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Home News Judge temporarily bans media from identifying witnesses in murder trial over concerns about retaliation

Judge temporarily bans media from identifying witnesses in murder trial over concerns about retaliation

Judge temporarily bans media from identifying witnesses in murder trial over concerns about retaliation
Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench -- Herald file photo.

An interim publication ban was put in place on Wednesday preventing media from reporting the identities of non-police witnesses in the Marrissa Bird murder trial due to concerns about reprisals and intimidation.

Crown Prosecutor Shawn Blackman asked for a publication ban near the end of the third day of testimony at Prince Albert’s Court of Queen’s Bench. Typically, applications to restrict media reporting must be made at least three days before proceedings begin.

Blackman told the court he recognized the trial was already in its third day, but said several key witnesses had expressed concerns about their safety. Those concerns were readily apparent on Wednesday, when the first crown witness initially refused to testify, and repeatedly told the court they “don’t want to be here“ and “don’t want to remember anymore.”

The witness said they’d received multiple threats, and were “probably going to be dead by tomorrow” if they testified. The witness became cooperative for a brief period before answering most questions with “I don’t remember,” and sometimes refusing to answer at all.

Blackman said it was evident the witness hesitated because they were terrified, something that’s been a familiar pattern with non-police witnesses since the trial started on Monday.

“Retaliation is what the concern is,” Blackman explained during the afternoon session. “There have been issues raised.”

Defence attorney Patrick McDougall did not oppose the interim publication ban, as long as Bird’s right to a fair trial remains unimpeded.

Blackman originally floated the possibility of extending the ban until Feb. 11, but the presiding judge, Madame Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown, said she did not feel comfortable implementing it for more than a week on short notice.

However, MacMillan-Brown also said it was evident many non-police witnesses feared for their physical well-being. After a 15-minute recess, she agreed to put an interim ban in place, with further discussions about extending the ban scheduled for Thursday.

The ban does not extend to police testimony, which took up the entire afternoon session on Wednesday. Sgt. Darren Androsoff was one of two officers to take the stand, and his testimony was by far the longest.

The court watched video recordings of Androsoff taking a sworn statement from a key witness in September 2017. Many of the follow-up questions on Wednesday focused on the quality of the audio, and whether the witness had been using methamphetamine prior to giving the statement.

Androsoff testified that the witness was clearly tired and distressed, but appeared to be lucid.

“(The witness) was certainly emotional, given the circumstances, but I do not believe (they were) intoxicated at the time,” he told the court.

Video evidence showed the witness breaking down in tears on several occasions. The witness alternated between concerns about physical safety, and guilt over Ledoux’s death.

“No one is going to be there to protect me,” the witness tells Androsoff in the video.

Androsoff, who has since transferred to another department, consoles the witness throughout the video, telling them not to blame themselves for Ledoux’s death, and affirming that police do not believe the witness was involved in the killing.

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.

Ledoux was found dead in a house on the 800 block of 17th Street West on Aug. 16, 2017. 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.

–with files from Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald