November 15, 2012 - 5:13 PM
Either the accused in the Ashlee Hyatt second-degree murder case was consumed by rage and alcohol that led her to stab the 16-year-old to death or she is a victim of vicious rumours and bullying at a drinking party that was so chaotic that no one really knows who stabbed Hyatt June 2, 2010.
That's the dilemma facing the B.C. Supreme Court jury as the Crown and defence presented closing arguments Thursday at Kelowna Law Courts.
Crown Counsel Murray Kaay said the evidence is clear that the accused, 18, was driven to the act because of alcohol use before and during the party, as well as mounting rage. He said her friends turned on her and a boyfriend tuned her out because of a rumour that she kissed another boy at the party.
What began as a verbal confrontation that involved four girls escalated into pushing, shoving, hair-pulling, punching and finally a fatal stabbing, Kaay said.
"(The accused) took the fight to another level," Kaay said. ". . . Her response was to produce, threaten with and use the knife as an inappropriate use of force."
Defence attorney Donna Turko said uncertainty as to just what happened at the Peachland party -- primarily brought on by drunken witnesses whose stories both conflicted with each other and changed over time -- that the accused cannot be convicted because the questionable testimony crossed the threshold of reasonable doubt.
"We have a lack of reliability," she said.
The identities of the accused and others at the fateful party are protected under a youth publication ban.
Kaay and Turko took jurors through that summer day, from the time the accused rode 4x4s and drank whisky with friends after school, through the drinking party, through Hyatt's stabbing and afterward, when Hyatt bled to death and the accused turned herself in to authorities.
Interpretations of those events, however, varied sharply between the Crown and defence. Kaay leaned heavily on the audio-taped testimony of Michael Baxter, a former boyfriend of Hyatt's and who died in October in an auto accident. Described by Kaay as the only one at the party who didn't drink any alcohol that night, Baxter was painted as the only one who could give accurate testimony of the events. Besides the notion that he was sober, Kaay said he had an unobstructed view of the argument and fight in which the defendant engaged with Hyatt and one other girl. Before he died, he gave recorded testimony at a preliminary hearing that he saw Hyatt and the accused screaming at each other and later rolling around on the street, which resulted in Hyatt's death.
"Michael Baxter was in the best position to witness this and tell you what unfolded on the street that night," Kaay said.
Turko countered that Baxter's testimony was weak and tainted because he did not have to go through rigorous cross-examination others did.
"He had a callous attitude toward the truth," Turko said.
So she went with other witnesses called by the prosecution in the four-week trial. While Kaay pointed to what he saw as consistent strains of testimony between many witnesses— testimony that he said clearly indicated that the accused killed Hyatt—Turko said the party's chaotic environment rendered most testimony faulty and irrelevant.
Turko said that no one testified that they saw the knife blade penetrate Hyatt's body. She said forensic evidence, especially DNA from blood samples, certainly did not point to the accused as one who is unquestionably guilty. She also pointed out that the defendant took the stand in her own defence, asking why she would be willing to undergo cross-examination if not for her innocence.
Turko repeated that the prosecution's witnesses conflicted themselves while giving testimony and that their stories changed from the time they were interviewed by police officers and when they were called to the stand.
"(The accused's) evidence was consistent with that evidence that doesn't lie," Turko said, "DNA evidence, injuries and blood."
The jury received instructions late in the day and will continue Friday. It is expected that deliberations will begin next week.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2012