Cornell convicted of attempted murder

Christopher Cornell has been found guilty of eight charges, including two counts of attempted murder. The Yukon Supreme Court jury reached its verdict last night at approximately 7:30 p.m. after about six hours of deliberating.

Christopher Cornell has been found guilty of eight charges, including two counts of attempted murder.

The Yukon Supreme Court jury reached its verdict last night at approximately 7:30 p.m. after about six hours of deliberating.

The 31-year-old Yukon man was convicted of the attempted murder of Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar and deputy conservation officer Shane Oakley in September 2011.

He is scheduled to be in court later this month to set a date for sentencing.

On the stand during his month-long trial, Cornell insisted it wasn’t him in the dark SUV that sped away from the police car driven by MacKellar, with Oakley in the passengers’ seat.

The jury heard a bullet was fired out of the back of that vehicle, injuring MacKellar.

The veteran officer and detachment commander in Haines Junction required surgery and still has metal fragments in his eye and shoulder.

The jury also concluded Cornell was one of the two people who broken into Madley’s General Store, attempting to steal a safe and assaulting the custodian, Frank Parent, with bear spray.

He was also convicted of discharging a rifle with the intent to prevent his arrest, discharging a firearm into a police vehicle, aggravated assault of a police officer and using a firearm to commit an offence.

Cornell was quiet in court. After each guilty verdict was read, all 12 people on the jury stood to confirm they agreed.

The jurors were not told that the woman co-accused in the crimes had already pleaded guilty before Cornell’s trial even began hearing testimony.

Jessica Johnson, 23, was originally going to be sitting alongside her fiance facing the same charges.

But on the day their trial was scheduled to begin last month, she appeared in court to plead guilty to four of the lesser charges she was facing.

A judge ruled that those guilty pleas were covered under a publication ban until Cornell’s trial was complete. Johnson will next appear in court Nov. 18.

Outside the courtroom last night, Cornell’s lawyer, David Tarnow, said he believes his client when he says he was not in the vehicle that night and did not break into the general store.

“I’m extremely disappointed with the verdict, obviously. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t follow what I had to say, but that’s the way it goes.”

Cornell has 30 days after he is sentenced to appeal.

On the stand, he told the jury that on the night the police car was shot at, he was not in the Chevy Blazer being chased.

He testified he left Johnson in that vehicle with a drug dealer known only as “Rider” so she could get more heroin.

Neither MacKellar, Oakley nor Parent was able to identify Cornell either at the store or in the vehicle.

His lawyer spent much of the trial questioning the police handling of the case, particularly whether a rifle bullet was actually found in Cornell’s pocket when he was arrested.

“I thought he at least raised the reasonable doubt with what he had to say to the jury,” Tarnow said. “Unfortunately they decided it differently and you have to respect their decision. They worked very hard.”

Prosecutors Keith Parkkari and Christiana Lavidas tried the case.

“All eight counts were put to the jury and it’s up to the jury to deliberate on them and the jury made their decision,” Parkkari said last night.

Johnson’s pleas were not the only thing kept from the jury during the trial.

Twice, Cornell’s lawyer attempted to have a mistrial declared and the proceedings begun from scratch.

The first attempt came after jury selection.

During that process of choosing the people to hear the case, one potential juror mentioned that her brother had arrested the defendant in the past.

Tarnow argued that, even though the woman was not selected, that was prejudicial for the jurors to hear.

Parkkari countered that it was not fatal to moving forward.

Justice Leigh Gower agreed that a mistrial was not needed. He said the information was not so prejudicial that the jury could not ignore it if they were properly instructed.

The second mistrial application came at the end of the trial, after Cornell had given his testimony.

During cross examination, it was revealed Cornell has a tattoo that reads: Fuck the Police.

Parkkari was questioning Cornell on his feelings towards police.

While Cornell insisted he had nothing against officers, Parkkari suggested a more accurate sentiment would be “fuck the police.”

“Why, because I have a tattoo that says ‘Fuck the Police’?” Cornell replied.

“Well, do you?” the lawyer replied.

“Yes,” Cornell said.

Some jurors gasped.

The jury was asked to leave and Tarnow argued this line of questioning was only chosen as an attempted to “assassinate” Cornell’s character.

He called it a “thinly veiled attempt and improper attack” on the part of the Crown to suggest that Cornell is the type of person who would shoot at the police.

Parkkari insisted he was taken aback by Cornell’s response, even though he knew about the existence of the tattoo.

Parkkari told the judge he was trying to get a response out of Cornell, but did not expect that answer.

After taking the night to consider his decision, Gower called the situation “very close.” He said that the justice system is based on a presumption of jurors having strength and the ability to follow his instructions.

In the end, the judge told the jury they must disregard the evidence of Cornell’s tattoo entirely, but he did not declare a mistrial.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com