Photo by Whitehorse Star
A forensic pathologist has laid out the extent of the injuries that led to the death of 25-year-old Adam Cormack, and a firearms expert has detailed what type of gun was likely used in the crime.
The jury trial of Edward James Penner continued Tuesday and Wednesday in Yukon Supreme Court in Whitehorse.
Penner, 22, is facing one count of first-degree murder in relation to Cormack’s death. Deputy Justice Scott Brooker is presiding over the Quesnel, B.C. man’s trial.
Tuesday’s first witness was Jason Morin, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Cormack’s body.
This was done June 30, 2017 at the Vancouver General Hospital morgue. Cormack had been found dead two days earlier in wilderness northwest of Whitehorse.
Morin did an x-ray on the body to search for metallic projectiles.
He found that Cormack had two injuries on his lower limbs. One was a scratch on one of his legs and the other was a scab on his left ankle. Cormack’s body showed no sign of natural disease.
“We didn’t identity any of that,” Morin said.
He concluded that death had been caused by a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet entered the right side of Cormack’s head above the ear. It left a small hole.
It went through his skin and skull, entering his brain on a downward trajectory.
The portions of the brain that were hit were the parietal and temporal regions, Morin testified. It went through the cerebellum, which handles motor skills. It next hit the brain stem, which connects to the spinal cord.
The brain stem was severed, which would have caused death immediately. His heart would have stopped pumping blood.
The bullet exited the body on the left side of the neck, leaving a larger hole than the entrance wound.
The Crown showed photos of both the entrance and exit wounds.
Morin said there is clear indication of gunpowder stippling around the entrance wound on the right side of Cormack’s head. Gun powder stippling (atomized metal particles) is a substance that comes out of a barrel of a gun when a bullet is fired.
The bullet is propelled by gunpowder, but not all of it burns.
Soot can also come out of a gun barrel, but Morin found none on Cormack’s body. He explained that the presence of the stippling indicates the victim’s head was close to the gun.
He believed the stippling indicates that the firearm was between two or three feet from Cormack’s head. He added that the wound and bullet path are generally consistent with a high-powered rifle. He felt the exit wound was a bit big for a handgun.
Morin explained that entrance wounds are usually smaller because the bullet is travelling with all its firing energy.
As the bullet passes through its target, it loses this energy, which is why exit wounds are bigger.
André Ouellette, one of Penner’s lawyers, asked if the time of death could be determined. Morin said it could not.
Ouellette asked if the bullet took a linear path. Morin said it was linear.
The defence asked if Morin could be certain of the weapon used. He also asked if hollow point bullets could be ruled out and if the type of round could be determined.
Morin said he can say for sure it was a rifle. He could not really rule out hollow points but said those rounds usually don’t go fully through a body. He indicated that he can’t determine the bullet.
The Crown next called RCMP Const. Emma Leslie, who testified regarding evidence from two Facebook pages. These are the pages under the name James Tanner and EJ Penner. She noticed both accounts had an overlap of 40 friends.
She felt the profile picture on the James Tanner account matched Penner. Several witnesses told the court in previous testimony that they knew Penner under the name Tanner or EJ.
Leslie told the court someone sent Penner a Facebook message about coming up to Whitehorse because “the money was unreal.” There was an offer for someone to pay for his plane ticket.
There were photos taken of Penner around June 26, 2017. The information was related to his arriving in Whitehorse.
Leslie pointed out there is at least one Facebook message where James Tanner admitted to being Penner.
She added that he sent a message to someone indicating that he had bought an AR-15 for $2,500. The string of messages continued referencing shooting the firearm.
Kelly Labine, Penner’s other lawyer, asked if you could use a fake name on Facebook. Leslie said you could.
Labine next asked if anyone could use a specific account if he or she knew the password.
Leslie confirmed that is possible. She added that all she could say is which account sent the messages; she couldn’t be certain who used the account.
The next Crown witness was Megan Evoy, a forensic firearm and tool-marking expert.
Evoy did not look at the evidence herself, but on Wednesday presented the findings of her former colleague, Christopher Kerr, who died last year and whose work she reviewed.
She said her colleague looked at a .22-calibre bullet and a casing retrieved from the murder scene. The lab examined both items to determine what gun or firearm family could have fired the bullet.
Evoy said the casing had the NATO symbol on it, indicating it was a military casing. The shell had one extractor mark and two ejector marks.
The former would originate from the mechanism that pulls the round from the magazine to the chamber. The latter would occur from the mechanism that throws out the casing after the bullet is fired.
One of the ejector marks could not be used. It indicated that the round had circled through a firearm once before, but was never fired at that time. The findings indicated the case was a 5.56-by-44 mm Remington cartridge.
The bullet was examined for rifling marks, which are left by the barrel of the gun. The rifling was consistent with a .22-calibre rifle.
The bullet had traces of green paint on the tip. Magnetic tests indicated that the tip had a steel core, while the bottom of the bullet had a lead core.
This, along with the paint, indicated that it was a penetrator round. This was developed by the military to better go through barriers when fired.
Under cross-examination, Evoy said both the bullet and the casing could have fit together as a round, but there was no proof to show they were once connected.
She said Kerr had concluded that a bolt action Winchester rifle or an Armalite AR-15 type rifle could have fired this bullet and eject the casing.
“I do agree with his (Kerr’s) conclusions,” Evoy said.
Crown prosecutor Tom Lemon showed Evoy the photos of Penner holding an AR-15. Evoy confirmed the firearm was such of the AR-15 family.
She pointed to several identifying features, including an ejection port on the right from which casings would emerge.
There was a photo of Penner holding a loaded rifle magazine. The visible round had a green tip. Evoy believed at least the first rifle round could have been a penetrator.
Ouellette asked if penetrator rounds are common. Evoy explained that they were designed by the military, but are available for civilian purchase, provided the buyer has the proper permits.
The defence asked how a rifle wound would compare to a handgun wound. Evoy said this would depend on several factors, like the calibre and distance from the target.
That said, she indicated that a .22-calibre rifle could devastate the human brain more so than a handgun.
Ouellette asked if the AR-15 is a high velocity firearm. Evoy testified the firearm’s velocity is 2,000 to 3,000 feet per second.
It can produce gunshot residue, she added, which can get on the shooter’s hands and clothes as well as the target. Her lab typically does not analyze that.
The trial continued Thursday with the Crown calling evidence from investigating RCMP officers.
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