Craig Pope to get retrial after successfully appealing murder conviction

·2 min read
Craig Pope, seen here in 2019, has successfully appealed his conviction for the second-degree murder of Jonathan Collins. (Ryan Cooke/CBC - image credit)
Craig Pope, seen here in 2019, has successfully appealed his conviction for the second-degree murder of Jonathan Collins. (Ryan Cooke/CBC - image credit)
Ryan Cooke/CBC
Ryan Cooke/CBC

Almost two years after his sentencing for second-degree murder, Craig Pope has successfully appealed his conviction.

In 2019, Pope was found guilty of the 2017 stabbing death of Jonathan Collins. Now justices Gale Welsh and Gillian Butler have granted an appeal on the grounds that the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury on the difference between manslaughter and murder.

In her analysis, Welsh said the trial judge's distinction between murder and manslaughter was "ambiguous" and could have led the jury to misunderstand or even dismiss the possibility of manslaughter as a conviction.

"The error was not harmless or trivial and the evidence is not so overwhelming that the trier of fact would inevitably convict Mr. Pope of murder. In the result, a new trial is necessary," Welsh said.

She said the trial judge failed to draw the jurors' attention to the language that describes the intention required for the offence of manslaughter.

Welsh said the judge did not identify the components of the offence of manslaughter, at one point in response to a question from the jury stating, "if it isn't murder, then it's manslaughter."

She said the possibility for misunderstanding was exacerbated by an error in the decision tree attached to a typed copy of the jury charge. The decision tree helps the jury navigate the possible outcomes of the trial, but Welsh said one section of the tree was incomplete, and could have led the jury to make the wrong decision.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice William Goodridge said the explanation of manslaughter given by the trial judge was not ambiguous, and was approved by Pope's counsel. Goodridge agreed the decision tree was incomplete but argued it was not a serious error and not grounds for appeal.

The latest chapter

The successful appeal is the latest chapter in a gruelling saga that began with a 2017 ride in a taxi.

Pope and Collins were passengers, and made around a dozen stops before meeting Pope's father on Alderberry Lane, near Mundy Pond. Pope's father was with a coworker, Keith Duran.

During the trial, Duran said Pope's father gave his son $60, and a fight broke out between Pope and Collins.

Although witnesses attested Pope was the other man in the fight, nobody actually saw Pope wield the knife, nor did they see the moment Collins was stabbed.

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

After the fight, Pope got back in the cab and left the scene. The taxi driver, Jeff Cromwell, said Pope told him to run Collins over, but he refused.

Collins, who was 36, died from blood loss. He left behind two children.

The trial was emotional and chaotic on both sides of the courtroom, which was staffed with extra officers after a brief outburst from a member of the Pope family.

Now the families of the accused and the victim will face the process all over again.

CBC News has asked Pope's lawyer for comment.

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