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Witness tells St. John's court he heard accused murderer Craig Pope admit to stabbing Jonathan Collins

Craig Pope glances toward his mother in the courtroom gallery as he is escorted back to the lockup when his second-degree murder trial adjourned for the day Thursday.
Craig Pope glances toward his mother in the courtroom gallery as he is escorted back to the lockup when his second-degree murder trial adjourned for the day Thursday. - Tara Bradbury

Crown expected to call one last witness in murder trial before handing the case over to the defence

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

"So I'm just going to tell my story?" Keith Doran asked as he took the witness stand in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Thursday afternoon.

Doran, testifying as the Crown's 20th witness at the second-degree murder trial of Craig Pope, provided one of the strongest accounts of the events of Sept. 17, 2017 the jury has yet heard.

Doran said he and Pope's father, Craig Pope Sr., were coworkers at a local equipment rental and sales business and had been doing deliveries that day in a box truck. Sometime after lunch, Doran said, they made a stop on Alderberry Lane in the centre of St. John's, where Pope Sr. was going to buy a television.

Doran said he was in the front passenger seat of the truck when Pope Sr. pulled up next to a taxi that was stopped on the street.

"That's where you got the TV?" prosecutor Shawn Patten asked.

"There was no TV. I didn't see a TV," Doran replied.

Apart from the taxi driver, there were two other men in the cab, Doran told the court, both of them sitting in the back seat. He said one of the men was Craig Pope. The other man was tall and thin and wearing a sleeveless red jersey and a backpack, Doran said.

Craig Pope (right) reviews evidence with his lawyers, Jon Noonan (left) and Randy Piercey during a break in his second-degree murder trial. - SaltWire File Photo
Craig Pope (right) reviews evidence with his lawyers, Jon Noonan (left) and Randy Piercey during a break in his second-degree murder trial. - SaltWire File Photo

He said Pope — whom he referred to as "Junior" — came over to the truck and Pope Sr. gave him $60 cash.

"Within minutes there was screaming and yelling, and Junior just wanted to fight the other guy," Doran testified. "I know that Craig Junior got upset because (the other guy) had the money, and he asked him to stop being greedy. From there it was just Junior wanting to fight him."

Doran said he wasn't sure how the second man, who was still in the back of the cab, got hold of the cash.

Pope was upset and yelling, Doran said, and striking the taxi near the rear passenger door. The other man was "shaking his head, didn't want any part of it and eventually got out. He just wanted to get space between them."

Defence lawyer Randy Piercey noted to the court that Doran should not include in his testimony speculation on what the man was thinking. Justice Vikas Khaladkar agreed.

The second man left quickly in the direction of Mundy Pond Road, Doran testified, seeming like he was trying to get away. Pope, wearing no shirt at this point, ran after him, he said.

Doran said he saw through one of the truck's side rearview mirrors both men throwing punches at each other at the end of Alderberry Lane, about 20 feet away. The taller man appeared to be swinging his backpack to defend himself, Doran testified.

After the two men rounded the corner onto Mundy Pond Road and were out of view, Doran said, he and Pope Sr. left the scene in the truck.

Turning onto Mundy Pond Road, Doran said, he saw the taller man lying in the street, "being attended to by someone who had gotten out of their car."

The taller man has been identified as Jonathan Collins, a 36-year-old father of two. Collins was taken to hospital by ambulance, but was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived. The cause of death was a single stab wound that pierced his abdominal aorta. He was also noted to have wounds on both his lips.

Doran said he didn't see the taxi — which was allegedly carrying Pope — leave the scene, but Pope Sr. located it and caught up to it on Columbus Drive, near the intersection with Pennywell Road.

"We drove up alongside it so Pope Sr. could ask Junior what happened," Doran testified. "Senior said, 'What did you do to that poor young fella?' and Junior said that he had stabbed him."

"Senior said, 'What did you do to that poor young fella?' and Junior said that he had stabbed him." — Keith Doran

Members of Collins' family began to cry in the gallery, comforting each other and wiping away tears with tissues. On the other side of the gallery, one member of Pope's family left the courtroom, while other family members were also in tears.

Pope, now 33, was arrested about an hour after Collins had been stabbed, having reportedly been dropped off by the taxi driver in the Elizabeth Avenue/Anderson Avenue area of town. Police arrested him in a plastic surgeon's clinic.

At the time of his arrest, Pope was wearing a yellow button-up plaid shirt and jeans and had an open wound on his lip, the court heard. DNA testing of his clothing revealed Collins' blood on the front of the jeans.

None of the witnesses who testified at trial up to Thursday reported seeing either the suspect or Collins with a weapon, and, despite a police search, no weapon was located at the scene of the stabbing or in the area where Pope was arrested.

Jonathan Collins. - Contributed
Jonathan Collins. - Contributed

A folded knife located in a pocket in the backpack Collins had reportedly been carrying could not be ruled out as the weapon due to its measurements, the medical examiner testified earlier this week. Forensic testing revealed it contained no blood and only Collins' DNA on the handle and blade.

Thursday morning, Barry O'Keefe, a resident of Alderberry Street, told the court he had been getting ready to go out on the afternoon of Sept 7, 2017, when he heard a commotion outside. He said he witnessed the man alleged to be Pope reach down and take something from his sock — that something could have been a weapon or it could have been a toothbrush, O'Keefe told the court. He explained he hadn't been close enough to see it clearly.

"You didn't see nothing," a woman in Pope's family said in the gallery, leading a sheriff's officer to tell her to stay quiet.

On cross-examination, Piercey took issue with O'Keefe's statement about possibly seeing a weapon, raising his voice at the witness.

"Do you know this man is charged with murder? Do you know how serious this is?" Piercey said loudly, gesturing toward Pope in the prisoner dock.

When court resumed after a lunch break, O'Keefe said he hadn't actually seen the suspect take anything out of his sock.

"When I seen what I thought was a weapon come out, it was on that side and his pants were rolled up and I thought I saw him maybe put something back in the sock," he testified.

"OK, but you don't know for sure either way?" Piercey asked.

"No," O'Keefe replied.

When Pope's trial resumes Friday, the defence will cross-examine Doran before the Crown calls what is expected to be its last witness: the taxi driver.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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