When two masked men entered Skyla Hunter’s home a year ago and robbed her at gunpoint, they made a bumbling mistake that ultimately led to them being arrested.
Hunter testified at the trial of Tyler Donahue, Gary Hennessey, Abdifatah Mohamed and Mitchell Nippard Wednesday afternoon, recounting a night last February when she was pregnant and home alone with her 10-month old daughter. While the baby was sleeping in her crib, Hunter was in her roommate’s bedroom in the basement watching Netflix, baby monitor in her hand. Her roommate and her fiancé were out, and her three dogs kept her company.
The dogs started barking and then the bedroom door opened, Hunter told the court. First she saw guns, then two masked men, dressed head to toe in black. They told her to put the dogs in the bathroom and tried to force them in by kicking them, and one of the men kicked her in the leg in the process. He apologized, she said, before demanding money.
“I told them I was on maternity leave and all I had in my purse was $5,” Hunter said. “They hauled my engagement ring off my finger.”
The men also took Hunter’s iPhone, and unknowingly dialled her fiancé’s number in the process. His friend answered and was able to hear what was going on, so he called the police.
Hunter said the two men brought her upstairs, guns pointed, and sat her on the toilet in the bathroom before asking again for money. They found her purse and dumped it out, finding the $5, then took her to the third floor and into her bedroom, she said.
“They were looking everywhere, in our drawers. They found a ring box, opened it, and got mad because there was nothing in it,” Hunter told the court.
That’s when Hunter noticed three break-open lottery tickets belonging to her fiancé on the dresser. He had won $1,005 on the tickets and, until that moment, she thought he had taken them with him to be cashed.
“I was like, here, take this and leave my house. They got mad and said, ‘I thought you didn’t have anything valuable.’ I said I didn’t know it was there and told them to take it and get out and not to hurt my daughter.”
Hunter said the men then brought her back to the basement and told her to sit on her roommate’s bed while they unplugged her X-Box.
“I guess they heard someone, or someone had told them to come on, because they were like, ‘We got to go,’ and they left through the back door,” Hunter said.
She said she waited for a few minutes before running upstairs to her baby’s room to check on her, then sat on the floor and cried. Minutes later, there was a loud knock on the door, and Hunter said she figured the men were back. She looked out the window and saw the flashing lights of police vehicles.
The four accused sat in the courtroom as the young mother testified via video from Alberta, where she now lives. Mohamed, who is the only one of the men representing themselves at trial, yawned at one point during Hunter’s testimony, then shared a chuckle with Donahue.
“Did you get a good look at the men?” Crown prosecutor Alanna Dwyer asked Hunter.
“They told me not to look at them. I was just doing what they told me to do,” Hunter replied. “I was just afraid. I had never been through anything like that before, especially with my daughter there.”
Dwyer showed Hunter photos of a number of items, including a cellphone and an Xbox, which Hunter identified as hers. The items were recovered by police during their investigation into a series of violent home invasions in the St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Paradise areas last February, the one at her Paradise home being the last.
Donahue, 24, Hennessey, 33, Mohamed, 28, and Nippard, 26, were arrested hours later. Donahue and Mohamed were apprehended after police found a Mazda 3 stuck in a snowbank, engine still running, on nearby Dawe’s Road, and members of the K9 unit tracked two scents to a wooded area off the C.B.S. Highway. The men were located separately, both sitting under trees. Mohamed was wearing one boot.
Hennessey and Nippard were apprehended after RNC officers stopped their vehicle on Buckingham Drive, about a block from Hunter’s home.
The body of a fifth suspect, Mohamed Salim, was located a month later behind a dump truck in a quarry off the Trans-Canada Highway. He is believed to have frozen to death while hiding from police.
Judge Mike Madden already ruled that a text message a police officer found on Hennessey’s phone during a pat-down could not be used as evidence at trial. Given that the text was later used as part of the basis to get a search warrant and a production order on the phone and led to the discovery of other information, Hennessey’s lawyer, Derek Hogan, applied to have that information thrown out as well.
Wednesday morning, Madden denied those applications, saying police had enough evidence without the text message to get the warrant anyway.
On Wednesday the court also saw a number of items seized by police from the ditched Mazda 3, including IDs belonging to Nippard, Mohamed and Salim; jewelry; and a Canon camera belonging to victims of one of the earlier home invasions. Plastic cutlery and a straw found in the car tested positive for Mohamed’s DNA.
An Xbox identified as Hunter’s was found on the street, and a .22 calibre handgun was located in a snowbank.