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Justin Jennings' lawyer Averill Baker wants charges dropped, witness charged instead

Justin Jennings, 34, is escorted from a provincial courtroom in St. John's Monday by a sheriff’s officer after appearing on home invasion and weapons charges. Jennings' new lawyer, Averill Baker, is asking the Crown to withdraw all the charges, saying there are no credible witnesses in the case.
Justin Jennings, 34, is escorted from a provincial courtroom in St. John's Monday by sheriff’s officers after appearing on home invasion and weapons charges. Jennings' new lawyer, Averill Baker, is asking the Crown to withdraw all the charges, saying there are no credible witnesses in the case. - Tara Bradbury

Justin Jennings' new lawyer made her first appearance on his case in an angry state Monday, asking the Crown to drop all charges and charge its main witness instead.

"In terms of credibility of witnesses, this is shocking," Averill Baker told provincial court Judge David Orr while questioning their reliability.

Jennings, 34, has been in custody since mid-September, charged with driving while disqualified, breaching court orders, and a number of charges related to two male victims stemming from incidents alleged to have taken place in August and September: two counts each of break and entry —of homes in C.B.S. and St. John's — with the intention to commit a crime, robbery, using a gun while committing a crime, possessing a gun for a dangerous purpose, and possessing a gun while prohibited.

Baker told the court that when police responded to the report of the home invasion in St. John's, they called in the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit to seize drug paraphernalia and equipment.

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"(The complainant) had the makings, the equipment, to make shatter, hash,” Baker  alleged. “Has he been charged? I would like to know from the Crown whether or not they have charged their main witness. That sort of Crown witness, if charges that serious are pending related to this matter at his own residence, then I am allowed to cross-examine him on this and it goes to credibility."

Prosecutor Jude Hall explained he had recently taken the case over and was aware of the general nature of the allegations, but not specifics.

"I will be doing a deep dive and part of that analysis includes assessing a reasonable prospect of conviction and will include if the identity is sufficient, are the witnesses credible, all that stuff," he said. "So, some of these files may or may not go away, but I haven't done that work yet."

"I would suspect once he does it that we won't be proceeding," Baker told the judge.

Jennings, who was present in the courtroom, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which have been broken into two matters. He'll go to trial on some of them over two weeks at the end of February, and the rest March 11-15. Hall and Baker will be back before the judge for a focus hearing next month, at which time it's expected to be determined if any charges will be withdrawn.

Jennings made headlines last May when Judge James Walsh released him from custody with a sentence of time served on three assault charges, a dangerous driving charge and court order breaches, saying Jennings had suffered undue hardship as an inmate at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.

Walsh made strong statements about the conditions Jennings had endured in the prison, saying the institution had failed to protect him and the inmates he assaulted when staff placed him in segregation excessively, inappropriately discontinued his medication and in other ways, despite his deteriorating health.

Jennings has an open civil case against HMP in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, in which he has made similar statements himself.

tara_bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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