October 16, 2013 - 1:15 PM
KELOWNA - As a Kelowna jury works its way through its second day in isolation to decide the fate of Joelon "Joey" Verma, it remains unclear just how much they know about his lifestyle. They know he is involved in the drug world but do they perceive him as a bit player as he described? Or do they know his position is well above the drug dealers and brokers and addicts called to testify against him?
The courts would never allow that information unless it's offered—it's prejudicial and nearly impossible to prove, although journalists and bloggers make their claims. Prosecutor Iain Currie couldn't touch the subject but it might have made his closing submissions simpler by explaining why the Crown had no forensic evidence—because you would expect a gangster to know a good crime scene, where to dispose of a body and how to cover up physical evidence.
The jury could certainly find him guilty on the Crown's case. As Currie said, he had motive and opportunity. Jason Labonte, Verma's cousin, showed police the area off McCulloch Road where he met Verma the last day Brittney Irving was seen alive. Within ten minutes a police dog found Irving's body there. Police got evidence from cell towers that show both Verma and Irving were in the area at the same time—and Irving was never heard from again.
But given what the jury knows—and how the information may be used in the mental exercise of establishing proof beyond a reasonable doubt—they could also find him not guilty. As Verma's defence lawyers said, it could all amount to mere coincidences. Currie's case was based almost entirely on a series of text messages between Verma, Irving and others all leading to her meeting a buyer for 50 to 70 pounds of weed on April 6, 2010. Texts are often codes to begin with, made worse by spell-check mistakes, unfamiliar street drug references and actual code-words designed to be misunderstood. Tough to find certainty there.
Beyond inferences in texts, the only person who testified that Verma was Irving's buyer for the weed was her brother, Joze Macculloch, who even the Crown conceded wasn't the best witness. He's steeped in the criminal underworld himself, was angry and inconsistent and has his own issues with drugs and crime.
The Crown’s own witnesses had trouble with the time of death. Irving's body was found on a cold mountain road three weeks after April 6. Snow was melting but it was still frigid. The body showed little signs of decomposition and best guesses from police analysts was that the body was there only a couple days, though of course decomposition would have slowed in cooler conditions.
Verma's defence lawyers—veteran Alexander "Sandy" Watt and his son Jordan—explained well the many interpretive holes you could find with the Crown's case. But perhaps their best move was not calling any evidence of their own.
Had Verma testified, the Crown could have questioned him about his position with various organized crimes groups, from the Independent Soldiers to the Hells Angels. From the text messages, they could have asked him about his "cousins" on the coast he was delivering the marijuana to. They could have him explain what he meant by "officials at the gym" who told him his cousin Jason Labonte was talking to police and had to "shut the fuck up." He could explain the inside conversation he had with someone only identified as "T" about these intricate matters.
But the Crown got none of it. Instead, they have statements from Verma to police sounding like he just knew a lot of people. He said he was trying to help Irving. He said "bigger people were involved, people at the night clubs, not me." He told police he was just buying two pounds off her. If they think he is a low level guy, it might all seem implausible. If they perceive him as a well-connected gangster, it makes more sense.
To understand Verma's place, jurors would have to read between the lines.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 250-718-2724 or tweet @marshalljones23
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013