Defence questions lack of police work at Waterford Manor arson trial

There is an old-fashioned whodunit playing out in front of a jury in a St. John's courtroom, with a Victorian manor rocked by explosions at the centre of the drama.

Was it the prodigal son, still angry at being banished from the premises despite being welcomed back with open arms?

Or was it the disgruntled ex-manager, who had been accused of breaking into the Waterford Manor and stealing after he'd been fired?

Or could it have been the ex-convict caretaker living in the basement and doing odd jobs around the property?

Crown prosecutor Chris McCarthy is hoping to convince the jury it's the son, David Badrudin — whose family has owned the historic property since the 1990s.

Defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Ken Mahoney are trying to cast shadows of doubt with hypotheticals lurking behind doors two and three.

Questions about police priorities

One thing is clear from the testimony so far — the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary didn't spend much time investigating the arson at the 115-year-old historic property.

Mahoney took his time cross-examining Const. Steve Walsh, the lead and only investigator, on Tuesday morning.

Walsh said the general investigation unit was swamped with other cases after the fire on July 7, 2016, and had to put the Waterford Manor on the backburner.

Ryan Cooke/CBC

It was almost a year after the fire when Badrudin was charged with arson.

Walsh hadn't interviewed Badrudin, the caretaker or the ex-manager. He did, however, receive a package of evidence from the insurance company, Aviva, which had conducted its own investigation. None of that evidence has been introduced at trial.

Mahoney asked if the charge against Badrudin was based on anything other than the insurance file, to which Walsh pointed to eyewitness testimony.

Badrudin entered the house minutes before explosion

Stephanie Hussey was the first of those witnesses to take the stand on Tuesday.

She was the general manager, living in the manor and handling events like weddings and overnight bookings.

Hussey was preparing for guests to arrive the day of the fire. She was in and out of the house all day, picking up groceries and supplies and bringing them to the manor.

Around supper time, she was heading out to pick up some drinks for the guests who would be arriving any minute.

As she was leaving, she saw David Badrudin in a white Volkswagen Jetta pull around the back of the manor. She thought this was weird. She then saw him putting the code into the front door lock — a code he wasn't supposed to have.

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Badrudin wasn't allowed at the property unsupervised — a decision Hussey said was made by herself and his father, Nas Badrudin.

Hussey said there were problems with the younger Badrudin coming around and asking for money. She worried what he would do if left by himself — minor things like smoking indoors, or leaving a mess.

She went to the door and asked what he was doing there. Hussey told him she'd be back in five minutes and they'd talk then.

Hussey figures it was a couple minutes later that she got a call saying the Waterford Manor had exploded.

We now know from the agreed statement of facts at the trial that four gas cans were found scattered throughout the upper floors of the home, and gasoline was spread throughout some of the rooms.

Badrudin left scene with no eyebrows

The defence raised concern with the lack of police work, but two witnesses told the court they saw Badrudin outside the house moments after the explosion. Both said he was covered in drywall dust and his hair looked burned.

Bill Barron said David Badrudin had no eyebrows.

Barron is the caretaker — the man just released from jail for breaking and entering at the time of the fire, with a list of other minor offences over the years.

I took one bite of my Big Mary and ... the whole place went boom. - Jamie Snow, basement tenant

He tried to show the jury he wasn't the boogeyman the defence wanted him to be.

"I kicked in the door to my own house," he said of the breaking and entering charge.

Barron was home all day on July 7, 2016. He was living with his son, 38-year-old Jamie Snow, in the basement apartment.

Snow was at work that day, but came home around 4 p.m. and picked up his father. They went to buy fish for Snow's aquarium, then went to Mary Brown's.

Back at the house about an hour later, they had no time to enjoy their meal.

"I took one bite of my Big Mary and ... the whole place went boom," he said. "I thought it lifted off the ground."

He went outside and saw debris falling from the sky. Moments later, Badrudin was standing in his doorway, telling Snow to move his car so he could leave.

Barron said he saw furniture from the top floor scattered on the ground as Badrudin pulled away in his white Jetta.

"He got in his car and booted," Barron said.

The ex-manager wasn't mentioned much, but Hussey said the manor implemented security systems after her predecessor had broken into the manor through the fire escape on the third floor.

The surveillance cameras, however, were taken down sometime before the fire.

The Crown started and likely finished its case on Tuesday. McCarthy will decide Wednesday morning whether or not he'll call any more evidence.

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