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The Paradise man was inside his home late one afternoon last April when the beeping of a truck backing up and the whine of a hoist alerted him to something going on next door.
Looking out his door, he saw what he thought were three men lifting his neighbour’s SUV onto the back of a truck to be towed away.
“I went back in and got my camera because it seemed suspicious,” the man said Tuesday. “Then the truck left, and then I thought it seemed really suspicious.”
The man’s neighbour had been living in Alberta, he said, and her vehicle — left as is, with a cracked windshield — had been parked on the grass in front of her Paradise house. After videoing the truck leaving, the man called police and turned the recording over to them.
The next day, the RNC received a second report of vehicles having been removed from a driveway, this time in St. John’s. A woman told police that two black Honda Civics, registered to her and parked outside a garage near her Thorburn Road home, had disappeared, and in their place was a set of double-wheeled tire tracks embedded in the mud.
All three vehicles were later located on the lot of a metal recycling facility near the Robin Hood Bay landfill, partially demolished.
Husband and wife Samuel Caines and Melissa Dawe of Paradise were among four people subsequently arrested and charged in connection with the vehicle thefts. They’ve both pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of possessing property obtained by crime and trafficking in property obtained by crime, and Caines has also entered not guilty pleas to charges of motor vehicle theft, forging a document and making false documents with the intent to use them as genuine.
The homeowner with the video camera and a handful of police officers were among the witnesses prosecutor Kathleen O’Reilly called to testify as the couple’s trial got underway in St. John’s Tuesday, and their testimony was met with multiple objections from the defence.
The defence argued that evidence presented by some of the RNC officers amounted to hearsay and should not be permitted; O’Reilly submitted that the officers’ testimony established a narrative and would be corroborated once the complainants in the case take the stand.
Neither of the vehicle owners have yet testified, though they are set to be called as the trial continues. The SUV owner and her son will testify via video from Alberta.
“Your honour, there have been so many interruptions that I have completely lost my track on the things that I need to make sure the court knows about,” O’Reilly told Judge Lois Skanes at one point. “It’s very problematic and exceptionally disruptive.”
“I disagree,” defence lawyer Derek Hogan said, arguing the hearsay evidence was not necessary. “In other provinces, this is not a practice.”
Hogan is representing Dawe, while Caines is represented by defence lawyer Tony St. George.
Skanes allowed the majority of the police officers’ testimony, saying it was a matter of getting an overview of the investigation and not an issue of facts. She did stop the officers from continuing on certain points.
RNC Const. Dawn Kieley, lead investigator in the case, told the court the licence plate of the truck in the neighbour’s video revealed it was registered to HANL Towing, a company operated by Caines and Dawe. Kieley interviewed Caines at RNC headquarters.
“A big red flag for me was when he admitted to taking the vehicle, but said he had been told to do so by somebody else a couple days prior,” Kieley told the court.
Caines declined to say who had given him the instruction, the investigator said.
Keiley said Caines told her that he and his wife had gone to the recycling depot, where the SUV was crushed and they were paid for it and given a receipt.
When Keiley checked, the signature on the receipt — showing a cash payment of $193.55 had been made for the vehicle — bore the name of Brad Squires.
Squires and another man, Glen Maher, are the other co-accused in the case.
Staff at the recycling facility confirmed the receipt in question was related to the SUV taken from Paradise, Keiley testified.
“We’re contesting that the receipts can be matched up, actually,” Hogan interjected.
Receipts alleged to have been issued to Caines and Dawe for the two Honda Civics indicated the recycling depot had made cash payments of about $200 each.
Keiley told the court she had received new information in the case just this past weekend: while speaking with the son of the complainant in Alberta about him potentially testifying via video, he informed her that he had an audio recording of a conversation between himself and Caines that is relevant to the alleged SUV theft.
The trial will continue in St. John’s today.