Jeff Cromwell says he first encountered the murder suspect around 11 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2017, after someone on Summer Street called for a cab.
Cromwell picked up a man from a residence on the street, in the Rabbittown area of St. John's, and took him briefly to another home in nearby Cowperwaite Court. The man went inside for a minute before returning to the cab and instructing Cromwell to head back to the home on Summer Street, he says.
There, Cromwell says, he picked up two more passengers: a female and a tall, thin man wearing a red basketball jersey. With the three people aboard his cab, Cromwell says, he "pretty much went on a tour of the city," stopping at multiple homes, Traders pawn shop on Freshwater Road and the Sobeys store on Ropewalk Lane - twice. At most locations, the tall man would get out briefly and go inside or get into a different vehicle before returning to the taxi.
Cromwell says he didn't know either of his passengers, but heard the two men calling each other "Pope" and "Collins." He never got the name of the woman, who left the cab at a red light just before the Traders stop.
At one point, the passengers attempted to pay for the fare using a card, which was declined, Cromwell says.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon, Cromwell says, he was instructed to head to Alderberry Lane, in the centre of the city. A cube van showed up, and the driver handed the taller man, who was in the back seat, some money through the cab window. After that, a fight broke out.
"They started arguing. There was talk about someone owing someone $60. Punches started getting thrown."
Testifying at the second-degree murder trial of Craig Pope in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Friday morning, Cromwell indicated it was the first man - later identified as Craig Pope - who was demanding the cash. The taller man was identified as Jonathan Collins.
Collins was trying to defend himself, Cromwell says, and ended up lying across the backseat, kicking against the door as Pope got out of the front seat of the car and tried to open it.
"He was trying to get away, I guess. Trying to get out the other side," Cromwell said of Collins.
Cromwell told the court Pope grabbed the keys out of the ignition and pulled off his own shirt as he got out of the car, and when Collins crawled out the other side of the vehicle, the two men chased each other around it. When Pope got close to Collins, Collins headed up the street toward Mundy Pond Road, the cabbie said, and Pope followed.
Cromwell said Collins threw a cellphone at Pope and the men threw punches at each other as he approached them, yelling for his keys. He then turned and went back to his cab, he said.
"The bigger guy came back and got in the car and told me to run buddy over," Cromwell told the court. "I told him I wasn't getting involved. He told me it would get worse, so I asked him to give me the keys and where he wanted to go."
Driving onto Mundy Pond Road, Cromwell said, he saw Collins lying in the street, appearing to gasp for breath. He figured Collins had gotten a good punch to the ribs, he said, adding he had not seen Collins fall and had not seen any weapon.
Cromwell said he headed back toward Cowperwaite Court, and at one point the cube van again pulled up alongside them on the passenger side. Pope had a conversation with the driver while both vehicles continued on the road, Cromwell said, adding that he didn't hear the conversation.
Cromwell told the court he dropped his passenger off and went back to the taxi stand, where he spoke to police on the phone. He later chose a photo of Pope from a police lineup, and said Friday he was sure about his choice.
Pope was arrested shortly after he was dropped off, after RNC officers saw him enter a plastic surgeon's office not far from where he had gotten out of the cab. At the time of his arrest he was wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, and had a wound on his lip. Forensic testing of his jeans later revealed specks of Collins' blood.
Collins, 36, was assisted by passersby and taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a single stab wound that pierced his abdominal aorta. He also had wounds on his lips.
On Thursday, the court heard testimony from Keith Doran, a passenger in the cube truck. The driver of the truck that day was his co-worker, Craig Pope Sr., he said.
Doran testified he had heard the conversation between father and son through the windows of the vehicles.
"We drove up alongside (the taxi) so Pope Sr. could ask Junior what happened," Doran testified. "Senior said, 'What did you do to that poor young fella?' and Junior said that he had stabbed him."
Cross-examining Doran Friday morning, defence lawyer Randy Piercey asked him why he hadn't told police about that when he gave them a 31-page statement the day after Collins died.
"You told police you were a first-hand witness, but you never mentioned this?" Piercey asked Doran.
"I think about this all the time and I'm really not sure why I didn't bring that up," Doran replied. "I'm here today and yesterday to tell the court this is what I remember, and I do remember that very clearly."
"But you knew you were speaking to police about a murder," Piercey continued. "You totally failed to tell police that Mr. Pope said anything."
"I thought of everything I could and I guess I missed a detail, but I do remember that," Doran replied.
Piercey pointed out Doran had testified during Pope's preliminary inquiry that he had heard Pope threaten Collins on Alderberry Street, but later said he could have been remembering that detail incorrectly. He had also said the same could be possible for the conversation between the vehicles.
Regardless, Doran told Piercey on Friday, he was clear about witnessing Pope admit to the stabbing.
"I'm sure," he said.
The weapon used to stab Collins was never located, though police did find a folded knife in a backpack picked up near where he had collapsed. Due to its measurements, the knife could not be ruled out as the weapon, but forensic testing revealed no traces of blood and only Collins' DNA on the handle and blade.
Prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jude Hall have told Justice Vikas Khaladkar they have tentatively wrapped up their case.
Piercey has said he and co-counsel Jon Noonan would
take the weekend to ponder a legal issue. The trial will resume Monday morning.