1. Riley trial
On Sept. 13, a week ago Friday, I noted that I was the only reporter attending the murder trial of Randy Riley, and contrasted it with the journalistic full-press that was employed in covering the murder trial of William Sandeson, the Dalhousie student convicted of killing Taylor Samson:
So, why did the Sandeson trial get near universal local media coverage, while the Examiner is left to cover the Riley trial solo?
I can’t answer for other media, but evidently a university fraternity drug deal gone bad is of more interest than [Chad Smith] a lower-class pizza delivery driver probably dealing drugs out of the trunk of his car getting killed in North Dartmouth, in a messy case dealing with a couple of Black people accused.
But I would argue that the issues raised by the Riley trial are more substantial than those in the Sandeson trial. And more than the constitutional issues is the role of race in the legal procedures, both in Riley’s 2018 conviction and the Crown’s handling of the case. It’s worth noting that Riley is now being tried by an all-white jury.
Since then, dramatic events have unfolded at the Riley trial.
Last Monday, the jury heard witness Paul Smith explain why he changed his testimony — in 2018, he implicated Riley in the murder, but in the current trial he recanted that 2018 testimony.
Smith said he had previously concocted a story about driving Riley to pick up a gun because he (Paul Smith) feared that he himself would be charged with the murder. He has since had a crisis of conscience, and wants to set the record straight. The Crown, for its part, argued that Paul Smith changed his story because he has been threatened — by who wasn’t said.
Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, witness Kaitlin Fuller said she too had lied in previous testimony against Riley, but unlike Paul Smith’s changed story, Fuller changed her story in a way that further implicates Riley.
On Thursday, Fuller admitted that she had lied on the stand when she testified in 2015. Fuller’s 2015 testimony against Johnson resulted in his conviction for the same murder Riley is now being tried for, and her acknowledgement that she committed perjury in 2015 will almost certainly be the basis of an appeal by Johnson — as it should be. The courts simply can’t let stand a conviction based on admittedly perjured testimony.
Further, on Thursday Fuller also admitted that she lied under oath when she testified against Riley in Riley’s first trial in 2018. With that testimony against him, Riley was convicted of second degree murder. Fuller’s admission that she lied in her 2018 testimony would also be the basis of an appeal, and probably succeed, except that the Supreme Court of Canada has already accepted an appeal on another aspect of that 2018 trial, ordering the current re-trial.
Fuller’s revised story is that between 11am and noon on day after the murder — that is, on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010 — Riley and his girlfriend drove to Creighton Street, where Fuller was staying with Johnson, and the four drove together out to the pedestrian tunnel under Arklow Drive in Cole Harbour.
The four stayed at the tunnel for about an hour, said Fuller, during which time Riley used his phone for some purpose, and Johnson and Riley argued because Riley was upset that Johnson had told Fuller about the murder. Then, said Fuller, Riley threatened Fuller, telling her that if she told police about his involvement in the murder, he would kill Fuller’s brother and make her watch, then kill Fuller herself.
Because of that threat against her and her family, Fuller withheld that information from police for another decade, and only brought forward the threat against her in July 2021.
That’s dramatic testimony. But it isn’t credible.
As defence lawyer Trevor McGuigan pointed out during his cross-examination of Fuller, while Fuller said she didn’t tell police about the threat against her life for fear of Riley, at the very same time she was being paid to work for police to gather information against Riley and then she testified against Riley in open court, with Riley looking on, about Johnson telling her of Riley’s involvement in the murder.
How does it make sense that due to an alleged threat by Riley, Fuller feared telling police and testifying about the threat itself, so kept that information to herself, but she was perfectly fine telling police and testifying in court about every other aspect of Riley’s alleged involvement in the murder? Are we to believe that Fuller believed Riley would kill her if she told about the threat, but he wouldn’t kill her if she testified against him with every other detail?
But Fuller’s new, convoluted story, first told in July 2021, nearly 11 years after the threat was supposedly made, was enough to get her placed back in the Witness Protection Program. For the third time.
Documents read before the jury Thursday showed that Fuller had twice previously been in witness protection but was kicked out due to breaching conditions. But amping up her story by including new threats against her was sufficient to overcome any misgivings and get her placed back in witness protection.
Before she entered the Witness Protection Program for the third time, Fuller had racked up an impressive collection of at least a dozen convictions for theft, and was deeply in debt. Entering witness protection relieved her of the debt problem — it total, she has received $634,058 in benefits through witness protection, $265,587 in the last 15 months alone.
The Witness Protection Program’s Risk and Needs Assessment of Fuller described her in part as follows:
KF [Kaitlin Fuller] continues to be manipulative with program employees… KF has misrepresented conversations by employees in an effort to get her own way.
She reduces her level of responsibility in situations and uses others’ emotions for her own personal gain.
KF smokes cigarets and spends approximately $800 per month on cigarets… [and] $300-$400 on marijuana.
Shoplifting is a concern for the program, considering there have been recent charges from March 2021.
She has been shoplifting for more than 15 years and the client may have been deceptive when describing her criminality.
Within a few months prior to seeking protection from the program, the couple maxed out some credit cards and financed a brand new SUV sedan.
Their need for the vehicle is questionable. Since neither one of the clients were working at the time and they already had one vehicle.
The clients were upset when they were told the program was not paying off their debts.
Continued manipulative and deceptive behavior makes it very difficult for the program to monitor and support the family.
There is evidence KF can be deceptive to both program employees and service providers… KF’s psychologist believes KF’s behaviour is well ingrained and will be difficult to change.
Were that not enough to discredit Fuller, on Friday the Crown’s own expert witness, Joseph Sadoun, testified about the location of Riley’s phone on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010 based on his phone records. In a meticulously detailed timeline drawn from the records, Sadoun followed Riley along as he travelled from starting his day at home in Cherry Brook, driving to Highfield Park, then to Sackville and the Fairview area, and eventually ending the day back in Highfield Park — but nowhere near the Cole Harbour tunnel.
Defence lawyer McGuigan provided Sadoun with the closest residential address to the tunnel, which is 540 Arklow Dr., just metres to the west of the tunnel, and asked Sadoun, “So if I suggested to you that the person who is using this phone during this time frame so far, they would not — it’s not possible that they were on Creighton Street picking someone up and then driving about a 20-minute drive from Creighton Street to 540 Arklow Dr. in the Cole Harbour area and spending an hour roughly in that 540 Arklow Dr. area. Given the amount of times this phone is in use and the cell phone coverage for the cell sites, what I just laid out, that is not possible. Agree?” asked McGuigan.
“I would tend to agree, yes,” replied Sadoun.
What are we to make of all this?
On Sunday, El Jones made the connections:
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.
They felt they did not need any evidence because Fuller’s tears and fears were enough.
For myself, I keep coming back to the realization that the public would know nothing about this trial or the important issues it raises were the Halifax Examiner not in the courtroom. Riley could be convicted, or found not guilty, and you probably wouldn’t even know that.
You most certainly would not know of the admitted perjury that sent another man to prison, nor the utter dismantling of Fuller’s newly revised story, nor that it appears that a witness could employ lies to benefit financially from the Witness Protection Program without any critical examination by the Crown.
The issues at play in this trial are enormous. As El Jones points out, despite two problematic witnesses, one of whom is obtaining significant financial benefit, and despite a racist framing of the case, the power of the state is being weaponized against a Black defendant.
Jones thinks this trial probably costs on the order or “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars,” but I would place it at 10 times that. Think of the costs of imprisoning Johnson and Riley (Riley was either in jail or in prison for eight years before being released on bail in 2021), the costs of the multiple Crown lawyers, the many, many judges, the clerks, sheriff’s deputies, and so on.
The current trial is taking place in the cavernous Mellor Avenue Courthouse. It’s the only trial taking place, requiring all sorts of operational costs, cleaning, etc. At one point, I saw five sheriff’s deputies in the public-facing portion of the court, but I suspect there are more in the rear, along with who knows what sort of other support staff.
Then there’s police flying around the country, the transportation of witnesses and paying for their hotel rooms in Halifax. The costs to the jury. And on and on and on.
All this expenditure would be necessary if it led to actual justice, but I’m beginning to understand this as the exact opposite, as a mockery of justice.
Where are all the “good government” types now? Where’s the Canadian Taxpayer Federation? Where is the outrage against out-of-control government when a bureaucrat requires a permit to protect a river or some such?
Does concern about public expense and government overreach simply disappear because the defendant is Black?
The trial continues today. I’m out the door momentarily to head back to Mellor Avenue, and again will be the only reporter in the courtroom. If you value this work, please support it with your subscription. Your financial support is what makes this coverage possible. Thank you.
Last year, Justice Minister Brad Johns, under pressure from the opposition and others to bring in legislation to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements — those binding legal contracts often used to prevent victims of sexual and other forms of harassment from ever, ever discussing what happened to them — punted. He said his government would first need to do an “environmental scan” of laws in other jurisdictions to see how they had handled this legally sanctioned abuse, mostly of women and the powerless.
The government’s sweat-inducing, see-the-flour-in-my-face environmental scan is now finally complete…
But his government has come to a non-decision. It won’t introduce legislation to ban the use of such agreements in cases of sexual harassment and assault, even though he says — Tsk, tsk — the use of the law in such ways is not … good.
“I don’t support NDAs being used as a method to silence victims,” he told reporters after last week’s cabinet meeting, “but, at the same time, we’re just not moving forward with it right now.”
“The mayor of Halifax says he’s happy to have a response from the federal housing minister, but he has concerns about adding more height in the city centre,” reports Zane Woodford:
And while one urban planner doesn’t think four storeys should be an issue, the councillor for downtown Halifax and the south end shares the mayor’s concerns.
As first reported by the Halifax Examiner, Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser wrote to Mayor Mike Savage on Thursday placing conditions on the municipality’s application under the federal Housing Accelerator Fund.
Fraser wants to see HRM allow four units on any lot in the municipality; allow four storeys in residential areas in the regional centre; develop a non-market affordable housing strategy with dedicated staff; and increase density and student rental housing near universities.
In an interview on Friday, Savage said he thinks council will consider Fraser’s requests. Savage said the draft regional plan already calls for three units on every residential lot in HRM, so he thinks council will look at four.
“International students pursuing careers as paramedics or pharmacy technicians in Nova Scotia may now find it easier to remain in the province after they graduate,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
During a media conference at a Halifax pharmacy on Friday, Minister of Health and Wellness Michelle Thompson announced that the provincial nominee program’s ‘International Graduates in Demand’ stream is being expanded to include both professions.
The ‘International Graduates in Demand’ stream allows international students graduating from a post-secondary institution in Nova Scotia to apply for a work permit and permanent residency in Canada before gaining work experience.
Paramedics and pharmacy technicians are the latest addition to a stream that’s already open to international students graduating as nurse aides, orderlies, continuing care assistants, patient service associates, and early childhood educators.
Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Open House Session Case 22257 – Phase 4 (Monday, 2pm and 5:30pm, Canada Games Centre) — learn more about the Draft Regional Plan and the Suburban Plan process; more info here
Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm, online) — agenda
North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Safeguarding the Future of Tidal Energy in Nova Scotia; with representatives from Sustainable Marine Energy, Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, and Marine Renewables Canada
Using Drosophila models to investigate human disease variants in neurodevelopment disorders (Monday, 2:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — PhD Candidate Taryn Jakub will talk
I3V Seminar Series – Clinical Trials and Access to Medicines (Tuesday, 11:45am, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Srivinas Murthy from the University of British Columbia will talk
Opening reception: NSCAD Photography Collective (Monday, 5:30pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — info here
Noon Talk (Tuesday, 12pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — with Selina Wamsley
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:45: Aurora, cruise ship with up to 2,258 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a 30-day roundtrip cruise out of Southampton, England
07:00: Crystal Serenity, cruise ship with up to 1,070 passengers, arrives at Pier 27 from Sydney, on an eight-day cruise from Quebec City to New York
07:45: Zuiderdam, cruise ship with up to 2,364 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Quebec City
08:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:00: NYK Rigel, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John
15:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
17:45: Aurora sails for St. John’s
17:45: Zuiderdam sails for Sydney
18:30: Crystal Serenity sails for New York
21:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach,Florida
02:30: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for New York
06:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for sea
07:00: Ambience, cruise ship with up to 1,915 passengers, arrives at Sydney anchorage from St. John’s, on a 34-day roundtrip cruise out of London
07:30: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Libery Pier (Sydney) from Charlottetown, on a seven-day cruise from Quebec City to Boston
07:30: Caribbean Princess, cruise ship with up to 3,756 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a 10-day cruise from New York to Quebec City
09:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Portsmouth, New Hampshire
16:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Halifax
16:30: Ambience sails for Charlottetown
17:30: Caribbean Princess sails for Charlettetown
Thanks again to the rest of the Examiner crew. They’re keeping this train on the tracks while I am covering the trial and otherwise absent.