A witness told the jury hearing Edward Penner’s murder trial that she was kidnapped by a man named “Tanner” in 2017, who had threatened she would “end up just like Adam” if she didn’t cooperate.
Juanita Johnson took the witness stand on Sept. 4, often crying and shaking as she gave testimony about a series of events she said left her traumatized.
Penner, 22, is charged with first-degree murder in relation to the death of 25-year-old Adam Cormack, whose body was found on a dirt road near an Ibex Valley gravel pit on June 28, 2017.
Asked if she saw “Tanner” in the courtroom, Johnson pointed at Penner.
Johnson testified that she had unintentionally ended up at a party in Whitehorse’s Hillcrest neighbourhood in June 2017 at around 4:20 a.m., explaining that she had accepted a ride so she could walk home to McIntyre while she was sobering up from drinking.
She ended up going to a friend’s house, she said, and after walking into one of the bedrooms, saw Cormack sitting on the bed with Tanner and another person.
Cormack was “playing with a little machine gun” and talking to Tanner about it, Johnson said, and they were picked up by someone shortly after she arrived.
Johnson said she was at the house for about 20 minutes, but at one point, another person had squirted ketchup on her. She borrowed clothes from her friend’s roommate, Lincoln, and put her own in the washing machine before going home.
Johnson said she returned later to put her clothes in the dryer, but as she was doing that, there was suddenly banging on the walls and windows. Six people entered the house and “batted Lincoln out,” she testified; she left and returned about half an hour later.
As she approached the house, Johnson testified, she saw Tanner, a man she only knew as “Bubbles” and a woman named Jess.
For reasons she said she didn’t understand, they grabbed her and forced her into the house.
Johnson testified that Tanner slapped her and struck her with the butt end of the “little machine gun,” and that she was “rag-dolled” as they dragged her back into the house’s laundry area.
As she was being dragged, Johnson said, Tanner told her, “If you don’t do what I tell you to do, you’re going to end up just like Adam.”
Johnson said she asked what he had done to Cormack, and Tanner replied, “Adam is lying face-down naked with a bullet in his head.”
She testified that she was then forced into a car driven by “C-Mack” and taken to the Family Hotel, where she was put in a room with Tanner.
Tanner left at one point because he had a tattoo appointment, she said, but came back to the room saying someone in the parking lot was looking at him “funny” and retrieved his gun.
When he left again, Johnson said she took the opportunity to get away.
Defence lawyer Andre Ouellette questioned Johnson’s recollection of events, bringing up police statements where Johnson had said she wasn’t sure of dates and talked about events out of sequence.
Johnson grew agitated and defensive.
As she left the witness stand after being excused, Johnson, without stopping, turned to look at Penner and said, “I hope you go away for a long fucking time,” before leaving the courtroom.
Penner looked at her but otherwise showed no reaction.
The court had heard from Amber Taylor-Fisher earlier in the day, a former crack cocaine dealer and user who dated Cormack in the weeks before his death.
Taylor-Fisher said she found out about Cormack’s death after hearing on the radio that someone had been killed. Suspecting it was Cormack because of the victim’s age and because she hadn’t heard from him, Taylor-Fisher said she went to the 98 Hotel, which she described as “quite an informative place.”
Cormack’s sister also worked at the 98, she said; however, when she went in, another employee told her that the sister wasn’t there because Cormack had died.
Taylor-Fisher said she went back home and fell asleep, and next recalls people being in her apartment although she couldn’t remember when or how they had gotten in.
At one point, she said, she buzzed Tanner in, who she didn’t know well. He had a large gun that “looked like something out of a movie,” she said, and was waving it around.
Taylor-Fisher said she was initially reluctant to talk to police, but later came forward with the information about the gun because she wanted “justice for Adam.”
“I didn’t want to be considered a rat,” she said during cross-examination.
She confirmed she told police Cormack owed people money, and that he had been “kind of hiding out” at her apartment.
The court also heard from two witnesses on Sept. 5 — Whitehorse RCMP Cpl. Vanessa Philpott, a fingerprints expert who processed exhibits collected from the scene, and Airport Chalet hotel manager Cathy Delorme-Irving.
Philpott said she had found five fingerprints on two Pepsi cans — one empty, one full — collected from the crime scene. Of the five, two matched Cormack’s prints, one matched Penner’s and the other two remain unidentified, even after being run through a national database.
Philpott said she could not confirm how long the prints had been on the can.
Meanwhile, Delorme-Irving’s testimony largely saw the Crown asking her if she recognized the setting of a number of photos, including several showing Penner holding an AR-15.
Delorme-Irving said the carpeting, comforters lamps and pictures on the walls were the same as the ones used in the Airport Chalet’s motel building. She agreed in cross-examination that all the items are commercially-produced and not unique to the motel, and that the model’s furnishings have been the same since she started working there a decade ago.
The trial is expected to resume Sept. 9.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org