Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for October 4, 2013

Defence ‘extremely disappointed’ with verdict

Christopher Cornell was found guilty last night of attempting to murder Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar by shooting at him during a high-speed chase on Sept. 26, 2011.

By Chuck Tobin on October 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

INJURED DURING PURSUIT – Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar underwent surgery the day after he was shot at to remove metal fragments from his face, eyes and left shoulder. He returned to active duty three months later.

Christopher Cornell was found guilty last night of attempting to murder Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar by shooting at him during a high-speed chase on Sept. 26, 2011.

He was also found guilty of attempting to murder deputy conservation officer Shane Oakley, who was with MacKellar when he responded to a call of a break-in at Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction.

Cornell was also found guilty of using violence and bear spray to rob Madley’s, as well as several criminal charges.

The nine women and three men of the Yukon Supreme Court jury took four hours to review three weeks of evidence before rendering their decision Thursday evening.

As the jury foreman announced a guilty verdict on each of the eight charges, all 12 jurors stood to confirm their unanimous agreement.

Cornell remained quiet and still, with no signs of emotion as the verdict on each count was announced.

The 31-year-old Whitehorse man is scheduled to be in court Oct. 8 to set a date for sentencing.

The co-accused in the case, 22-year-old Jessica Johnson of Whitehorse, pleaded guilty on the opening day of the trial to four of nine charges. A publication ban was imposed on her guilty pleas until the jury retired to consider the verdict in the Cornell case. (See separate story, p. 3).

The jury began deliberating at 3:30 p.m. Thursday following Justice Leigh Gower’s review of the evidence from more than 20 witnesses. The judge explained how the law applied to each of the eight charges.

The jurors reached their verdict by 7:30 p.m. The court was reconvened, and the jury foreman began delivering the guilty pleas at 8:20.

Defence lawyer David Tarnow of Richmond, B.C. said afterward an appeal is likely, though he still needs to get instructions from Cornell.

He acknowledged the appeal may include the circumstances that prompted him to motion for a mistrial twice during the trial.

“I am extremely disappointed with the verdict,” Tarnow said in a brief interview while leaving the courtroom following a short conversation with his client.

Tarnow said he felt that Cornell raised a reasonable doubt at the very least when he took the stand in his defence to explain how he was not at Madley’s the morning of the robbery, and he was not in the truck being chased.

“It’s been a long trial,” said Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari.

“The jury has been out for a reasonable amount of time, and on behalf of the Crown, I think it is an appropriate verdict.”

Parkkari confirmed a conviction for attempting to murder a police officer carries a life sentence.

In addition to the publication ban on the guilty pleas entered by Johnson, the judge also ordered information about Cornell’s criminal record to be watered down before it was presented to the jury.

Gower allowed evidence of several prior convictions of less serious offences.

But he ordered there was to be no mention of Cornell’s conviction in 2007 for attemping to rob Bernie’s Race Trac gas station on Hamilton Boulevard, while wearing a mask, and wielding a knife and bear spray.

Mention of a prior offence of attempted armed robbery to the jury would be too prejudicial, the judge ruled before the jury was told of Cornell’s criminal past.

In addition to the two convictions of attempted murder and the conviction of using violence and bear spray to rob Madley’s General Store, Cornell was found guilty of:

• shooting at MacKellar and Oakley;

• shooting at a marked RCMP vehicle knowing somebody was probably in it;

• aggravated assault by wounding MacKellar;

• using a firearm while escaping from a robbery;

• using bear spray to assault Frank Parent, the custodian at Madley’s;

• using violence against Parent while stealing a safe from Madley’s.

Cornell and Johnson never did get away with the safe, as it was left lying in the parking lot of Madley’s, the jury heard.

The court heard testimony over the last three weeks of how the custodian at Madley’s General Store noticed two assailants inside the business while he was sweeping up before Madley’s opened.

Parent, a 66-year-old carpenter and firefighter who was helping his wife with the custodial contract, said he grabbed one of the individuals thinking it was another teenager they’d been having trouble with.

He caught a glimpse of a second individual before returning his attention to the one he was holding.

He told the jury he was slugged in the face hard enough to break his nose; then he heard a man’s voice say to get the bear spray.

Parent testified he did not get a look at either of the assailants’ faces because they had their hoodies up.

He made his way to the office, bleeding, with his face and eyes burning. It took him three tries to dial the right number for the police.

Parent said he went to the front door and saw the two assailants trying to load the safe into the back of the black Chevrolet Blazer. He returned to call the police a second time.

Both the RCMP officer and his passenger Oakley, a deputy conservation officer, testified they did not get a look at the faces of the two individuals who sped away from Madley’s upon their arrival to investigate the complaint of a break-in.

The high-speed highway chase began, reaching speeds of 130 kilometres an hour, the jury heard.

Early into the pursuit, the Blazer slowed down briefly to the regular highway speed, then sped up again.

Shortly afterward, the vehicle pulled into the opposite lane and things started flying out the rear passenger door – a generator, chainsaw, a hind quarter of deer meat, all kinds of power tools….

The chase went for 32 kilometres from Madley’s along the Alaska Highway toward Destruction Bay.

The jury heard how the chase ended when a bullet fired from high-powered rifle exploded through the front windshield of MacKellar’s truck.

The hole was about halfway between the top and the bottom of the windshield, but slightly more toward the top. Right to left, it was almost in the middle, but slightly more toward the driver’s side.

The bullet changed direction upon impact and took out the radar detector mounted on the dash, a firearms expert told the jury.

The expert said it could have been metal fragments which punched out the driver’s side window, as there were bullet fragments found on the driver’s door at the base of the window.

MacKellar pulled over, with blood already running down his face, his vision blurred.

Oakley jumped into the driver’s seat and drove back to Haines Junction.

The corporal was medevaced by air to Whitehorse, and then on to Vancouver.

He underwent surgery the next day to remove metal fragments from his face, eyes and left shoulder. A second surgery was required to remove more metal from his right eye. He still has fragments in his eye and shoulder.

The Haines Junction detachment commander returned to active duty three months later.

Cornell testified last week he was not in Madley’s at any time on the day in question, and he was not in the black Chevy Blazer MacKellar and Oakley chased down the highway

He told the jury he and Johnson, his fiancée, and Harold John had made an early-morning run from Whitehorse to the Mendenhall subdivision to buy heroin, as heroin was not as readily available in town as cocaine.

John was driving the Blazer. He left Cornell and Johnson on the side of the road into Mendenhall while he went to see the dealer. Some 20 minutes later, the dealer drove by in the Blazer, and John showed up in a Suzuki Sidekick.

Cornell testified they did some heroin, and decided to chase down the dealer for more. They just happened to run into him parked at the Fas Gas station on the way into Haines Junction, sometime around 3 a.m.

The dealer agreed to go get more heroin, but wanted somebody to go with him, so Johnson jumped in the Blazer with dealer, whom she’d never met.

Cornell said that was the last he saw of his bride-to-be until he ran into her sitting in the front seat the Blazer, after the Suzuki had broken down on the side of the Alaska Highway.

He’d run 12 kilometres down the highway toward Kluane Lake, where they were supposed to rendezvous after the drug deal.

The Blazer, with its back window missing, was in the ditch when he came upon it, he told the jury. The drug dealer left.

Cornell picked up a high-powered .375 H & H rifle lying next to the Blazer, figuring he could sell it later to buy more drugs.

Cornell also removed a duffle bag from the Blazer, not knowing what was in it, but hoping he would find something of value when he went through it later.

Cornell and Johnson told the two employees of the Talbot Arms Motel who gave them a ride to the Pine Lake Campground that they’d been out hunting when their Blazer had broken down.

Cornell and Johnson were arrested at the campground a couple of hours later.

The rifle was found by the police dog in the bush, hidden under moss. The duffle bag contained clothing, and several other items, including three cans of bear spray.

CommentsAdd a comment

56 Yukoner

Oct 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm

take out the trash!!! Thank god no one was killed by this piece of garbage

Just Say'in

Oct 4, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I am very happy for the Jury’s decision however what is wrong with our (Justice System) “oops” (Legal System) Why are we not letting the jury know this very relevant information. It does not prejudice their decision it informs it. How can a previous robbery with bear spray not be of some relevance? Also have they gone out and collected the well known long time Heroin dealer yet? What the H___L is going on here?

bobby bitman

Oct 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

The defense lawyer cannot really believe that this stoned drug addict ran a 12K in less than 50 minutes, at minus gazzillion with two sets of pants on plus heavy winter clothes, through the snow at the treeline?!
That is the ‘reasonable doubt’?
The best I have ever done a 10K is 50 minutes in running shoes, shorts, not stoned, and on dry pavement in Riverdale!
How dense do these lawyers think the jury is?

Resident

Oct 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Just Say’in: The information about previous crimes is irrelevant to the jury. The purpose of the jury is to determine if you are guilty for the specific charge(s) against you at that time. It is not their place to punish you for previous transgressions.

That’s the judge’s job. The judge can definitely take your history into account when it comes to sentencing. That’s where that information is relevant.

Sonny Black

Oct 6, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Really? I thought they got it right.
Drugs and violent antisocial behaviour. Hope this guy gets many years in jail and does not waste our time and money will appeal after appeal.

Greasy McGee

Oct 7, 2013 at 8:27 am

I wonder if this duo had anything to do with the roadhouse robbery I recall a few years back? Bear spray on the clerk.

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