Law enforcement will not be allowed to hold on to evidence that it says implicates Kurt Churchill — who is currently on trial for murder — in crimes connected with drug trafficking and money laundering.
In a decision handed down on Thursday, Justice Robert P. Stack found that police gave misleading evidence and have taken too long to conclude their investigation.
"The police have failed to carry out the investigation diligently. Furthermore, I find that it is unlikely that the investigation will be completed in the time estimated by the police in any event," Stack said in his decision.
Kurt Churchill was arrested in June 2021 for the July 2020 murder of James Cody.
Cody was found dead of a gunshot wound on Craigmillar Avenue in the west end St. John's in the early morning hours of July 5 of last year.
Police investigators found a handgun on a property behind 40 Craigmillar Ave., a home owned by Churchill, three days after Cody's death.
At that time, the RCMP also seized several items inside the home, including $434,000 in cash, a money counter, vacuum bags and a vacuum sealer. Police launched a money-laundering, drug trafficking and proceeds of crime investigation.
Police are allowed to hold evidence for up to three months, but must ask the court for permission if the investigation lasts longer. Law enforcement can only hold onto evidence for over a year if it can demonstrate that the investigation is sufficiently complex.
Prosecutors asked the court to allow police to hold onto the evidence until April 2022, about 21 months after it was initially seized.
Stack said police have failed to show that the investigation is complex enough to justify continuing to hold onto the items. Rather, according to Stack, investigators have taken overly long to complete the investigation.
Police gave evidence that misled, lacked specifics
Churchill asked the court to dismiss the application based on the grounds that law enforcement acted in bad faith.
While Stack did not find that the investigation itself was conducted in bad faith, he did find that Cpl. Laura Purchase gave evidence that undermined her credibility.
In her affidavit, Purchase referenced Churchill's 2014 arrest for drug trafficking, but did not note that he was acquitted and has no criminal record, an omission Stack said is misleading.
Stack also noted that Purchase references "drug trafficking activities" undertaken by Churchill, without providing evidence of those activities.
"The statements in paragraph 13 of her affidavit and in the accompanying footnote are, at best, incomplete. They are misleading and cause me concern," Stack said.
In her affidavit, Purchase said the investigation has taken longer because of the effects of COVID-19 as well as delays in getting records from financial institutions.
Stack said neither factor sufficiently explains why the investigation is taking so long.
Stack said Purchase failed to give specific details to show how COVID-19 has impacted the investigation. Additionally, he said all the financial institutions contacted as part of the investigation responded in a normal timeframe, and should not have impacted the length of the investigation.
"This conflicting evidence sworn by Cpl. Purchase is concerning," Stack said.
"She would have me believe that delays in the investigation have been caused by COVID-19. The evidence proves otherwise. Either she deliberately misled the Court as to the responses of these entities to production orders or, at best, she was less than forthright in her account."
Investigators dragging their feet: Stack
Police investigators specifically asked for more time to file requests for more financial information, but Stack said they failed to explain why it has taken so long for them to file those requests.
He said police have been "less than diligent" in their investigation and have not provided an explanation for why it took so long to complete certain aspects, like production orders to financial institutions and utility companies.
Stack said he does not believe the investigation could be completed by April, given the pace of the investigation so far.
"I find that this has less to do with the complexity of the investigation and has more to do with its slow pace," he said.
Churchill is facing the following charges in relation to Cody's death:
Using a firearm in the commission of an offence.
Careless use of a firearm.
Possession of an unauthorized firearm.
Possession of a prohibited firearm.
Tampering with the serial number of a firearm.
Churchill was granted bail in early October, and a preliminary inquiry — which will determine if there's enough evidence to proceed with the murder trial — will happen in June.