The trial of 15 men charged in connection with a vicious beating at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth is at least 16 months away and could be pushed even further into the future due to COVID-19.
A 46-year-old man suffered life-threatening injuries in the attack, which occurred early on the evening of Dec. 2, 2019. The victim has since recovered from his injuries.
The 15 accused are each facing six charges, including attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated assault.
Days after the incident, the head of the union representing correctional officers said his members told him that five inmates did the actual attack, while as many as 30 others formed a human wall to prevent guards from intervening to help the victim. Jason MacLean of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) said the incident left officers shaken and fearing for their safety.
Two names stand out on the list of 15 men charged: Brian James Marriott, 37, and Kaz Henry Cox, 41.
Marriott, who frequently goes by his initials, B.J., is a member of the Marriott crime family based in Spryfield and has a lengthy list of convictions for violent crimes.
His last sentence kept him in prison for more than 16 years on charges including manslaughter and assault with a weapon. He was released from prison in October, but returned to jail after breaching his release conditions.
Kaz Cox is charged with first-degree murder in the July 2019 shooting death of Triston Reece.
No jury trials being scheduled
Having 15 accused on a single indictment would complicate matters at the best of times. COVID-19 ensures these are not the best of times.
Lawyers for 14 of the accused and a Crown appeared before Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday to discuss the case. Cox is currently representing himself.
Most of the lawyers appeared by telephone. Cox and the others accused appeared by video link from the various jails where they are being held.
Only Justice Campbell, the clerk, Crown prosecutor Scott Morrison and defence lawyer Ian Hutchison were in the courtroom.
The Crown has already preferred indictments against all accused, bypassing preliminary inquiries in provincial court and sending the matter straight to trial.
All 15 accused want to proceed by judge alone. The Crown is opposed, saying the charges should be heard by a judge and jury.
Campbell said because of COVID-19, no jury trials are being scheduled at this point because the courts have so far been unable to find a venue that can safely accommodate a jury pool. The Law Courts on the Halifax waterfront, where all jury trials in the Halifax area are typically held, is not considered big enough to allow for physical distancing.
The issue of whether a jury will be involved will be argued separately before any trial.
Even finding a date compatible for all the lawyers proved difficult. "I think we're pretty much limited to Remembrance Day or Christmas Day," Justice Campbell said at one point.
The lawyers then agreed that Stan MacDonald, who is representing Marriott, would take the lead on arguing the jury issue. That argument will be heard on Oct. 14.
In the meantime, they have tentatively scheduled the trial itself for November 2021. Campbell said it may be possible to accommodate a jury trial by then. Or, should he rule in favour of the defence position, he could hear the matter alone during a three-week period beginning Nov. 8.
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