BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
A view of the Brandon Court House.
A jury will have to decide whether a woman was fatally stabbed in self- defence or out of hate, says a Crown attorney.
Crown attorney Jim Ross told a jury on Monday that he believes the evidence will show that the accused and victim had a history of hostility.
"Our position is that this was a deliberate act of lethal force, born of anger and ill will," Ross said.
Cameron Douglas Burnett, 53, is charged with second-degree murder in relation to the death of 37-year-old Crystal Elk.
Burnett’s trial began before a jury of eight women and four men in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday.
Ross noted that the trial is currently scheduled for two weeks, but he expects the Crown will finish making its case by Friday.
As proceedings began, Ross summarized the evidence he expects to call. He said he expects jurors will here that Burnett stabbed Elk in the chest during an argument in the early morning of Nov. 1, 2011.
The confrontation came outside an east-end home where Burnett lived with his partner — Elk’s mother-in-law, Carol McKay.
Earlier in the evening, there had been a dispute between Burnett and McKay.
Elk got a call telling her there was a problem and armed herself with a kitchen knife. She recruited her two teenage daughters and one of her daughter’s boyfriends, and went to McKay’s home to help her.
However, Ross said that at some point the witnesses obtained the knife and hid it in the belief it was dangerous and unnecessary.
Prior to the stabbing, Elk called police to help her retrieve McKay’s purse and medication from the house because Burnett refused to let her in to get them.
Ross said jurors will hear from witnesses who will likely describe how the unarmed Elk was stabbed.
A police officer and paramedic found Elk’s body lying in the back lane behind the home.
Ross said that after the stabbing, Burnett barricaded himself inside his apartment and ignored police attempts to speak to him.
The Brandon police Tactical Response Unit was called in and — four-and-a-half hours after police were called to the back lane — officers entered the home.
Police searched for a knife with Elk’s blood on it. They found knives in Burnett’s apartment, and one in McKay’s purse, but none had blood on them.
There had been previous tension between Burnett and some of McKay’s children and family, Ross said.
In particular, Ross said jurors could expect to hear that Burnett had a long-standing hatred of Elk. He was involved in an altercation with Elk and several others a few months prior to her death.
Ross said he expects Burnett will claim self-defence.
"It will be for you to decide if Mr. Burnett stabbed Crystal Elk because he was afraid for his life, or because he didn’t like her and was angry over her interfering and angry over old history," Ross said.
The above outline of the evidence that Ross expects to call consists of allegations at this point.
As Justice John Menzies pointed out at the beginning of the trial, it’s up to jurors to decide the facts of the case.
Ross called forensic pathologist, John Younes, as his first witness.
Younes, who performed the autopsy on Elk, testified that she died from heart failure due to a stab wound to the heart.
That wound was 2.2 centimetres long and eight centimetres deep. The object that caused it was thrust through the middle of Elk’s chest and pierced her breastbone before it entered her heart. Younes said it would take a powerful blow, the equivalent of a punch, to force a knife through the dense bone of the breastbone.
Elk would have died within minutes, Younes said. When asked by Ross whether someone who had suffered such a wound could stand, Younes said they would likely be able to function for a minute or two.
Elk also had another stab wound to her forearm, which Younes said would be consistent with an attempt to ward off a blow.
Blood samples taken from her showed that she had alcohol in her system. If she’d been driving, she would have been at more than double the legal limit.
Ross then presented a series of knives found by police, that included the knife found in McKay’s purse and a number from inside the home.
Younes said any one of six of those knives could have made the wound that killed Elk.
Court also heard about a series of phone calls placed on the morning of the incident — including one placed to McKay’s brother, a call Elk placed to Brandon police minutes before she was stabbed, and a 911 call made by a neighbour to request an ambulance.
McKay’s brother, Trenelle Deitrich Dowan, was living in Edmonton at the time of Elk’s death.
He testified to receiving a call from McKay who seemed in a "panic" and "distressed." The call came in around 12:53 a.m. central time.
Mckay told him she’d had an argument with Burnett who had pulled the phone off the wall, Dowan testified. McKay said she was calling using Burnett’s cellphone.
The line then went dead, Dowan said, and he called his nephew in Brandon. He wasn’t home, but Elk picked up the phone instead. Dowan told her to check on McKay, and that McKay and Burnett had been fighting.
Dowan said he didn’t hear back from Elk and learned the next day that she was dead.
In a recording of a call to the Brandon Police Service made by Elk, which was played in court, she can be heard asking police to come to McKay’s home at 310 Dennis St. McKay’s spouse had kicked her out of the house and she wanted her purse. That call was made from a neighbouring home at 1:39 a.m.
Fifteen minutes later, at 1:54 a.m., a neighbour placed a call to 911. Court heard a recording of that call in which the man calls for an ambulance because "somebody in the back lane collapsed."
The trial continues today.
Burnett, who is represented by lawyers Bob Harrison and Norm Sims, is in custody.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 21, 2014