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Witness statement is only evidence in St. John's kidnapping and extortion case, lawyer says

['<p>Justin Jennings is led into provincial court in St. John’s to be sentenced on several charges, including two counts of dangerous driving.</p>']
Justin Jennings during a previous court appearance. – TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

'You can't just convict on a hunch'

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Last week a judge agreed to accept Josh Weir's statement to police about the night he was allegedly kidnapped and robbed as evidence, instead of Weir's testimony in court.

The Crown is now urging the judge to accept the same statement as fact in order to convict Justin Jennings on six criminal charges.

Jennings' lawyer, however, is asking Judge Mike Madden to dismiss the charges, saying apart from the statement to police, there's no evidence to support the allegations.

Jennings, 34, has pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery, forcible confinement, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, extortion and breaching court orders in connection with an incident alleged to have occurred last August.

Weir, while giving a statement to police on Sept. 16 about a different alleged crime, told investigators he had been staying at the Captain's Quarters hotel in downtown St. John's a month prior and had been in the hotel's bar area when Jennings and another man he knew showed up in a cab.

Weir said they took 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 a home in C.B.S., Weir said, where they held him hostage before instructing him to leave in the cab and return within 30 minutes with $10,000 or it was "going to get ugly."

On the witness stand in provincial court earlier this month, Weir said he couldn't remember anything about the night in question, and couldn't remember giving the statement to police.

"... these were serious and dramatic allegations. One would think it would be more difficult to forget if they did actually happen." — Averill Baker, Justin Jennings' lawyer

On Wednesday, prosecutor Jude Hall suggested Weir - who was arrested twice after he failed to show up to court to testify - was afraid of reprisal.

Weir had told police he was scared of Jennings, Hall said, and a taxi driver who reported having driven Weir, Jennings and the woman that night testified Weir told him that he owed Jennings drug money.

Hall said Weir had appeared calm and forthright in video footage of his interview with police, and there had been no reason to believe he had been lying or had given the statement under duress.

Other evidence had corroborated Weir's information, Hall said, including a log book from the Captain's Quarters, showing a person named Weir had been staying there that night; testimony from the cab driver indicating one of the men in the vehicle had been bleeding and had told him that he had been hit in the nose; and the clear view of Jennings in surveillance footage captured by a downtown gas station when the cab stopped there en route to C.B.S.

The taxi driver had also indicated he had waited outside the home while the three passengers went inside, and when Weir got back into the cab, Jennings told him he wouldn't be paid the fare until he brought Weir to another location and brought him back.

"Jennings, while in the presence of Mr. Weir, was in control of Mr. Weir," Hall said. "Mr. Jennings gave instructions to the cab driver for the cab driver to return in order for Mr. Weir to be paid. That's an unlawful confinement, your honour."

Jennings' lawyer, Averill Baker, said Weir's testimony about having no memory of the incident undermines his credibility, given there is no reason to believe he suffers from memory issues.

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 has told the court he doesn't remember telling police that Justin 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.

"It wasn't an allegation of, 'She took my bracelet,' or, 'He stole the pen from Wal-Mart,' these were serious and dramatic allegations," Baker said. "One would think it would be more difficult to forget if they did actually happen."

If Weir had lied under oath about not remembering anything, he committed perjury, Baker said. This, along with him breaching court orders by not showing up to testify when he was supposed to, is a "very massive indicator of him being dishonest," she told the court.

"I think it would shock the consciousness of the community and any reasonable member of the public who was reasonably informed if given these circumstances ... the Crown attorney's office is asking a judge (to convict Jennings)," Baker said.

Baker argued there was no evidence, apart from Weir's statement to police, that Jennings was guilty of any crime, pointing to surveillance video from the gas stations, which showed Weir seeming to instigate conversation with Jennings; video taken from inside the cab, in which Weir and Jennings are having a casual chat, and the fact that a gun was never recovered.

Baker reminded the judge that Weir had told police Jennings had been wearing a red and black tracksuit, while video footage and testimony from the driver indicated he had been wearing a white button-up shirt and shorts.

Baker also suggested police had tunnel vision when they investigated Weir's allegations, saying investigators hadn't sought to interview other guests staying in the hotel that night and hadn't attempted to get any video footage from the hotel bar.

"Where is the evidence you can ground your conviction on? You can't just convict on a hunch," the defence lawyer told the judge. "Somebody would have noticed if someone had been taken by gunpoint in any area of the Captain's Quarters into a room. This isn't New York, where people don't care. This is Newfoundland, where people not only care, they certainly like to gossip."

Madden is scheduled to deliver his decision April 16.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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