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Home News Judge halts proceedings after witness becomes sick while on witness stand

Judge halts proceedings after witness becomes sick while on witness stand

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Judge halts proceedings after witness becomes sick while on witness stand
Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench -- Herald file photo

Proceedings ended early at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Prince Albert on Thursday after a witness became sick and vomited while on the witness stand.

Madame Justice Heath MacMillan-Brown adjourned court until 10 a.m. on Friday after a witness in the Marrissa Bird murder trial became sick. Bird faces first degree murder charges in connection with the 2017 death of Duane Brett Ledoux. The Daily Herald cannot identify the witness due to an interim publication ban.

Health Canada lists vomiting is one of three gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19. The court’s COVID guidelines require janitorial staff give the room a deep clean before the trial can resume.

MacMillan-Brown consulted the court’s COVID-19 protocols during a 10 minute recess following the incident, then consulted with crown prosecutor Shawn Blackman and defense attorney Patrick McDougall before making her decision.

The witness told Blackman they wanted to “plow through” and finish the testimony, but MacMillan-Brown declined the offer.

“We have to err on the side of caution,” she said.

McDougall also expressed skepticism about continuing, and suggested the witness may want to undergo a rapid COVID-19 test before returning.

The witness became sick while viewing video footage of a one hour interview police conducted as part of their investigation back in 2017.

The court also extended the interim publication ban on identifying non-police witnesses until Monday, Feb. 8. The Crown asked for a ban on Wednesday because many witnesses were fearful about testifying. The ban was set to expire by the end of Thursday.

Insp. Craig Mushka was the lone police witness to testify on the fourth day of proceedings. All questions from the Crown and defence focused on a one hour video recording, which was played for the court. The recording shows a 2017 interview with a key witness over differences between their account, and a version given by a second witness who also spoke to police.

In the 2017 interview, Mushka played audio recordings of one witness’ statement and asked another witness about discrepencies. The defence’s questioning focused on those audio recordings, which McDougall argued were not in statements provided to the court.

The defence asked Mushka whether police used the quotes simply to get a frightened witness to open up. Mushka told the court he would need to watch the second witness’ full interview to point out where the audio recording came from, but remained adamant the quote was real, and that police were legitimately trying to find the truth.

The defence also asked whether Mushka was concerned a witness was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Mushka told the court that while the witness was obviously fearful about speaking with police, there was no evidence they were unfit for an interview.

“Obviously, (the witness) was emotional, but I don’t believe (they) were under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” he said.

“It was evident (the witness) was fearful of speaking to police,” he added.

The defence also asked about an unrecorded pre-interview Mushka and another police officer conducted with the witness in September 2017. It was the first of three interviews with the witness, two of which were recorded.

Mushka said they conducted the first interview to determine if the witness was willing to cooperate with police, since the statement had to be voluntary.

Marrissa Bird is one of four people who were charged in connection with the August 2017 death of Duane Brett Ledoux. The other three pleaded guilty and were sentenced last year.

One witness testified earlier in the week that Ledoux may have joined the Terror Squad gang while he was in jail. The witness also testified that Ledoux was to receive a “one-minute beating” from Terror Squad gang members for kissing a senior member’s girlfriend. Ledoux was later found dead in a house on the 800 block of 17th Street West on Aug. 16, 2017.

Bird’s trial began on Monday, Feb. 1, and is scheduled to last 10 days.