Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for September 26, 2013

Accused man tells jury he’s innocent

Christopher Cornell testified Wednesday he was nowhere near Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction when it was robbed two years ago today.

By Chuck Tobin on September 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Christopher Cornell testified Wednesday he was nowhere near Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction when it was robbed two years ago today.

Cornell told a Yukon Supreme Court jury he did not punch and spray custodian Frank Parent with bear spray.

He said he did not fire a bullet through the windshield of the RCMP crew cab driven by Haines Junction Cpl. Kim MacKellar during a high-speed chase from Madley’s down the Alaska Highway toward Destruction.

He wasn’t even in the black Chevrolet Blazer being chased, Cornell to the jury.

The 32-year-old Whitehorse man is on trial for attempting to murder MacKellar and deputy conservation officer Shane Oakley by
shooting at them with a rifle during a high speed chase in the early morning of Sept. 26, 2011.

He’s also accused of using violence and bear spray while stealing a safe from Madley’s General Store.

Jessica Johnson, 23, of Whitehorse, faces the same charges. Only Cornell is on trial at this time. The trial began with jury selection on Sept. 9. It’s scheduled to continue into next week.

There’s been no testimony of facial identification during the robbery or the chase, though the jurors have heard of physical descriptions and the colour of clothing.

The custodian testified two weeks ago he could not see the faces of the hooded intruders who broke his nose and bear sprayed him.

MacKellar and Oakley said they could not see the faces of the two suspects who peeled out of Madley’s parking lot when they arrived in the RCMP crew cab.

Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari finished presenting his evidence Tuesday afternoon with the testimony from the Haines Junction detachment commander.

MacKellar told the jury he is still dealing with metal fragments in his eyes and left shoulder from the morning when a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle blew through his windshield.

Defence lawyer David Tarnow thanked the nine women and five men of the jury before he opened his client’s case Wednesday afternoon.

He thanked them for their dedication and attention to detail as witnesses testified during the past 2 1/2 weeks.

Tarnow reminded the jury the presumption of innocence is the core of Canada’s judicial system.

The Crown, he explained, has a heavy burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

That burden is of the highest standard, Tarnow said.

The defence lawyer told the jury Cornell is not obligated to testify or offer any defence, but he chose to take the stand to help the jury understand the events of that morning.

Tarnow led Cornell through a roadmap of his whereabouts when everything went down.

Cornell told the jury he’d had a troubled past, spending his years growing up in receiving homes, group homes and foster homes, and having several run-ins with the law.

The use of drugs like weed and crack cocaine has been ongoing for years, but he didn’t get hooked on opiates until after he was on prescription morphine for several months following injuries suffered in a beating in 2010.

He told the jury he and Johnson, his fiancée, were at his basement suite in the Kwanlin Dun village, phoning around to find some heroin, which isn’t always easy to find in Whitehorse, not like crack.

He said Harold John contacted them and told them he knew where they could get some.

John showed up in a black Chevy Blazer.

Cornell said he didn’t know where he got the truck from, though the jury has heard evidence it was stolen from in front of Ray Falle’s home on the North Klondike Highway.

After smoking crack, doing some other needle drugs, sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., Cornell, Johnson and John hit the road for the Mendenhall subdivision between Whitehorse and Haines Junction. They still had a few needles with drugs, and some crack on them.

Cornell told the jury he did one of his needles on the way out.

When they arrived at Mendenhall, John dropped them along the road into the subdivision, while he went to see the drug dealer, the accused testified.

He said he and Johnson were there for about 20 minutes.

They had finished the last of what was left in the needles when they saw the dealer drive by in the black Chevy Blazer, and then turn on the highway towards Haines Junction.

A short time later, John came along in a dark Suzuki Sidekick, Cornell said.

The jury has heard testimony that René Allaire’s Suzuki was stolen from next to his apartment in the Mendenhall subdivision, with a .375 H & H rifle, bullets and several power tools stored inside.

Cornell said when he was sitting on the floor in the back of the Suzuki, there was nothing there but a little bit of rope.

After doing some heroin for about 20 minutes, Cornell said he wanted to get some more, and they decided to see if they could catch up to the dealer.

They pulled up beside him at the Fas Gas station on the way into Haines Junction.

Cornell said he didn’t know the dealer, and didn’t get a good look at him as John was talking to him through the side window.

The dealer agreed to make a run, but wanted somebody to go with him, and Cornell’s fiancée volunteered.

They were to meet down the Alaska Highway toward Destruction Bay, at a pull-out along Kluane Lake, he said.

Cornell testified after the dealer and Johnson drove off in the Chevy Blazer, he and John drove to the home of Tracy Kane, Johnson’s stepmother. He thought he might be able to steal some items he could sell.

As they walked on the porch, however, Kane pushed opened her front door and sternly asked them what they were doing there.

Cornell said he and John bolted back down the long driveway of her country residential property, jumped into the Suzuki Sidekick they left on the road and quickly headed for the Alaska Highway and the Kluane Lake pull-out, with John Driving.

The Suzuki, however, was having electrical problems, and all the lights inside and outside went out, forcing him and John to pull over because it was dark.

Cornell told the jury he and John did some more drugs, and John was really high when Cornell looked in the rear view mirror and saw flashing police lights coming down the highway a long way off.

He told the jury he thought the police might have been called by Kane, and they might be after them.

So he told John, “let’s go,” and then be ran from the Suzuki into the bush, but John did not follow.

Cornell said he heard a loud bang and when he turned to look, the RCMP truck was braking and pulling over.

It turned around and was heading back toward Haines Junction when it stopped beside the Suzuki. He watched John get into the back seat of the crew cab before it drove off.

Cornell said he continued on foot in the ditch along the treeline, heading toward Kluane Lake when he came across Johnson 12 kilometres away.

She was sitting in the black Chevy Blazer, which was in the ditch, up against the tree line.

He picked up a rifle next to the truck. He knew he could sell it, he told the jury.

He and Johnson headed into the bush to do more drugs when a white cube van came along just as they finished.

Cornell said they walked out and hitched a ride in the cube van but not before he grabbed a duffle bag from the Chevy Blazer.

The duffle bag was not his, but he wanted to sort through it later to see if there was anything he could sell to get more drugs.

It was the same duffle bag that contained three cans of bear spray when it was seized during the arrest at the Pine Lake Campground.

Cornell said he asked to be dropped off at the campground, because he didn’t want to get off in Haines Junction carrying a rifle.

Once at the campground, he would call a friend from Haines Junction to come and get him, and then they could deal with the rifle, he told the jury.

Cornell testified neither his nor Johnson’s cell was working when they got there, so he hid the rifle in the bush, and he and Johnson began walking back to Haines Junction when they were arrested by a lone police officer.

More officers were on the scene a minute later, he said.

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