It's a bizarre situation only possible because of the pandemic: two men, each accused of first-degree murder, casually chatting about their cases and the jails they're being held in while awaiting the start of a court hearing Wednesday morning.
Neither Kaz Cox nor William Sandeson were actually in the courtroom. They were connected by video links from the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou and the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside.
Cox is now being housed in the Pictou jail, but he told Sandeson he'd rather be back in Burnside.
"This is kindergarten," Cox said. "Really personal employees. Feel like they know you, right?"
Sandeson responded that things have changed at Burnside since Cox was transferred.
"They got a bunch of Yarmouth staff up here now and that surprised me about how warm and fuzzy they are," Sandeson said.
"My first night here, they gently, gently, gently come to the door and ... 'Have a good night, Mr. Sandeson,' and then slowly, gently click the door."
Prior to the pandemic, inmates would never have the chance to interact like this in a courtroom because each matter would be dealt with individually.
But Wednesday's hearing brought together lawyers and accused from several cases that are supposed to be dealt with in jury trials. Those trials have been postponed because of the pandemic.
Court staff had established video links to the jails prior to the formal start of proceedings, giving Cox and Sandeson the unique opportunity to interact.
Sandeson, a student at Dalhousie University's medical school, was convicted three years ago of killing fellow student Taylor Samson in August 2015. His conviction was overturned on appeal earlier this year and he's now awaiting a second trial.
Neither man represented by lawyers
Cox complained about the difficulty he said he's having in obtaining disclosure documents from the Crown.
"They're just taking advantage that I don't have counsel right now. And until I get all my disclosure, I'm not getting it," Cox said.
"Well, I really recommend you don't hire a private investigator," Sandeson replied, laughing.
The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Sandeson based on an episode in his original trial when a private investigator hired by the defence went to police with new information.
Defence lawyers didn't learn of the investigator's about-face until in the middle of the trial. They asked for a mistrial, but the judge refused. That, said the Court of Appeal, was a mistake that warrants a new trial.
"And then they let that in, you know," Cox said, referring to the evidence the investigator provided to police. "They searched the apartment and all the other things ... they're beyond questionable. I feel for you."
Sandeson's appeal had raised questions about the police search of his apartment, but the court did not address those concerns.
Neither Cox nor Sandeson are currently represented by lawyers.
Sandeson has approached noted Toronto defence lawyer James Lockyer to handle his second trial. An associate lawyer in Lockyer's firm told court Wednesday that he's meeting with Nova Scotia Legal Aid before deciding whether to take the case.
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