As the final witness in his second-degree murder trial, the accused said Wednesday he was terrified when confronted by a group of boys including James Denton, and the accused “did not think he (Denton) was going to die.”
The B.C. Supreme Court courtroom, which has been filled to capacity with friends and family of the slain Denton and the accused since the trial began June 4, heard how the accused had been drinking to the point of intoxication with a friend near the Vanier track before and while he attended the nearby Rhythm on the Rock Music Festival last July 23.
As Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines noted in his opening statement, Denton, 19, was stabbed twice — once in the left armpit and once in the left lower back — near the entrance to G.P. Vanier Secondary School following the conclusion of the day-long music festival at the nearby Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.
The 16-year old accused, who appeared calm and slightly slouched in the witness box Wednesday morning wearing a white dress shirt and black pants, cannot be identified because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The accused told his lawyer, Victoria-based Michael Mulligan, he had previously been “beaten up really badly” the summer before at a beach party.
“I got punched on the back of the head, woke up on the ground and people were stomping on me and kicking me in the ribs. I was in and out of consciousness,” he added.
The accused testified that, following the conclusion of the festival, he walked up to his group of friends on Headquarters Road when another group approached them following a short verbal confrontation moments before.
“They were definitely a lot bigger and some were men — definitely not boys,” he said.
He noted Denton was about four feet in front of him when the accused pulled out his knife and opened it with two hands, believing Denton was able to see it by his side.
“I was very frightened at that point. I thought I was going to get beaten up. I was basically scared,” he explained.
“I said get the f*** back and (Denton) grabbed onto me. I automatically jerked my arm back,” he said, and added, “I did not want to hurt anybody that night.”
He later told court he ran from the scene, and took a route down Vanier Road, through a trail near G.P. Vanier school and eventually returned to Headquarters Road, with the intent to head to the police station to turn himself in.
Police arrested the suspect near the bushes by the intersection of Headquarters Road and the Old Island Highway minutes later.
When arresting officer Const. Nick Widdershoven — who testified in court Tuesday — told the accused hours later in police cells that Denton had died in hospital, the accused said he didn’t believe it to be true.
“I thought it was some sort of sick dream or joke. I was in shock; it probably didn’t hit me until a week later,” he explained.
When asked by Mulligan how he feels, the accused replied “I feel terrible. For the past 11 months, I feel like a lowlife. I know wishing does nothing, but I’m wishing I did something different that night.”
During cross-examination, Baines questioned the accused’s knowledge of stab wounds, particularly how it could lead to death.
“It’s complete news to you to have a four-inch blade into a person’s torso and that they could die?” he asked.
“No,” replied the accused. “It never crossed my mind,” and later said he had never heard of anyone dying or passing away from a knife stabbing.
Crown then asked if the accused had thought about using the knife as protection, particularly following the incident on the beach from the previous summer.
“I figured I would use it for protection … I never viewed it as a weapon. I viewed it as a tool,” he replied.
He told court during the incident with Denton, he was hoping to scare him off with the knife.
“I didn’t think I would actually have to use it,” he added. “I thought he would see it and that would be the end of it.”
Outside the courtroom, Dave Denton, James’ father, told media he wasn’t satisfied with the accused’s testimony.
“He’s forgetting a lot. He knows a lot, but he’s not telling a lot. He can remember a lot of fine points, but he can’t remember the fine points of what he’s done wrong,” he said.
Mulligan explained to media outside there are three possible verdicts Supreme Court Justice R.B.T. Goepel can find.
“If the judge finds that the Crown has not disproven self-defence and that is the Crown’s burden to disprove that,” he noted. “If the judge found that self-defence was applicable, that is a complete defence and he would be acquitted altogether. Another possible verdict would be the if the judge found that the Crown had not proven all of the elements of murder, including that subjective foresight of death, but that self-defence wasn’t applicable, another possible verdict could be guilty of manslaughter.”
Thursday, defence began its closing statements, which continued into the afternoon, to be followed by Crown counsel.