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Belcourt trial: Judge cautions jury over accepting witness's word

Nov 09 2012

A B.C. Supreme Court justice warned the jury presiding over the second-degree murder trial of Andrew Belcourt and Samuel Mcgrath to be extremely cautious in accepting the testimony of a key Crown witness.

On Thursday, Justice Malcolm Macaulay told the jury it is dangerous to rely on unsupported evidence given by Belcourt's stepfather Michael Rennie.

"There is some evidence Mr. Rennie admitted he participated in the planning of the robbery, provided the alleged murder weapon, gave advice about how and when to use it, admitted to a series of criminal convictions, agreed to testify on a grant of immunity, received money from the police and, generally, is of unsavoury character," Macaulay said.

At the end of the trial, Macaulay will instruct the six-man, four-woman jury again to examine other evidence in the case that supports or confirms Rennie's testimony.

Macaulay told members of the jury they should look for independent evidence that agrees with the important parts of Rennie's evidence in order for them to be confident his testimony is true.

"In the absence of supporting or confirming evidence, the jury should be reluctant to accept Mr.

Rennie's evidence because it would be dangerous to do so," Macaulay said.

Tensions were high Thursday as Belcourt's defence lawyer Tim Russell continued his cross-examination of Rennie. At two points, Rennie asked Macaulay if he could take a break.

"I can't think clear right now," said Rennie, who had removed his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves and appeared to be getting angry. "I'll end up being down in cells."

Macaulay calmly told Rennie to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths.

"This is a courtroom. You are being asked questions and it may be very uncomfortable, but you have to answer them," the judge said.

On Monday, Rennie testified he was paid $6,000 after he helped police organize the arrest of Bel-court and Mcgrath on the evening of March 3, 2010, for the fatal shooting of 52-year-old Leslie Hankel in his Fernwood apartment.

Rennie testified that on the afternoon of March 3, a police officer phoned him and asked if he knew anything about the murder.

Rennie told the officer "A.J. and Sam shot the gentleman."

He also told the officer they were on their way to his home to destroy the evidence.

On Thursday, Russell suggested Rennie was angry earlier this year when he met with RCMP witness protection officers and received a $15,000 lump sum payment in exchange for his testimony at trial - instead of the $75,000 he had demanded.

Rennie said he never expected anything and that money was never important to him.

Rennie also repeatedly denied that he gave ammunition to Belcourt or Mcgrath when he sold Mcgrath the shotgun on the night of March 2.

"Isn't it true you didn't want to be seen by police as providing a loaded shotgun?" Russell charged.

"There was no loaded shotgun," Rennie replied.

Russell also suggested that Rennie had given Bel-court and Mcgrath the wrong address for the robbery that night.

"You're incorrect," Rennie replied. "I had nothing to do with shells. I had nothing to do with setting this case up."

During cross-examination by Mcgrath's defence lawyer, Mike Munro, Rennie said he never saw Mcgrath handle the gun in the van when he sold it to him and doesn't have a clear recollection of Mcgrath handling the gun when he showed them how to use it.

Rennie also testified that he didn't advise Mcgrath: "If the mask goes down, get rid of the evidence."

Rennie told Munro he watched his stepson pack a bag full of black clothes, but didn't know anything about Mcgrath's clothing.

The Crown has closed its case.

The defence is expected to begin its case on Tuesday.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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