Trial begins for second group of Nova Scotia inmates in cell attack

·4 min read

HALIFAX — The second of what could now be four trials involving inmates of a Halifax-area jail charged in the brutal attack of a fellow prisoner started Wednesday.

Before testimony began, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell announced that one high-profile defendant, Brian James Marriott, who was expected to have his trial begin this week will now have his charges handled in separate proceedings.

It emerged that at a hearing a day earlier, Marriott's Toronto-based lawyer Nathan Gorham advised Campbell of unanticipated delays in an Ontario murder trial of a client he's representing. The judge agreed to allow Marriott's matter to proceed separately, with his next court date set for Nov. 29.

A total of 15 inmates are charged with attempted murder and other offences related to a 2019 assault on Stephen Anderson at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, also known as the Burnside jail. Campbell presided over a first trial of six inmates in September and has not rendered his decision.

The judge didn't appear pleased by the application for a last-minute severance in a case with very similar evidence that has already consumed the court's time and resources.

"I do recall saying in this matter very early on, and repeatedly, that if anybody had an issue with ... a lawyer not being available, this matter is going ahead," Campbell said Tuesday.

"I don't think I have much choice but to exercise the discretion to grant severance. I don't like it. I'm not happy with it, but whether I'm happy with things isn't really the test," he said.

The prosecution of the inmates had been broken into separate trials to allow sufficient space for all of the lawyers, sheriffs and accused to attend and abide by pandemic rules.

All 15 accused are facing charges of conspiring to commit murder, attempted murder, unlawful confinement, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and obstructing a peace officer. One inmate is also facing a charge of assaulting a peace officer.

In addition to Marriott's case being split from the others, a 15th inmate, Sophon Sek, is facing trial at a later date due to what Campbell has referred to as "exceptional circumstances" related to his health.

The case revolves around the alleged beating and stabbing of Anderson in his cell, which unfolded in about two minutes and 45 seconds shortly after he was admitted to the unit on the night of Dec. 2, 2019.

The current trial now involves seven of the inmates: Kaz Cox, Austin Mitton, Kevin Clarke-McNeil, Andriko Crawley, Robert Fraser, Matthew Coaker and Geevan Nagendran.

Video evidence at the first trial showed prisoners appearing to gather for a meeting before the attack and forming a blocking wall when correctional officers attempted to intervene seconds after the assault began.

Defence lawyers in the earlier trial countered that there wasn't clear evidence to link their individual clients to the stabbing and beating that occurred within the cell, and that the intent had been to "bounce" Anderson from the unit rather than to kill him.

Gorham told Campbell Tuesday he'd spoken with the Crown about possible solutions after it became apparent weeks ago there would be a scheduling problem, and the lawyers had discussed possible guilty pleas by Marriott. However, the lawyer said when he learned recently the Crown might be seeking to have Marriott designated a dangerous offender if convicted, he realized the possibility of a plea couldn't be resolved before the trial started.

"We believe the case is going to resolve without a trial, resolved through a guilty plea .... Even if it doesn't, you're looking at a very streamlined trial that proceeds with a reduced number of witnesses," Gorham said.

The first witness in Wednesday's trial, Dr. Michael Biddulph, testified that when Anderson came to the hospital on the night of Dec. 2, he had multiple stab wounds in his chest and back, and his life was in danger as he struggled to breathe.

Similar evidence of Anderson's injuries came from Fern Hatcher, a licensed practical nurse who treated him for what she described as 14 stab wounds, an eye swollen shut and bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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