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Evidence in Humpback Road murder trial circumstantial, defence argues

Defence lawyer Sarah Runyon said the Crown’s case against Damien Medwedrich relies on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an unreliable witness.
Alex Knatchbell was killed on Jan. 20, 2020. VIA FAMILY

The killing of 26-year-old Alex Knatchbell on Humpback Road four years ago could have been a robbery gone wrong, the defence lawyer for the man on trial for first-degree murder argued Tuesday.

In closing arguments, criminal defence lawyer Sarah Runyon said the Crown’s case against Damien Medwedrich relies on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an unreliable witness who has motivation to lie.

A key Crown witness whose identity is protected by a publication ban has testified Medwedrich asked for his help buying drugs, then came to his mother’s house to pick him up and use his cellphone to arrange a purchase from Knatchbell, a known drug dealer.

The two then drove to Humpback Road to meet Knatchbell, where the witness heard shots, he testified.

Knatchbell’s body was found in the driver’s seat of his Pathfinder by first responders around 11:35 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2020. He had been shot in the arm, neck and torso and died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Runyon said there’s no dispute over whether Medwedrich and the witness travelled to Humpback Road in Medwedrich’s car and were at the scene of the shooting. What is in dispute is whether Medwedrich was the shooter, and whether the killing was planned and deliberate, she said.

Runyon asked Justice Veronica Jackson to consider the Crown’s key witness a “Vetrovec” witness in the judge-alone trial, meaning he’s an unsavoury and disreputable witness whose testimony requires special scrutiny.

A Vetrovec witness includes people who cannot be trusted to tell the truth based on their amoral character, criminal lifestyle, past dishonesty or interest in the outcome of the trial, she said.

“This is a witness who has lied to the police, has lied to this court, has a motive to lie to absolve himself of liability, and for all of those reasons should be treated as a Vetrovec witness,” Runyon said.

She said the witness minimized his relationship with Knatchbell and feigned a lack of memory in response to “almost every question” put to him until he was shown his police statement.

While the evidence of a single witness is sufficient to support a first-degree murder conviction in Canada, if the guilt of the accused rests exclusively on a Vetrovec witness, “the danger of a wrongful conviction is particularly acute,” Runyon said.

The evidence presented by the Crown is more consistent with a robbery gone wrong than a planned shooting, she said.

“This was a plan to do something. The defence concedes as much. But it appears on the whole of the evidence more likely that this was a plan to rob,” she said.

A video recorded on the witness’s cellphone as Medwedrich drove them away from Humpback Road, in which Medwedrich appears to be pinning the shooting on the witness, is lacking context, because it’s not known who Medwedrich was speaking to or what happened before or after the conversation, Runyon argued.

She read from a transcript of the video: “That’s why I took him out to Sooke. If they pinged his phone, he was in Sooke and now I’m taking him home. I’m dropping off.”

The dialogue says nothing about who shot Knatchbell, she said.

“To convict on the basis of this witness, alongside this fragmented video, is, in the defence’s submission, the breeding ground for a wrongful conviction in relation to first or second-degree murder,” Runyon said.

The Crown is expected to begin closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

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