Cheryl Wierda and Jennifer Smith
For The Morning Star
There is no way a jury could find Joelon Verma guilty based on the circumstantial evidence outlined at length Wednesday by Crown counsel, according to defence lawyer Jordan Watt.
“Look at all of the unsavoury individuals” Brittney Irving was in contact with, said Watt as he began his closing late Wednesday afternoon.
“You must consider the value of the evidence in its entirety and you will realize when you do that reasonable doubt exists,” he said.
Verma, who stands accused of killing 24-year-old drug dealer Brittney Irving, never testified in his trial and he doesn’t need to do so, Watt informed the jury.
He has a constitutional right to remain silent and he should, his lawyer said, noting the onus is on the Crown to prove he is guilty.
From the outset of the investigation, Verma demonstrated he had nothing to hide, answering questions from police officers, Irving’s brother and her contacts in the drug world, his lawyer suggested. He even tried to help find drugs she owed after her disappearance.
The implication, Watt argued, is that Verma didn’t know what had happened to Irving.
While Crown counsel Iain Currie contends Verma had a “140,000 reasons” to want Brittney Irving out of the way, as he argued in his closing submissions earlier in the morning, Watt’s closing was largely focused on the lack of evidence connecting Verma to the shooting.
“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not based upon a hunch,” he said.”…When juries have gone wrong in the past is when they have ignored the absence of evidence.”
In this case, there is a trail of cell phone messages the jury has been asked to make inferences from, a string of relationships they are being asked to connect the dots on, and a body found suspiciously close to where the defendant’s own cousin says he helped the accused dislodge a truck he got stuck; but there is no evidence directly linking Verma to the murder.
During the Crown’s closing argument, which took the bulk of the day, Currie did not disagree his evidence was circumstantial.
“There’s only one way to look at this….one brick at a time,” he said as he waded through text messages, phone records and testimony the jury heard over the past four and a half weeks.
Records and testimony show that Irving was working to get together a big drug deal with Verma — her boyfriend at the time — to help pay for her legal fees. She had been busted for a marijuana grow operation on March 26, 2010, he said.
On April 1, 2010, Irving texted Verma about needing to make money and Verma responded: “Well, we’re good for that, don’t worry.” (Also in text). “I have until tomorrow to find out who I am going to do this with,” Verma wrote.
The accused then referred to a second option to go to the Coast for the deal.
Irving spent these last days leading up to her death searching for marijuana for this big drug deal, believed to be for around 70 pounds.
She grew increasingly stressed on April 5, the day before she disappeared, and put off meeting with Verma, the text messages showed.
On the April 6, she was still working to fill the order and at 12:32 p.m.
“WTF?” Verma texted her.
“Babe, just relax. I’m trying to hustle. Sorry, I’ll try to be there soon,” she wrote back.
“If I have to go to the Coast, I want to leave now,” he wrote. “So you make the call.”
Just after 1 p.m., she texted and said she would meet with him in 10 minutes.
More than two and a half hours later, he sent her a text saying he had been waiting for her all day.
Verma later told police he never met up with Irving that day and he wasn’t the one helping her with the big deal. He was just waiting to meet up for a two pound deal, he suggested.
But a two-pound deal wouldn’t pay Irving’s lawyer’s bills, the purpose for her last dealings, the Crown argued.
“Mr. Verma’s statements are fabrications,” said Currie. “It’s part of the pattern of deception.”
During the investigation, Verma told police that instead of investigating him for her murder, they should be looking at what Irving was doing.
“Look at the houses she lost, look at the money she lost,” Verma told an officer two weeks before his arrest.
Irving’s partner in the grow operation testified Irving didn’t owe anyone money after the bust and drug brokers she was dealing with said she was doing the deal to raise money for legal fees.
They didn’t have a motive to kill her, said Currie.
The only person with a motive to kill Irving was “the one she was doing the big drug deal with.”
Verma “had approximately 140,000 reasons to want Ms. Irving out of the way,” said Currie, referring to the value of the marijuana Irving had with her when she went missing.
Currie said Verma fabricated an alibi for where he was the day Irving went missing, telling police he was with his cousin all day.
“He knows that’s not true,” said Currie. “He shifts the blame because he knows he is to blame.”
His cousin, Jason Labonte, testified at trial that Verma was with him for much of the day, and at one point saw Irving with Verma in his driveway.
Verma eventually left, but contacted Labonte mid-afternoon after he was stuck in the mud. Labonte drove out to the McCulloch Forest Service Road area to assist Verma, who was driving another man’s truck.
When Labonte later took police to the location, they found Irving’s body nearby. She had been shot four times, including twice in the back.
Irving was dressed in a jacket and shoes left in the truck by the owner, Mike Roberts.
Roberts testified that he was told by Verma not to tell anyone he lent out his truck that day and that he had to “take the fall” or Verma would kill him and his family.
The defence is expected to wrap up closing arguments Thursday morning and the judge will then charge the jury before deliberations begin.