The 12 jury members were rapt as the sheriff’s officer walked over to them with a clear plastic bag in her hand Thursday, some leaning forward for a better look at the contents, removing their glasses for a clearer close-up view.
In the sealed bag was a navy toque, nondescript except for two roughly-cut eye holes, the edges of them unravelling.
RNC Const. Pamela Pike explained to the jury that she and a fellow forensic identification officer had photographed and seized the toque from the sidewalk on Forest Road in St. John’s the morning of Oct. 4, 2015, having been called to the scene by a third constable. The three policewomen were among the officers working the scene of a fatal shooting at the Captain’s Quarters hotel on nearby Kings Bridge Road.
Harrowing surveillance video viewed at Phillips murder trial
Pike and her colleague were tasked with collecting evidence, while Const. Lisa Anderson was knocking on doors in the neighborhood in the hope of finding someone with information or security video that could help the murder investigation.
Anderson was crossing Forest Avenue when she noticed the toque lying on the edge of a flowerbed near the sidewalk. It was “fresh,” she told the court Thursday.
Pike had been inside the Captain’s Quarters, examining, photographing and processing the scene where 63-year-old Larry Wellman had been shot hours earlier. He and his wife were patrons in the hotel bar when a masked man with a shotgun entered and demanded money from the bartender. Wellman attempted to intervene, but was shot and killed.
Left behind were five areas of blood — one with pellets — splintered pieces of wood and Wellman’s dark green ball cap. Pike took more than 400 photos there in all, collected swabs of blood and packaged the wood pieces.
Everything would later be sent to a national forensic lab for testing, Pike said on the stand at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.
According to Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema, the toque showed both DNA evidence of Brandon Phillips, 29, on the inside and gunshot residue on the outside.
Cross-examining Pike at Phillips’ murder trial Thursday, defence lawyer Jeff Brace questioned the police officer on the possibility that she had carried gunshot residue on her clothes from the crime scene when she went to process the toque, resulting in it transferring.
“As I discussed before, we take precautions,” Pike replied, saying she had put on clean gloves before handling the toque.
“What about forearms?” Brace asked.
Speaking directly to the jury, Pike described each item of evidence presented to the court by Heerema in individual sealed bags, including items retrieved when police executed a search warrant at a Quidi Vidi Road home when Phillips was arrested.
Among those items was a shotgun that appeared to have been sawed off at both ends. Pike and a fellow RNC officer opened the plastic bag and left the courtroom to clear the gun for safety purposes before it was shown to the jury.
Also seized from the residence was a pair of black Nike Air Jordan sneakers — later found, Heerema said earlier in the trial, to contain both Phillips’ and Wellman’s DNA.
Brace questioned Pike about why video surveillance showed Wellman had picked up two small tables, one wooden and one wrought iron, to try to fight the robber, but Pike and her colleague had photographed and seized only the wooden one as evidence.
“The wooden stool was located on top of the pool table. You typically wouldn’t see a stool on top of a pool table. There was actually blood visible on it,” Pike said. “We made the decision to seize that.”
Pike said she had examined the iron-leg table at the scene and photographed it as part of the room. The table was determined not to have any evidentiary value, she said.
“So you know this wrought-iron table was used as a weapon in a murder and you choose not to seize it?” Brace asked.
“We make decisions based on forensic value. It was examined at the scene and didn’t provide any information,” Pike replied, adding the table had no visible damage or blood on it.
“Can you always see when DNA is present? Or do some things require swabbing or microscopic analysis?” Brace asked.
“Yes,” Pike replied to the latter question.
A gunshot residue expert from Ottawa is set to testify when the trial resumes Friday morning.