DOUBLE HOMICIDE JURY TRIAL OF BENJAMIN RONALD MARKI.
Appearing in Courtroom 205 this morning, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, before Superior Court Justice Terrence Platana for his jury trial is 42-year old BENJAMIN RONALD MARKI. He’s led into the prisoner’s box by TBPS Special Constables Jason and Ryan who will ensure that nothing goes awry with the accused. He has his handcuffs removed for the day. Marki is about 5’7” tall and average build. He’s wearing dark pants with grey long sleeve shirt. Clean shaven with short hair. Has a bald spot of approximately 4” diameter on the top back area of the head. He’s accused of murdering 60-year-old Wilfred Pott and 50-year-old Anne Chuchmuch on December 27, 2015.
MARKI is represented by local lawyers George Joseph and Christin Marrello. Crown Attorney Andrew Sadler and Katrina van Kessel are presenting the case for the Crown. Victim Services representative Shannon is in the body of the court guiding family members through this difficult process.
There are several members of the public in the body of the court and even some local paid media establishments decided to make a rare appearance to report.
There are 14 jury members led into the court. His Honour advises that the 2 alternate jurors #13 & #14 (both females) will not be required. They are dismissed. We have a 12 person jury of 9 women and 3 men. We are set to begin.
Justice Platana goes into a lengthy instruction to the jury about what is evidence. His Honour will direct the jury to what the law is. He reassures the jury that they will hear or see every piece of evidence in this trial that is properly admissible. He uses the analogy that a jury trial can be like an artist’s painting. You’ll see the brush strokes occurring and might not know what it is, but until the painting is finished is when it should be looked at in its completion. He reminds the jury that the accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence. It is the Crown’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Absolute certainty is not required.
Marki is arraigned on all charges by Superior Court Clerk Angel and he quietly pleads “Not Guilty” on all charges.
Crown Attorney Sadler has an opening statement for the jury. This is a case of a home that had significant damage from fire. Both of the victims were stabbed. Wilfred Pott suffers numerous knife wounds to head and neck with a severed artery in his leg. The other victim, Ann Chuchmuch had more than 40 stab wounds. There was no indication either was breathing smoke from the fire and Ann Chuchmuch was dead before the fire and gasoline was poured on the bodies and lit on fire. This trial will hear from numerous witnesses, firefighters, paramedics police officers, forensics and civilian witnesses to describe the relationship Marki had with the 2 victims. Marki had blood on his hands and gasoline on his clothing. This case is circumstantial in nature. No one witnessed this attack or the start of the fire.
Defence lawyer George Joseph addresses the jury with a short opening. He gets closer to them and faces them directly. He reiterates the Crown’s admission that this is circumstantial. He asks the jury to pay attention to cross-examination of the witnesses. Some of the testimony may be tedious and gripping but it’s all important.
READY TO START TESTIMONY.
The first witness called is Thunder Bay Fire Captain Jim Gowanlock. He’s been with the TBFD for almost 25 years. He testified that he shows up with his firefighting team in the pumper truck at 387 Brant Street on a dark night with lots of smoke. He describes the scene and how he was outside the home assessing the situation. He walked around the back of the home where the accused was standing in the doorway. He had to coax the accused from the doorway. He asks Marki if anyone is in the home. Feels that he’s having to drag this information out of Marki. Marki states that he lives there and he was out walking his dog. Gowanlock further testifies that this man told him there is a second dog missing…….and possibly two people.
Gowanlock’s team enters the home fully equipped with their primary goal of saving human life. He explains the term “knocking down the fire” as reducing heat and flame. They were knocking down fires in various sections of the home. A male body was discovered and brought outside. Firefighter Vaillant is a former paramedic and he began performing CPR until the ambulance arrived.
One of the firefighter’s air hoses went off, so they left the house as a team. Fixed the problem and entered again to continue the fight as a team. He describes the firefighter’s attack in the fire in the laundry room area in the rear of the house and an electrical panel that was arcing electricity. A water pipe or hose had also burst in the area and there was a body on the floor. After suppressing fire in that area, the team used a tarp to cover the body of the female victim.
Gowanlock estimates the fire in the home was knocked down within 15 minutes of entry and completely suppressed within 55 minutes.
He’s asked by the defence about firefighter priority when pets are involved. Gowanlock makes it abundantly clear that preservation of human life is their number one goal. If they happen to rescue pets, that’s fine too. Saving property is not as important as lives the Fire Captain tells the court.
(Writer’s note-If I’m ever in a fire, I hope Jim and his team show up.)
Next witness for the Crown is a paramedic. Christa Dawn Nitz. She prefers to be called Dawn. She delivers testimony about her arrival on the scene in the dark and taking control of the male victim Wilfred Pott who had CPR being performed on him by firefighters. She uses a lot of medical language about heart rhythms and other jargon. It’s very clear that she’s a professional in her field. The use of an automatic defibrillator was used for one shock but not long after, it was VSA (Vital Signs Absent). Pott was loaded into an ambulance and brought to the hospital. She describes seeing some of his wounds more clearly once in the ambulance in better lighting.
TBPS Officer Jordi Andrew is up next to testify. He spent one year as a cadet, one year as Special Constable and 4 years as Police Officer. He testifies that a dropped 911 call came from a home at 391 Brant Street at 10:19 pm. Andrew states that he assumed it was about the fire but checked with the neighbour to ensure everything was alright. He testifies that paramedics and firefighters were outside 387 Brant Street and he headed there next to assist.
He helped put the male victim Wilfred Pott on a stretcher and was ordered by his sergeant to follow the ambulance to the hospital. The ambulance and police arrived at the hospital at 11:00 pm that evening. Andrew made several notes about the visible condition of Wilfred Pott at the hospital. Cuts to forehead and gash on the cheek. Soot on face, hands, feet. Gold glitter in his hair. He stayed with the body until Wilfred Pott was pronounced dead at 11:34 pm that night.
LOTS OF PHOTOGRAPHS
Retired TBPS Officer Nancy Tillberg is called to testify. She spent 29 years with the force, 10 of them in forensics. She was called at 12:30 am on Dec 28, 2015 to come into work. She works with the identification unit.
There is a 124 slide photo presentation of photo evidence. Tilberg testifies as pictures are presented that she went to Animal Shelter first. She swabbed and took fur and swabs from two dogs with blood like stains on them. One dog is a black lab cross (we learn later his name is Zeus). The black lab was in a frenzied state, growling and frothing at the mouth. The other was a gray and white terrier (we learn later is named Gizmo). This dog was also in an agitated state.
Tillberg then gets called at 4:22 am to go to 351 Hastings Place. The owner of the home says there are 2 knives in his garage that don’t belong there. Inside the garage on the running board of a blue Polaris snowmobile are 2 folding knives.
One knife is a Schrade brand knife that measures almost 18cm long when unfolded.
The other knife is a Smith & Wesson folding knife that measures 19 cm long when unfolded and has a partially serrated blade. Both knives have blood like stains on them. We learn later that there is no fingerprints on the knife handles due to the texture.
THE 351 HASTINGS PLACE HOME IS DIRECTLY BEHIND THE 387 BRANT STREET HOME.
Tillberg returns at 4:03 pm on December 28, 2015 to 387 Brant Street to gather more photographic evidence. We see various pictures of a nozzle from a gas can is in the backyard, smoke damage living room, heavy fire in the laundry room, the body of Anne Chuchmuch is there. Blood like stains are observed through various locations in the home. The largest blood like stain is on the washing machine in laundry room. There is a half-melted jerry can of gas in there as well as a melted container of oil. More smoke damaged pictures in the kitchen and upstairs.
Pictures of Benjamin Marki’s methadone carry bottles are shown next to a container of potato chips. There are pictures of numerous prescription pill bottles. Looks to be about 12 bottles.
All of Benjamin Marki’s clothing was seized that evening. Pictures of his socks with blood like stains on them are shown. Pictures of Benjamin Marki’s black and blue hi-top shoes are shown in individual special bags that are meant to preserve forensic information such as fumes.
A black and blue backpack is discovered in the corner of the backyard with 2 pairs of clean socks, 4 pairs of clean underwear, a partial bottle of vodka, 1 single pack of cigarettes and 1 carton of cigarettes. There are 4 receipts in the bag. 1 receipt is from LCBO dated Dec 27/15 at 1:45 pm for a bottle of vodka. A 2$ charitable donation was made at that purchase.
We also see pictures of fire-damaged debris removed by firefighters in backyard.
Defence lawyer Joseph shows some pictures on cross exam of a safe in a walk in closet in master bedroom upstairs. He asked if police ever looked in the safe. Tillberg replies “not to my knowledge”
Day 1 of testimony is done. The trial continues tomorrow.