McDiarmid acquitted of attempted murder

Dawson City jurors found Mark McDiarmid not guilty of attempted murder but convicted him of five other charges in connection with a 2011 showdown with police.

Dawson City jurors found Mark McDiarmid not guilty of attempted murder but convicted him of five other charges in connection with a 2011 showdown with police.

McDiarmid says he plans to appeal the decision, which jurors reached on Monday evening.

The 36-year-old woodcutter and former oilfield worker from the Dawson area acted as his own lawyer in the trial, which lasted nearly six weeks.

He was found guilty on three counts of armed assault against a peace officer, one mischief charge and one weapons offence. The charges all related to a sequence of events that culminated when McDiarmid is alleged to have run at two RCMP officers brandishing a splitting maul near the intersection of the Dempster and the Klondike Highways on October 20, 2011.

McDiarmid was shot three times and arrested. He has been in custody ever since.

According to prosecutors David McWhinnie and Jennifer Grandy, RCMP officers were attempting to serve a warrant for an earlier court matter that Mr. McDiarmid was aware of at the time of his arrest.

On the surface, there seemed to be little dispute regarding the timeline of events. Both sides agree McDiarmid was confronted by RCMP Sgt. Dave Wallace in Dawson on October 19, 2011 about the outstanding court matter.

McDiarmid reacted by bashing the hood and windshield of Sgt. Wallace’s police cruiser with a sledgehammer, after which Sgt. Wallace drove off.

There was a confrontation on the Dempster Highway the next day.

The discrepancies between the two sides grew obvious when McDiarmid took the stand to detail a pattern of low-level run-ins with the law, “bullshit charges” and release conditions that he insisted had complicated his life prior to 2011.

“I had my ability to work taken away,” he recounted, his voice tight with frustration, as he described the impact of court documents limiting his freedom of movement. “I was starved for money at the time.”

McDiarmid maintained that RCMP members harbored an animosity toward him, and had sought to provoke him by maneuvering him into a situation where he felt “trapped” and “helpless” by not acting to remove these earlier charges, so that “every process I (initiated) to try to do things the right way didn’t work.”

On the night he was shot, McDiarmid testified that he had finished a day’s cutting at his lot 10 kilometres north of the intersection of the Klondike and the Dempster highways.

He was leaving after nightfall when he saw a police car waiting for him, with a spike belt drawn across the gravel road.

Rather than slow down, McDiarmid decided to power through. “I hit that thing doing 50,” he said during his testimony to the court Feb. 25.

McDiarmid has admitted having problems with the police. He testified that he “wanted to get them to a point where they were helpless.”

“There’s no accountability (for police officers),” he said.

After he found himself surrounded by police cars, McDiarmid testified that he tossed a mason jar full of flammable liquid. He said the jar is used to thaw ground for quarrying. He described it as the first thing that came to hand.

McDiarmid also admitted to charging at a police cruiser with a splitting maul. He testified that he intended to damage the vehicle, in the same way he had smashed the headlights and windshield of Sgt. Wallace’s car in Dawson the day prior.

When he was within three metres, according to police testimony, officers Jeff Nielsen and David Marentette opened fire, hitting McDiarmid once in the shoulder and twice in the thighs.

McDiarmid’s version of that night has some key differences from the police’s story.

He insists it didn’t happen where police say it did, and that one of the officers who claims to have shot him wasn’t even there.

He also argued that much of the evidence in the case was fabricated.

During his cross-examination, McWhinnie sought to challenge McDiarmid’s story by submitting that it was McDiarmid who had anticipated the confrontation with police and actively prepared for it by stockpiling objects that he later used as weapons on the Dempster.

Following weeks of lengthy representations, involving more than 20 witnesses, jurors reached their decision quickly.

Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hughes finished presenting her instructions to the jury just before 4 p.m. Monday, and the verdict was read out at 7:30 p.m.

During her instruction, Hughes gave the jury precise directions about the threshold of proof the prosecution was required to meet for each charge.

In the case of armed assault, said Justice Hughes, it was not necessary to show that McDiarmid had actually struck the officers with an object, but only that he had demonstrated the “intent” and “ability” to do so. In the case of attempted murder, it was necessary to prove that Mr. McDiarmid had the intention to kill.

Neither the Crown nor the defense showed surprise during Monday’s verdict. McDiarmid remains in custody pending a pre-sentencing hearing in Whitehorse on March 17.

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