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Witness recalls staring down gun barrel during testimony at Brandon Phillips' trial in St. John's

Shawn Deeley prepares to resume his testimony after a break in the murder trial of Brandon Phillips, 29, in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Tuesday.
Shawn Deeley prepares to resume his testimony after a break in the murder trial of Brandon Phillips, 29, in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Tuesday. - Tara Bradbury

Shawn Deeley says he doesn’t remember much anymore about the gun he saw in the hands of a masked robber inside the Captain’s Quarters hotel two years ago.

At the time, he told police it seemed like a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, sawed off with just enough barrel left to pump.

Deeley, who works in security and is based in Halifax, knows a thing or two about guns. He learned to shoot as a young teenager, as a hunter and as a cadet before joining the military.

In St. John’s for work and staying at the Captain’s Quarters hotel Oct. 3, 2015, Deeley had gotten a Coke at the bar and was going to try his luck at the VLTs. Shortly before midnight he was in the washroom when he heard a noise, like wood smacking on wood. He came out and headed back toward the bar when he saw another patron, a man with whom he had chatted earlier, standing with his back to him. In front of that man was another man, dressed in black, wearing a balaclava to cover his face. Deeley thought it was all some kind of joke until the guy lifted the gun. It stopped Deeley in his tracks.

Related story:
RNC officer breaks down on stand recounting final moments of shooting victim Larry Wellman

He knows what he told police, but to be honest, he can’t remember the details of what the gun looked like anymore. He only remembers looking down the barrel of it.

“I’ll never forget that,” Deeley testified Tuesday morning.

Deeley was the sixth witness to testify for the Crown at the trial of Brandon Phillips, 29, who is accused of murdering 63-year-old Larry Wellman that night in the games room of the Captain’s Quarters.

Phillips is also charged with armed robbery, assault with a weapon, possessing a weapon dangerous to the public, and wearing a disguise with the intent to commit a crime. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In his opening remarks at the beginning of the trial last week, defence lawyer Mark Gruchy — who is representing Phillips along with lawyer Jeff Brace — told the jury to pay “very, very close attention” when it was Deeley’s turn to testify, particularly when it came to the gun.

Deeley testified he and the gunman locked eyes for “what seemed like forever” before the man took a step back and raised the weapon.

Deeley said the gunman was demanding money from hotel staff, and had gotten into an altercation with a patron — identified as Wellman — who was attempting to intervene.

“The gunman seemed to be almost scared or confused,” Deeley said on the stand at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in response to questioning from Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema. “His voice cracked. He said, ‘I’m desperate, I’m not leaving here without money.’ (Wellman) was very clear, very forceful in his demands to leave.”

Deeley said he saw Wellman thrust a small table at the gunman at the same time the gunman swung his gun. Deeley said he remembered thinking someone was going to get shot, and took out his phone to call for help. He heard the table and gun connect three or four times before hearing a pop, he said, and when he looked over, Wellman was grabbing his abdomen or groin area and falling to the ground.

“(The gunman) was taking a step back. I looked at him, he looked at me,” Deeley said. “I wanted to make sure he didn’t clear the chamber and put a new round in, because I was the only other target there. Once I knew he wasn’t clearing the weapon, I was


Deeley said he went back to the bathroom and called 911.

When the robber had left, Deeley said, he went to Wellman to try to help him. He asked hotel staff for plastic bags and tape to try to secure Wellman’s gunshot wound before police and paramedics arrived and took over.

Heerema played for Deeley the surveillance video taken that night. Deeley, who hadn’t seen it before, identified Wellman and the robber.

On cross-examination, Gruchy questioned Deeley about the statement he gave to police hours after the shooting, particularly on the details of whether it was Wellman’s table that struck the robber’s gun or the other way around.

“It’s not a very good thing generally when someone strikes a weapon, is it?” Gruchy asked Deeley.

“No,” Deeley replied.

Gruchy pointed to a section of Deeley’s statement to police where he described the gunman as not having control of the weapon and seeming surprised when the gun went off.

“Watching all this happen, Mr. Deeley, did you ever have any concerns someone might accidentally get shot?” Gruchy asked.

“I thought someone could get shot. I didn’t know if it would be an accident or on purpose,” Deeley replied.

“But you thought there was the possibility, with the gun moving around and then banging on the gun, that someone could accidentally get shot?” Gruchy continued.

“Yes,” Deeley said.

Those who have testified at Phillips’ trial so far include RNC officers — including Const. Barry Reynolds, who laid with Wellman to comfort him in his last moments — and Wellman’s wife of 11 years, Linda McBay, who was with her husband at the Captain’s Quarters the night of the shooting.

The trial continues today with the province’s chief medical examiner expected to take the stand.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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