Witnesses to Kamloops robbery flee court before testifying

KAMLOOPS - Two key witnesses to a robbery in Kamloops last year got one look at the accused and fled the city a day before they were due to testify.

Abhishek Chandra and his pregnant partner Alicia Pala were supposed to testify yesterday, May 30, in the Kamloops Supreme Court trial of Dustin Braaten and Corey Santoro but the trial was postponed to today. That was long enough for Chandra and Pala to call it quits and return to Vancouver with their six-month-old child, Crown prosecutor Joel Gold said today.

Gold told the courtroom Pala and Chandra were terrified after seeing the accused in court yesterday. It's unclear if the Crown will issue warrants to have them returned.

In an opening statement, Gold said Chandra and his then-pregnant partner Pala were staying at the Columbia Motor Inn in October 2015 after moving to Kamloops from Vancouver. On Oct. 17, two men busted down the door to their room with an aluminum bat. The suspects, alleged to be Braaten and Santoro, told the couple to leave while they ransacked the room, stealing money and jewelry, Gold said.

The couple ran down to the front desk and had someone call the police. Both men were arrested at the scene. 

With the loss of key witnesses and the victims, the trial was again postponed and will now begin next week.

Braaten has been in custody since his arrest and Santoro was released on bail with strict conditions. Judge Ian Josephson ruled to delete some of those conditions today including a tight curfew and not being allowed to drink alcohol.

Josephson also dismissed Braaten's application for bail, citing his lengthy list of offences over the years, which includes possession of stolen property, assault and mischief, and adds up to 45 convictions on record.

The accused are scheduled to be back in court Monday, June 6.

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