If all goes as planned, the jury in the Christopher Cornell attempted murder trial should be considering its verdict by this afternoon.
The group of nine women and five men heard closing arguments from both the Crown and defence lawyers yesterday after nearly four weeks of testimony in Yukon Supreme Court.
Cornell is facing eight charges including the attempted murder of Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar and deputy conservation officer Shane Oakley during a chase with police after an attempted robbery at Madley’s General Store.
He is also accused of assaulting the custodian at the store with bear spray.
The jury has heard how a dark-coloured SUV sped away from Madley’s when MacKellar and Oakley showed up in a marked police vehicle. The chase ended when a bullet from a high-powered rifle came through the front window and the veteran police officer was injured.
No eyewitnesses were able to definitively place Cornell at the store in September 2011.
When he took the stand last week he flatly denied being responsible for any of the crimes. He said he wasn’t even in the Chevy Blazer that police claim was involved in the chase at around 6:30 that morning.
Instead he provided the jury with an alternate story of looking for drugs before sending his girlfriend, Jessica Johnson, alone in the Blazer with a drug dealer identified only as “Rider.”
The alleged drug dealer was never seen again.
Johnson also faces the same charges. Only Cornell is on trial at this time.
The 31-year-old’s lawyer, David Tarnow, insisted there isn’t enough evidence to convict his client.
In a passionate closing statement, Tarnow questioned the police work done in the case, particularly surrounding one bullet officers claim was found in Cornell’s pocket.
The .375 H&H bullet was found in Cornell’s jeans at the police station after his arrest, one officer testified.
A second officer told the jury he felt a cylindrical object in Cornell’s pocket when he was first arrested, but left it there.
Cornell has denied ever having the bullet.
Tarnow suggested it is unrealistic for the bullet to have been left in Cornell’s pocket when he was first searched after his arrest near the Pine Lake campground.
“Do you really think that could be missed? No way. It wasn’t there,” the lawyer said.
He pointed out that when Johnson was searched during her arrest, everything came out of her pockets.
“Can you trust the evidence of the Crown?” he said later on. “That’s my point.”
Tarnow said the jury should believe his client’s story, or at the very least have enough reasonable doubt to find him not guilty.
In his last chance to speak to the jury, prosecutor Keith Parkkari responded to Tarnow’s suggestion about the bullet.
He said searches of people when they are first arrested are meant to find things considered a threat to police. A bullet, on its own, is not a threat, he said.
Johnson was found with needles when she was arrested alongside Cornell, the lawyer reminded the jury. Those needles were considered a risk and led to a more thorough search, he said.
Parkkari encouraged the jury to look at the case as a whole, not the single pieces of evidence in isolation.
He was critical of Cornell’s version of events, particularly the part where he claimed to have jogged 12 kilometres in about an hour from the vehicle he says he was in to Johnson in the damaged Blazer.
For a drug addict travelling at night through the bush at the side of the highway, that’s not realistic, Parkkari said.
He also suggested it is unlikely Cornell would leave his fiancee alone to go off and do a drug deal with someone he doesn’t know.
He pointed out that Cornell was seen later that morning with a rifle and was arrested with a bag containing bear spray.
Cornell claims he picked up those things from the Blazer when he met up with Johnson.
Parkkari noted the bag also contained a brown outer shell of a jacket. Oakley testified one of the people he saw was wearing a brown parka. The prosecutor suggested that, overtop of all the other layers Cornell was wearing, the brown shell may have looked like a parka.
Cornell’s DNA was only found on a crack pipe and the rifle, both of which he admitted to handling. No unidentified samples were found, said Parkkari, including nothing that would point to someone else.
The jury is scheduled to receive its final instructions from Justice Leigh Gower this morning. After that, they will be sequestered, away from any outside contact until they reach a verdict.
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