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Justin Jennings acquitted as judge rules complainant lied in court

Justin Jennings smiles as he is escorted from a St. John’s courtroom to the holding cells for a final time, to await the paperwork releasing him from custody.
Justin Jennings. - Tara Bradbury file photo/The Telegram

Jennings, 34, was released from custody Tuesday

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

When Josh Weir testified in provincial court last month as the victim of an alleged kidnapping, robbery and extortion, he did one of two things, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Though Weir had given a 62-page statement to police in September about the incident, he told the court he was unable to remember anything about it and didn't recall giving the statement to police.

Either the incident had occurred and Weir was lying about not remembering it, Judge Mike Madden determined, or it hadn't actually happened and Weir was lying about not being able to recall speaking to police.

"In other words, I find he has deliberately lied under oath," Madden said.

"Mr. Weir has damaged both his credibility and reliability, and I afford his evidence, whether in the statement or in the court, little weight."

Josh Weir was arrested for the second time Thursday, after he failed to return to court as scheduled to testify at the trial of Justin Jennings. A warrant had been issued for Weir a week earlier. Weir told the court he doesn't remember telling police Jennings had assaulted him with a gun, robbed him, kidnapped him, and attempted to extort $10,000 from him last summer, even though police have a 52-page statement from Weir about the alleged incident.
Josh Weir. - SaltWire File Photo

Since Weir's statement was the major evidence in the case against Justin Jennings, 34, all related charges against Jennings were dismissed and he was released from custody for the first time since his arrest last fall.

Jennings had pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery, forcible confinement, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, extortion and breaching court orders after Weir had attended RNC headquarters on Sept. 16 to give information about a different alleged crime. He told investigators he had been staying at the Captain's Quarters hotel in downtown St. John's on Aug. 4 and had been in the hotel's bar when Jennings and another man he knew had shown up. Weir said they had taken him from the bar to his room, where Jennings beat him in the face with a .45-calibre gun and the other man ripped off his jewelry. Jennings and his then-girlfriend took him in a cab to Jennings' home in C.B.S., Weir said, where they held him hostage before instructing him to leave in the waiting cab and return within 30 minutes with $10,000.

Weir told police he hadn't come forward sooner because he was scared of Jennings. When he testified at Jennings' trial - reluctantly, having been arrested on a witness warrant - he responded to every question with, "I don't remember," or, "I'm not sure."

Madden said Weir's untruthfulness in court didn't automatically mean he had lied in his statement to police, but it caused a problem in that his statement could not be tested or challenged under cross-examination.

"Every single charge depends on the statement of the (complainant) to substantiate it," the judge said. "None of the essential elements of the offences are proven otherwise. We only have his word that an offence even occurred."

No gun was located, Madden said, and there were no witnesses to say they had seen anything unusual in the hotel on the night in question. Weir's description of Jennings' clothing that night - a red and black tracksuit - wasn't consistent with the dress shirt and shorts he was seen wearing in surveillance video taken from a gas station where they had stopped on the way to C.B.S.

Madden said he had reviewed video clips recorded by the cab driver, which showed Weir chatting easily with Jennings about his family and disagreeing with Jennings' idea to stop and switch to a different cab with a driver that would let them eat pizza in the vehicle. The cab driver told police he thought the two guys were drinking buddies, Madden said.

Justin Jennings. - SaltWire File Photo
Justin Jennings. - SaltWire File Photo

"Some of the story the complainant gave police is definitely suspect or difficult to imagine," the judge noted.

The hotel's logbook did indicate a guest named Weir had been staying there on the night in question, Madden pointed out, and the taxi driver told police Weir had a bloody nose and told him he had received a smack at the hotel. Weir was also seen on video holding what appeared to be a bloody cloth to his face.

The driver told police Jennings had come back out of the home in C.B.S. and instructed him to return with Weir before he would get paid for the fare. Alone in the cab, Weir asked the driver to drop him off at a different location and not tell anyone the address, the cabbie said. He said Weir had told him that he owed Jennings a drug debt, though Weir told police Jennings wanted money from him because his family was wealthy.

"It is the lack of substantial corroboration in this case, combined with the concerns over portions of the statement that I have mentioned, and finally and most importantly, the concern that this statement could not be tested on cross-examination, either by Crown or defence, which concerns me," Madden said, dismissing the charges against Jennings.

Jennings was facing 25 charges when he was first arrested, in relation to Weir's allegations as well as a reported home invasion in St. John's and an allegation of driving while disqualified. All of his charges have now been dismissed, apart from the driving charge and a charge of breaching court orders, for which he'll go to trial in July.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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