From her seat in the back of the courtroom gallery, Craig Pope’s mother didn’t quite hear the verdict in his murder trial when it was first announced Friday.
As the courtroom erupted in sobs, she stood up, loudly asking, “What did they say?” before dissolving into tears. “No. Oh no,” she cried, as those around her attempted to comfort her.
On the other side of the gallery, loved ones of Jonathan Collins had heard the jury forewoman deliver the verdict — guilty of second-degree murder — and were wailing in a different kind of sorrow, comforting and holding each other as they had done throughout the trial.
Some members of the jury began to cry, too.
Collins’ father later told reporters the family was relieved but had no cause to celebrate.
“We’re relieved that the trial is over and we’re certainly relieved with the verdict but it doesn’t change the outcome of what happened to Jonathan,” he said. “At least now we’re able to move on with our lives and remember him in the best way possible.”
Collins’ family has described him as having a big spirit and a kind heart, full of life and afraid of nothing. Thirty-six years old and a father of two, he died on Sept. 7, 2017 of a single stab wound to the stomach that had pierced his abdominal aorta. After a two-and-a-half week trial and just half a day of deliberations, the jury determined Pope, 33, had murdered Collins.
Pope’s family members didn’t hold back their disagreement, insisting he had been wrongfully convicted and pointing to a man who had been with Pope when he was arrested as the killer instead.
“You got the wrong one!” a woman shouted as she left the courtroom in anger.
Appearing calm, Pope — also a father of two — turned towards his family and said, “Two grounds for appeal.”
Though he was barely audible over the commotion in the courtroom, Justice Vikas Khaladkar set Sept. 18 as the day Pope will return for sentencing, explaining to the jury that they can, if they wish, each make a suggestion on the number of years he should serve before being eligible for parole.
A second-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence, but the number of years to be served before parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years.
Through evidence presented at trial, the court heard Pope and Collins had spent much of the day together as passengers in a taxi, asking the driver to make a number of stops around St. John’s before ending up on Alderberry Lane in the centre of the city.
Pope’s father is said to have arrived in a cube van with a coworker and handed $60 to his son. A fight broke out after that, with multiple witnesses describing Pope as the aggressor, chasing Collins around the taxi and down the street onto Mundy Pond Road.
That’s where Collins collapsed. None of the witnesses saw a stabbing, though they all reported seeing only Pope near him at the time. A weapon was never recovered.
Pope returned to the taxi. The driver testified Pope had demanded to be taken to Cowperwaite Court, off Elizabeth Avenue, before telling him to “Run buddy over.”
Pope was arrested within the hour inside a plastic surgeon’s clinic in that neighbourhood, after RNC officers saw him and another man walking in the area. The other man was briefly questioned at the scene and cleared to leave.
Pope, who had a cut on his lip, was wearing jeans that were later found to contain specks of Collins’ blood. Pope’s blood was found on the inside and outside of the taxi, while his palm print was found on the exterior. Collins’ fingerprints were found on the back windshield of the cab.
In their closing arguments on Thursday, defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan, who had called no evidence during the trial, insisted there was too much reasonable doubt to convict Pope. They pointed out the lack of a recovered murder weapon and the fact that no one had witnessed the actual stabbing.
Prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jude Hall stressed the consistency between the testimony of the witnesses, as well as the forensic evidence.
Patten and Hall spoke briefly to reporters after court Friday, commending the RNC’s investigation and saying they hadn’t been concerned over having no murder weapon.
“The lack of a weapon didn’t impact our theory of the case, Patten said.
He acknowledged the volume of evidence presented during the trial was a lot for the jury to consider.
“We’re quite happy that they were able to reach a decision, and here we are today,” he said.
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- Witness tells St. John’s court he heard accused murderer Craig Pope admit to stabbing Jonathan Collins
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