The appeal of a Whitehorse man convicted of the 2011 attempted murders of an RCMP and conservation officer has been denied.
The case involved an argument of alleged racial bias on the part of the Crown.
Last week, the Yukon Court of Appeal dismissed Christopher Cornell’s appeal of his October 2013 conviction on several charges related to a robbery and high-speed police chase that ended in a shooting in 2011.
In November 2014, Cornell was sentenced to 11 1/2 years’ imprisonment and a 10-year period of supervision as a long-term offender.
Appellant lawyer Jason Tarnow had argued that the case should be overturned on three grounds.
He claimed that Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari misused his pre-emptory jury challenges to exclude Indigenous people from the jury.
As well, an in-chambers conversation on the issue not attended by Cornell invalidated the trial, Tarnow argued.
He also alleged that Justice Leigh Gower erred in refusing to grant a mistrial application when, during cross-examination, Cornell’s “f---- the police” tattoo was discussed, which was highly prejudicial evidence.
But the appeal court found that there was no evidence that Parkkari strategically challenged Indigenous persons, or that jury selection was unfair.
As well, the appeal judges said the in-chambers discussion was not part of the trial because it was a preliminary conversation.
Finally, they noted that Gower had instructed the jury twice to disregard the prejudicial evidence.
They ruled the judge was entitled to determine that the jury’s knowledge of the tattoo would not “fatally wound” the fairness of the trial.
“The trial judge was in a better position than we are to gauge the impact of the tattoo evidence on the fairness of the trial and the remedial effect of the instructions,” Justice Ian Donald wrote.
“That advantage is one of the principal reasons why appellate courts are cautioned not to readily interfere with a judge’s discretion.”
During a mid-trial instruction, Gower told the jury members they could not use the tattoo evidence to conclude that Cornell was a person of bad character likely to have committed the offences he was charged with.
He also explained that the reasons and circumstances why someone gets a tattoo can be varied and change over time, and there was no evidence about why Cornell acquired the tattoo.
After a three-week trial, Cornell was found guilty of eight charges. Those included using violence and bear spray to rob the former Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction.
Co-accused Jessica Johnson pled guilty on the first day of trial to four of nine charges.
She pled not guilty to both counts of attempted murder.
In December 2013, Johnson was sentenced to three years’ and three months’ imprisonment.
During trial, Frank Parent, the custodian at Madley’s, testified that he saw two people inside the store early on the morning of Sept 26, 2011 while he was sweeping before it opened.
When he went to confront them, he was hit in the face, which broke his nose. He was also sprayed with bear spray.
He then saw the assailants trying to load a safe into the back of an SUV, but it was left in the Madley’s parking lot.
Parent said he did not get a good look at the assailants’ faces because their hoodies obscured their features.
RCMP Const. Kim MacKellar responded to a report of the robbery.
Conservation officer Shane Oakley was with him at the time. When they arrived at Madley’s, two people in a stolen SUV fled the scene.
A high-speed chase ensued up the North Alaska Highway toward Destruction Bay, reaching speeds of 130 kilometres an hour.
The chase ended when a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle went through the front windshield of MacKellar’s truck.
He was medevaced to Vancouver with bullet fragments in his eyes, face and shoulder.
The Haines Junction detachment commander returned to active duty three months later.
Cornell and Johnson were arrested at the Pine Lake Campground, near Haines Junction, a few hours later.