Verbal altercation led to murder in Courtenay, testify witnesses

What began as a verbal altercation between two groups of friends escalated to the eventual death of 19-year-old James Denton.

What began as a verbal altercation between two groups of friends escalated to the eventual death of 19-year-old James Denton, court heard through witness testimony this week. Friends and family of both the deceased and the accused have packed a Courtenay Supreme Court courtroom every day since the start of the trial Monday. They listened to witnesses describe what happened following the conclusion of The Rhythm on the Rock Music Festival on July 23, 2011. Crown counsel (prosecutor) Gordon Baines noted in his opening statement, Denton was stabbed twice last July — once in the left armpit and once in the left lower back — near the entrance to G.P. Vanier Secondary School.The 16-year old suspect accused of his death — who cannot be identified because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act — has been charged with second-degree murder, although Crown indicated in the past he will seek an adult sentence against the suspect if convicted.Court heard from a variety of witnesses this week who noted words were exchanged between two groups of friends at the conclusion of the concert as attendees were making their way back to their vehicles.As one witness explained, Denton and a group of friends joined together to provide support to a friend who received taunts from another group of friends. As the two groups met on the road near the intersection of Schellinck Drive and Headquarters Road (main entrance to G.P. Vanier school), the witness said the groups were arguing and “trying to be tough.””(The accused) said. ‘Don’t mess with my friends,’ ” the witness noted, and added Denton made a motion to back off.He then explained he remembers the accused pushing Denton, while Denton didn’t retaliate with a push, but held his own. “That’s when I saw all the blood,” the witness said.During cross-examination, defence lawyer Michael Mulligan asked if the group the witness was in walked away from the verbal altercation.”No,” he replied.Mulligan then questioned the witness’ recollection of the pushing between Denton and accused, and questioned whether the witness was intentionally lying to help his friend.Supreme Court Justice R.B.T. Goepel addressed members of the gallery who appeared agitated during cross-examination of the witness, and asked them to keep their emotions in check.Wednesday afternoon, Court heard from a close friend of Denton how, when walking back to a friend’s car following the conclusion of the festival, a group of three or four people yelled at him wanting to fight.He told Crown he yelled back, not wanting to fight, but said even as the two groups of friends eventually met at the intersection, the tone was initially “pretty calm, we were just standing there. I said ‘I don’t want to fight — I’m not from here,’ ” he testified. Baines asked the witness if he saw anyone in either group holding a knife or any other weapon, to which the witness replied “no.”Mulligan later questioned the witnesses’ recollection during cross-examination.He asked why the witness told police in his initial statement he saw the accused waving a nine-inch knife at the time of the incident.”That’s why you made up those lies — to make your good friend James Denton to not appear as though he started the fight,” said Mulligan.The witness did admit he initially lied to police because he was in shock and didn’t know what to do, but gave police a second statement Aug. 4, 2011. Mulligan still questioned its validity. Thursday, a witness close to Denton noted that, following the initial verbal altercation with the two groups, “Eventually it came down that we were shaking hands, and we thought the problem was done,” he stated.He added the accused then poked his head from the back of the group and in a “cocky, angry” voice said, “These are my friends. You don’t f*** with them.”Following some pushing between the accused and Denton, the witness then saw what he thought was a shiny tin can in the accused’s hand, and believed it to be bear mace.He noted the accused lunged at Denton, and then described Denton “looking dazed and stumbling around” while holding the left side of his body with his right hand.”I looked at his hand and blood was coming out,” added the witness, who said during cross-examination that he did not attend the festival with the intent to fight.”We went down to listen to some music and have a good time and we got roped into this.”Baines said he will present 23 witnesses in total — four police officers and 19 civilian witnesses. The trial which is scheduled until June 22.photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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