Calgary murder trial hears of missing witness and witness tampering allegations

Michael Andrew Onischuk is on trial for second-degree murder in the 2020 death of Jessie James Hanaghan, 37. (Calgary Police Service - image credit)
Michael Andrew Onischuk is on trial for second-degree murder in the 2020 death of Jessie James Hanaghan, 37. (Calgary Police Service - image credit)

The Crown's key witness in a Calgary murder trial has been arrested hours after the prosecutor told the judge the woman was missing amid allegations of witness tampering by the accused killer.

Michael Andrew Onischuk, 35, is on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of his cousin Jessie James Hanaghan, 37, in October 2020.

Onischuk is also facing an attempted murder charge, accused of shooting Larissa Cowan during the same incident.

Cowan is a critical witness for the Crown. But on Wednesday morning, prosecutor Vicki Faulkner told Court of King's Bench Justice Earl Wilson that, according to Cowan's family, she had left town ahead of being called to testify.

"Without her, I can not prove my case," said Faulkner.

Letter from jail 

Wilson issued a witness warrant but refused to grant a two-week adjournment while police searched for Cowan. Instead, he ruled the trial should begin with the Crown calling its other witnesses.

Hours later, after a lunch break, Faulkner informed the judge that Cowan had been arrested and was in police custody in Calgary.

Wednesday's courtroom drama came two days after Justice Wilson was alerted to evidence expected to be introduced regarding allegations against Onischuk of witness tampering.

On Monday, Faulkner told court about a letter Cowan told police she'd received from Onischuk, sent to her from the Calgary Remand Centre after he was arrested.

"She says the letter had 16 points as to what she should say and a story about how the gun ended up firing," said Faulkner.

"The letter asks her to come to court, tell a story and explain how this accidentally occurred."

'Allegations of witness tampering'

That allegation was, in part, why the judge refused to allow the trial to be adjourned for two weeks before Cowan was located.

"We have allegations of witness tampering already," said Wilson.

"I'm not so sure we should be seen to simply allow a case to be adjourned in case there's something more to this witness's disappearance."

The trial will resume Monday after Faulkner has the chance to re-interview Cowan.

Before the adjournment, Faulkner delivered an opening statement, outlining the details of the allegations against Onischuk.

Bullet through the cheek

On Oct. 29, 2020, Onischuk was moving in with Hanaghan, his cousin.

That day, Cowan, Onischuk's girlfriend at the time, was helping him unpack. The two were in his bedroom when Cowan said she had to leave.

Onischuk wanted her to say and said he needed her car, Faulkner told the judge.

He became angry, ordering her to stay, according to the Crown, who said he then pulled out a gun.

Onischuk shot Cowan in the face, said Faulkner.

The bullet went in Cowan's mouth, out her cheek and through the bedroom wall, hitting Hanaghan in the heart.

"Jessie Hanaghan was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed by the bullet meant for Miss Cowan," said Faulkner.