There may not be a more absurd illustration of the role that race has played in the now decade-long prosecution of Randy Riley than the revelation in his 2023 re-trial this month that Paul Smith, a Black man, received only $17,550 for his testimony while a white woman, Kaitlin Fuller, was able to rake in over $634,000 in benefits from the Witness Protection Program for her testimony.
Kaitlin Fuller achieved this astronomical amount of money by providing outlandish tales of threats to her safety at the hands of criminal Black men.
In 2021, eleven years after her first statement to the police, she came forward with a new story. In this fresh narrative, Randy Riley now not only told her he committed the murder, but he drove her to a tunnel in Cole Harbour where he threatened to kill her and her family in a sadistic way.
She withheld this information for years despite repeatedly testifying against both Riley and Nathan Johnson.
On Friday, that new story was completely debunked by phone data that was introduced as the Crown’s own evidence. That data showed that Riley was nowhere near Cole Harbour on the day in question, and that instead he started the day at home in Cherry Brook, then drove to Highfield Park, then to Sackville and the Fairview area, eventually ending the day back in Highfield Park.
These phone data were also used in Randy’s 2018 conviction, meaning that the Crown had the phone records in its possession in 2021 when Fuller came forward with her new story.
The Crown lawyers — Peter Craig and Stephen Anstey — either never bothered to use their own evidence to confirm Fuller’s new story, or they simply didn’t care that this discrepancy existed.
It would have been the simplest thing in the world to check the data just to make sure the phone was where Fuller said it was. Instead, this information only came up in cross examination by Riley’s lawyer Trevor McGuigan.
It is simply stunning that a key witness could reveal new information a decade past a crime and the Crown had no skepticism at all about the truthfulness of that information. They simply took it at face value.
It is even more stunning that the new information directly contradicted testimony previously given in police statements under oath, and then on the stand in trials that led to the convictions of two men.
The jury may not have understood the significance of Fuller’s testimony that after allegedly threatening her, Riley dropped her back at her mother’s place and she did not return to Johnson’s house for several days. But the new story completely contradicts the story she told in court, under oath, during Johnson’s 2015 trial. Fuller has now said she lied at Johnson’s trial, which she agreed is perjury.
Since 2021 when this new story emerged, the Crown never contacted Johnson or his trial lawyer to inform them that false statements were given in his previous trial. All that time, Nathan Johnson sat inside a maximum security prison, not knowing that new information existed that could potentially exonerate him. He remains in prison today.
In the time the Crown were not doing their homework on Fuller’s 2021 tunnel story, she extracted $270,000 in 15 months from the witness protection program based on the supposed threat to her safety. As Tim Bousquet reported, Fuller also hired a lawyer in 2021 and threatened to sue the RCMP for reward money. Her lawyer agreed to $117,000 upon the conviction of Randy Riley.
In the greatest irony of all, legal scholars identify one of the biggest factors in wrongful convictions as “tunnel vision.”
Tunnel vision is the “tendency of participants in the system, such as police or prosecutors, to focus on a particular theory of a case and to dismiss or undervalue evidence which contradicts that theory.”
As we have seen throughout this trial, everything that contradicts that belief is either ignored, explained away, or even incorporated into their own narrative.
In this narrative, Paul Smith must be recanting his previous testimony not because he had a “crisis of conscience” (as Tim Bousquet has named it) but because Riley must have threatened him as well. Riley would cold-bloodedly gun a man down over a fight that happened years ago in junior high (the Crown’s purported motive) because he’s also the kind of man who terrorizes women and families. Fuller committing perjury proves how great her fear must have been, not that she’s a liar with an agenda.
As if to illustrate this very phenomenon, Fuller gave us an implausible and now thoroughly dismantled story about a literal tunnel, and the prosecution swallowed it wholesale. That tunnel, with its narrative of scary Black men and terrified white women is exactly what has structured this entire prosecution.
Kaitlin Fuller has been able to make a business out of lying to convict Black men. She has never been employed. Far from the powerless, scared victim she portrayed herself as every time she was confronted on the stand with her inconsistencies and lies, she was sophisticated enough to hire a lawyer to negotiate the value of Black men’s lives.
These stories of violent, animalistic, and remorseless Black men beating and threatening an innocent victimized crying white woman were seen as believable not just because they seemed to guarantee a conviction of Riley and Johnson, but because they confirmed a racist story for the prosecution.
This is a primal story, the same narrative that led to the lynching of Emmett Till.
I believe that the Crown did not check out Fuller’s story because they felt they did not need to.
We hear so much about how trials are about the objective trying of the evidence, but we know they are in reality also about pulling on subjective emotions. As the psychological reports generated by the Witness Protection Program and submitted at trial observed, Fuller is a master of manipulating those emotions. A white woman recounting stories of violent Black men, her own perpetual victimhood, and her bravery coming forward is more powerful than actual evidence.
In this narrative, the Crown are morally righteous crusaders, not only getting murderers off the street, but also as the protectors and saviours of vulnerable white women.
They felt they did not need any evidence because Fuller’s tears and fears were enough.
Paul Smith lied seemingly to save his own skin. If we accept his narrative of why he recanted his previous testimony, it was cowardly and wrong, but he too is a Black man caught up in violent systems.
Smith was arrested. He was threatened. According to him, he was shown a picture of his child and told he would never see his family again. He was told he could be the accused or a witness in the case. He said what the Crown and police wanted him to say to avoid going to prison, and he received nearly $18,000 for that testimony.
Fuller’s lies are much different. She was never threatened with arrest in this case. In fact, as we learned while McGuigan read report after report generated from the Witness Protection Program — by people acting for the state — despite red flag after red flag after red flag being raised, she continued to be paid and coddled.
Despite their own reports identifying her “well-engrained habit” of lying. Despite her multiple breaches of the program and her “deceptive” and “manipulative” behaviour. Despite a psychologist diagnosing her habit of lying for attention and personal gain. Despite her repeated threats to not testify unless given even more money. Despite her own record of fraud and thefts. Despite her claims of having a tumour that causes memory loss in a case depending on her memory of historical events. Despite all of the evidence they had that something wasn’t right, the need to protect her “safety” overpowered everything, particularly the rights of accused Black men.
It is past time to ask why this prosecution went forward.
Virtually all of the evidence put forth by McGuigan in cross examination is evidence that came from the state itself. Did the Crown not read it in the years they had to prepare, or did they simply discount it because it didn’t fit the story of Riley’s guilt?
And why did no one in Witness Protection come forward to warn that a “habitual liar” was providing brand new evidence that could send a man to prison for life? Witness Protection generated damning risk reports on Fuller, but maintained her in the program anyway. Clearly there needs to be more scrutiny of this secretive program, which besides covering her considerable living expenses, additionally allowed Fuller $800 a month in money for cigarettes and $400 a month for cannabis.
Most importantly, how can the Public Prosecution Service, who as the title suggests are supposed to serve and be accountable to public interests, be so cavalier about serious matters like perjury? It is quite simply shocking that a case is in front of a jury with two admitted perjurers. Surely this throws the whole system of justice into disrepute.
In the end, the money paid to Fuller is a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars spent on this trial. Police protection round the clock costs money. Twelve jurors have had to take time off work and away from their lives, potentially losing income themselves. Two Black men have had their entire 20s taken from them. One sits in a maximum prison while the other has been under house arrest and forced to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet. The family of the victim, Chad Smith, has been dragged through court for a decade reliving their trauma on the promise that the Crown has strong enough evidence to convict.
And Riley is not out of the woods yet. The possibility remains, as the Crown presses on with this case, that he could still end up convicted of murder. He is an African Nova Scotian man on trial in front of a white jury charged with the murder of a white man. The Crown, who are legally trained and had access to thousands of pages of contradicting evidence, believe he is guilty, so who is to say what the jurors will conclude?
There is nothing that can bring any of the ruined lives back. Perhaps Paul Smith will be charged with perjury. If he is, he may be the only one ever brought to account. It is unlikely anything will happen to Fuller, who has also neatly secured herself immunity by entering into Witness Protection and providing evidence. Even if it were demanded, it is highly improbable she could ever pay the money back. And we might ask, what do we expect when the system so heavily incentivizes securing a conviction? Whatever her own culpability, and it is serious, she could never have got on the stand and lied if the Crown hadn’t put her there.
If the prosecution are not malicious in this case, then the kindest explanation is that they are merely grossly incompetent. Both options ought to trouble us greatly.
It is unlikely the Crowns will be disciplined, or lose their jobs. They certainly won’t go to prison. They will not walk through life with the effects of long years in prison, the lingering doubts about innocence, the common public belief that you wouldn’t be on trial if you hadn’t done something. They will go on to prosecute other cases, and nobody will even be allowed to raise their conduct in this one while the accused will have their past actions put on display. They may even put other perjurers on the stand, because it’s hard to believe this is the only time, and put innocent people in prison. And we will continue to be told that race has nothing to do with it, nothing to do with any of it at all.
The wheels of justice grind on.