.

RNC Const. Trevor Kennedy (left) chats with Crown prosecutor Jude Hall once the murder trial of Craig Pope adjourned for the day Tuesday. Kennedy was the first police officer on the scene of the fatal stabbing of Jonathan Collins, and grew emotional on the stand as he told the court of holding Collins' hands as they rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
RNC Const. Trevor Kennedy (left) chats with Crown prosecutor Jude Hall once the murder trial of Craig Pope adjourned for the day Tuesday. Kennedy was the first police officer on the scene of the fatal stabbing of Jonathan Collins, and grew emotional on the stand as he told the court of holding Collins' hands as they rushed to hospital in an ambulance.

 The first to take the stand in court was Susan Furlong, who had just picked up her 15-year-old daughter and a friend after their first day of a new school year when Collins was fatally injured. Furlong had dropped her daughter's friend off on Alderberry Lane when she noticed a taxi parked on the street.

"I saw a gentleman dashing from the right-hand side of the back of the car to the driver's side," Furlong told the court in a clear but soft voice. "I thought something was going to take place, some altercation of some sort." Furlong said she locked her car doors and drove around the corner onto Mundy Pond Road, then stopped her car. Somebody knocked on her window and told her to call police, which she did.

Looking in her rearview mirror while speaking with the RNC, Furlong said, she saw two men - a thick man with dark hair, tattoos and no shirt, and a tall, thin man in jeans and a jacket - fighting in the street. Furlong said the first man, whom she believed was Pope, was the one who had run from the taxi. The tall man was Collins, she said.

"They were fist-fighting, arms going every which way. At one point the taller guy had the other at arm's length, holding him away," Furlong testified, demonstrating with her outstretched arm. Collins also seemed to be backing away, she said.

Furlong said she saw the tall man fall to the ground, and about 20 seconds later, watched as the second man left in the taxi, heading down Mundy Pond Road and east on Columbus Drive. Furlong said she gave police the taxi number and the direction in which the cab was heading before hurrying over to help Collins. When paramedics arrived, Furlong said, one of them asked her to gather items believed to have fallen out of Collins' backpack - including phone cords and a comb - put them back in the bag and zip it up. Paramedics took the bag in the ambulance, Furlong said. She went to RNC headquarters straight away and gave a statement to police, and that was the last of her involvement, she said.

"How did you know Mr. Collins had passed away?" Patten asked her.

"I went into the funeral home where my brother-in-law was and he was in the room right next to him," Furlong replied, turning her head, in tears.

On cross-examination, defence lawyer Jon Noonan, who is representing Pope with co-counsel Randy Piercey, asked Furlong whether she had seen the faces of the men who were fighting. She said she had not.

Noonan noted Furlong had called Pope by name during her testimony, and asked her if she had gotten his name from the news. She said she had.

Noonan confirmed police had shown Furlong a photo lineup of suspects, but she had not identified the person she believed had stabbed Collins.

Both Furlong and Kennedy told the court they had not seen a knife or any other weapon at the scene.

In his opening statements to the jury, Patten said a number of witnesses will testify during the trial, including neighbourhood residents, passersby, police officers, a DNA expert and a taxi driver who spent the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2017 with Collins and Pope in his vehicle, making a number of stops.

Defence lawyers Randy Piercey (left) and Jon Noonan are representing accused murderer Craig Pope.
Defence lawyers Randy Piercey (left) and Jon Noonan are representing accused murderer Craig Pope.

The cabbie is expected to speak of a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the vehicle, Patten said, as Pope rode up front and Collins rode in the back seat. A female had reportedly been in the cab as well, and was dropped off before the two men asked to go to Alderberry Lane to wait for money.

Patten told the jury the cab driver is expected to explain that he didn't know his passengers, whom he had picked up close to noon that day.

"They arrived at Alderberry Lane and a van pulled up," Patten said. "You will hear (the taxi driver's) description of an exchange of money between the driver of the van and the tall, skinny, passenger through the window of the taxi. We anticipate (the driver) will describe an altercation subsequently breaking out in the taxi. … The bigger male would take (the driver's) keys out of the ignition, exit the taxi and approach the rear passenger side."

Patten said he expects the driver to testify about seeing the two men fighting, with the taller man backing up and telling the shorter man to leave him alone. The driver is expected to tell the court that once the taller man fell to the ground, the other man returned to the cab and told him to "run him the f--- over."

Pope was arrested by the RNC that afternoon, Patten said, and the court will hear from the arresting officers.

Dr. Simon Avis, who was the province's chief medical examiner in 2017, will also take the stand, Patten said.

"While Dr. Avis will have much to say, perhaps the most important thing that he will tell you is that David Jonathan Collins died from a single stab wound to the left abdomen," the prosecutor said.

Pope's trial continues Wednesday, with Justice Vikas Khaladkar presiding.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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