A man who went by “EJ” told a Whitehorse drug dealer in 2017 that he was in town to “take care” of Adam Cormack over a missing gun, a Whitehorse jury heard on Sept. 3.
And “EJ,” former dealer turned Crown witness Alain Bernier testified, was sitting in the courtroom just a few metres away from him, in the defendant’s box — Edward James Penner, on trial for first-degree murder.
Bernier was the ninth witness to testify in the trial that started late last month.
Cormack, 25, was found dead on a dirt road near a gravel pit off Kilometre 1450 of the Alaska Highway on June 28, 2017.
Penner, a 22-year-old from British Columbia, has pleaded not guilty.
Responding to questions from Crown attorney Tom Lemon, Bernier, a 45-year-old with a lengthy criminal record, told the court he was living with his then-girlfriend at the Mountain View Motel in June 2017, apparently referring to the Mountain Ridge Motel and RV Park.
Bernier confirmed that at the time, he was selling crack cocaine while also being addicted to drugs himself, and that several other residents in the motel were drug dealers too.
He had known Cormack for a few years, he testified, and while Cormack “dabbled” in drugs, he was “never full-blown (addicted) … He wasn’t like me.”
Bernier said he met “EJ” for the first time about a week before Cormack’s death, when he showed up to his room with another man and a woman and asked to use his phone.
EJ would stop by his room a few times a day, Bernier said, sometimes to drop off or pick up drugs. A day or two after they first met, Bernier testified, EJ told him that he had done some “investigating” and found out that Cormack had sold a gun that didn’t belong to him.
EJ said that Cormack was “going to deal with some consequences” as a result, Bernier said.
Bernier testified that he saw EJ with an AR-15 tucked into his waistband “shortly before” Cormack’s death, describing the firearm as a “very intimidating piece of machinery” with an “unmistakable” look.
EJ had come over again a few days later and was talking to Bernier’s girlfriend, but Bernier said he started paying attention when he heard mention of guns.
EJ told them that he and Cormack had driven to a backroad to “share a bottle of booze” and shoot some guns, Bernier testified.
According to Bernier, EJ said that Cormack had been taking a drink, and that he had made eye contact with Cormack before shooting him.
“I shot him in the neck, I shot him in the neck, and he went down to the ground and I kicked him in the head,” Bernier recalled EJ saying.
EJ also told them that there were two other people who had driven out with him and Cormack — “C-Dog,” the driver, and “Bubs,” both people Bernier knew through the drug trade — and he was “very concerned” about whether he could trust them.
Asked why he came forward, Bernier said it was because he didn’t believe that the shooting was warranted.
“Adam didn’t deserve this,” he said.
Bernier spoke slowly, in a quiet, sometimes inaudible voice — a sharp contrast to defence lawyer Andre Ouellette’s rapid-fire, booming questions during cross-examination.
Ouellette questioned Bernier’s motives for testifying, suggesting that he was appearing in court not out of goodwill, but because he was obligated to do so under the terms of a witness protection program.
Bernier denied that, saying that he was no longer in the program.
Ouellette also attacked Bernier’s recollection of events, saying that, in various statements to police, Bernier had offered up “two or three” different versions of what happened to Cormack — that he had been shot in the face, that he had been shot multiple times in the head, and that he had heard Cormack’s throat had been slit.
He suggested that Bernier was cobbling together stories with details from conversations he had with other people, including his girlfriend, following Cormack’s death, and that he wasn’t recalling things based solely on what EJ had told him.
Bernier agreed that his girlfriend had had more access to Penner, having driven him around Whitehorse a couple of times. However, he maintained that he could distinguish between what he heard from other people and what he heard from EJ. He also said that he had been “tired” when giving some of the statements, and that he remembered some details more clearly at different times.
As well, Ouellette questioned the veracity the AR-15 being tucked into EJ’s waistband, noting the gun was two-and-a-half feet long. Bernier said that EJ was tall and wearing baggy clothes, with part of the weapon resting against his chest.
Responding to questions from both the Crown and defence, Bernier confirmed that his girlfriend wanted no part in the investigation, and that their relationship had ended, in part, because he was cooperating with authorities.
The trial continues Wednesday, with several more Crown witnesses expected to testify this week and next.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org