Appearing in Courtroom 205 this morning, Friday April 13,2018 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 are carefully guarding Marki. He has no handcuffs.
Marki is about 5’7” tall and average build. He’s wearing dark pants with grey long sleeve shirt. There is a tattoo barely visible on upper back around shirt collar. Clean shaven with short hair. Has a bald spot of approximately 4-5” diameter on top back area of 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. A couple reporters from Dougall Media show up late and miss half the testimony of the first witness.
FIRST WITNESS TODAY IS ROBERT HONG-YOU.
Robert Hong-You is a chemist who has a Bachelor of Science Degree from McMaster University in 1983. He worked for a variety of public and private labs until January 2001 when he started with the Center of Forensic Sciences. He is recognized as an expert in Fire Debris Analysis.
Hong-You testifies that several items were sent to the CFS (Center of Forensic Sciences) for analysis and there are 2 separate reports, dated January 11,2016 and February 1,2016 not authored by him, but by a female counterpart that has since moved on. He has adopted her results, reviewed the files and agrees with the results.
He continues with the Evidence List Report. There are numerous items on the list that were sent either in mason jars or specialty nylon bags. Plastic bags are not recommended. The items are tested for the presence of volatile, ignitable liquids.
Testing is not done for specific quantification.
However, there are 3 levels of semi-quantification.
– No Volatile, Ignitable Liquids
– Trace of Volatile, Ignitable Liquids
– Above Trace of Volatile, Ignitable Liquids
Hong-You goes through some explanation of how testing is done. Crown Attorney Andrew Sadler reviews a variety of items with him starting with Benjamin Marki’s shoes. They were stored in plastic bags but the expert testifies in this case that it made no difference.
Items showing above trace amounts of gasoline.
– Benjamin Marki’s left and right shoes
– Anne Chuchmuch’s clothing
– carpet in laundry/utility room
– fabric next to Anne Chuchmuch’s body
– a melted jerry can
– a melted oil can
On cross-examination by defence lawyer George Joseph we hear testimony from Hong-You that diesel fuel is a different class of fuel than gasoline. He also agrees that not all the gasoline was consumed by the fire. He can’t state how much or how long gasoline was on Marki’s shoes. He admits the shoes were not wet with a volatile ignitable liquid. It depends on variables like temperature and wind to determine how long the presence of gasoline would remain. A colder temperature with insulation would preserve the presence. The witness cannot say how much, how long or how gasoline got on Ben Marki’s shoes.
Hong-You testifies that swabs taken from Marki’s left and right hand were never tested for presence of volatile ignitable liquid because TBPS never requested it.
(Writer’s note- I had the opportunity to speak about sports with this expert from Toronto about outside the courtroom. He’s an avid and knowledgeable fan of all major sports. He’s also a genuinely nice person)
NEXT WITNESS IS JASON WILLIAMS
Jason Williams is a Fire Investigator with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office based in Midhurst, Ontario. He’s been with the Fire Marshal for past 3 years and is also the Executive Director for the National Association of Fire Investigators. He possesses several certifications and is qualified as an expert in the field of fire dynamics.
He testifies that he received a phone call at 1:24am on December 28,2015 by the Emergency Dispatch Center. When deaths are involved, it becomes the Office of the Fire Marshal’s mandate. Williams had a flight booked to Thunder Bay and arrived in Thunder Bay at 2:35pm. He met with Thunder Bay Fire Rescue and reviewed their ancillary reports. His job is to determine the origin and cause of the fire and he takes a systemic approach to his investigation. He arrived on the scene, the body of Anne Chuchmuch was still in rear laundry/utility room. His first course of action was to document that room, then remove her body with TBPS. He took 3 fire debris samples that day and placed them in mason jars. It was late in the day at that point.
One observation I make about this witness is he speaks very clearly and precisely in technical terms and lay terms. He’s often facing the jury directly and is using his hands as part of his efforts to convey his testimony. The jury appears to be very attentive to him. An excellent witness.
Williams returns the next morning to 387 Brant Street and continues walking the rest of the house. He’s confident that he’s identified the location where the fire started. The rest of the house was an accumulation of smoke and soot. He describes how the utility/laundry room was systemically delayered and excavated to recreate the scene of origin. He collected 6 exhibits to send to CFS for analysis.
Jason Williams further reports how the fire affected the body of Anne Chuchmuch. Her right arm and torso fat were consumed by the fire. The skin on her belly was burnt and fat exposed. Her clothing was burned but a pair of denim jeans in the laundry room was on her left forearm and that protected it from the fire. There is a large screen in Courtroom that the Crown has utilized with pictures from this Fire Investigator’s report to help deliver the testimony to the jury.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF FIRE
Jason Williams testifies that the official cause of fire is APPLICATION OF GASOLINE. The cause of ignition is unknown. There are several different ways for gasoline to ignite and it requires very little to ignite.
Williams explains the physical properties of gasoline. It’s 140-180 times expandable from liquid to vapour. There was a significant amount left over in utility/laundry room that did not burn. The amount of available oxygen is a contributing factor. The door to the utility room was consumed by fire and the only fire pattern on exterior of home was at the rear door of home. He explains the details of the laundry/utility room. It’s 9’ X 10’7” in area. The ceramic tile floor, washer, dryer, drywall, furnace and bar fridge are all non combustible materials. It was mostly the painted finish that burned on these items.
NEXT WITNESS IS TBPS DETECTIVE SHANNON PRIMMER
She’s been with the Police Service for 8 years. She works with Identification in Criminal Investigations. Her testimony tells the court that she was called into work on December 28,2015 at 2:35am.
At the police station on Balmoral, she photographs Benjamin Marki from all sides. Those photos are displayed on courtroom screen for all to see. In the photos, Marki has a handlebar moustache, black hat, all black clothes and dark winter jacket with fur like material on trim of hood. He’s wearing mostly blue shoes. All his clothing is seized and sent to the police lab on James Street. Pictures of Marki’s hands are shown from December 28,2015. He’s wearing 2 rings on last 2 fingers of right hand. There appears to be a fresh sharp cut on inside of lower thumb right hand. He has 3 rings on his left hand. His hands were swabbed for DNA analysis. Several pictures are shown of the partially burned denim jeans from the laundry/utility room of Brant Street. Another picture was taken of Marki’s jacket at the James St lab. It’s laid out on a table and has 2 work gloves on it. The gloves were in the pocket.
Primmer continues her testimony that she is the one who collected the paper towel from the garage at 351 Hastings Place that Benjamin Marki used to wipe blood from hands.
Defence lawyer George Joseph is doing his cross examination of Primmer. She testifies she was the first person to take possession of the bloody paper towel 4:25am on December 28,2015.
He asks her if she smelled gasoline on Marki.
“No” Primmer replies
Joseph continues “You had an arson, you had an individual who was suspected of arson and you would definitely have noted in your notebook if he smelled of gasoline”
“Probably” she says
“Not definitely ?” Joseph questions
“Probably “ she repeats
NEXT WITNESS IS TBPS DETECTIVE SHAWN WHIPPLE
Whipple is with Criminal Investigations. He attended the fire/crime scene on the night of fire to investigate. It was minus 17 degrees Celsius. There is a google map of the area displayed on Courtroom screen showing the two nearest bus stops. Whipple did some walking that night in the cold while Lead Investigator Dave Tinnes followed along in a warm car.
Whipple testifies that the walk to one bus stop was a 2 minute walk from 387 Brant Street and the other bus stop was a 2 minute 20 second walk from the home. The conditions were very icy and ruts in road. Not great walking conditions. He also walked the scene of fire with 3 other TBPS personnel.
Back at station in a room of approximately 8’ X 10’ Whipple noticed an odour of gasoline on Marki.
Cross examination by defence lawyer George Joseph appears to question Whipple’s physical abilities to walk that evening in those conditions. Whipple lets the court know that he’s 49 years old and in good shape (Writer’s note- Shawn Whipple appears to be in good shape)
Whipple was the 3rd TBPS Officer to see Marki after Braydan Beck & Jarrod Hay.
Joseph asks “Did you have any other suspects besides Benjamin Marki?”
Whipple responds “No”
Joseph questions the fact that the other officers didn’t smell gasoline but Whipple did. Whipple won’t testify to what the other officers could or couldn’t smell.
“You’re not part bloodhound, are you?” Joseph queried.
“Not even close” Whipple states.
Justice Platana interjects to say” Mr. Joseph, it’s Friday afternoon, let’s move along with evidence”
Joseph questions him on the seizure of the denim jeans from fire scene. Whipple tells the court he was present when the discussion was had with TBPS Officer Switzer to seize jeans from the pile of fire debris in back yard.
END OF DAY 4 TESTIMONY.
TRIAL RESUMES MONDAY APRIL 16, 2018 IN COURTROOM 205.
A SCIENTIST FROM CFS AND ANOTHER POLICE OFFICER ARE EXPECTED TO TESTIFY. THE CROWN WILL MOST LIKELY BE DONE ITS CASE.
(Writer’s note – I suspect the paper towel and denim jeans will contribute largely to the Crown’s case on Monday)