Curtis Bonnell tells jury a different story than police video

Curtis Bonnell told the jury at his first-degree murder trial Monday a different story about the death of Hilary Bonnell than he told police.
Curtis Bonnell told the jury he woke up on Sept. 5, 2009, after a night of drinking and drugging, to find Hilary dead in his truck. (CBC)

Curtis Bonnell told the jury at his first-degree murder trial Monday a different story about the death of Hilary Bonnell than he told police.

Bonnell, 32, of the Esgenoopetitj First Nation, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Hilary, his 16-year-old first cousin.

He took the stand on Monday afternoon to testify in his own defence, sporting a dark suit and blue tie, with shackles around his ankles.

Bonnell told the Miramichi courtroom he woke up on Sept. 5, 2009, in his truck, which was parked at his father's garage in Tabusintac, to find Hilary slumped over in the passenger seat unresponsive.

What am I going to do? Nobody's going to believe me …   I just got out of jail. Nobody's going to believe an Indian.

Bonnell said he didn't know who it was at first so he got out of truck, opened the passenger door and Hilary started to fall out.

He thought she was passed out from drinking, but when he grabbed her arm, it was rigid and she had no colour in her face.

He started to panic, he said. "What am I going to do? Nobody's going to believe me.

"I just got out of jail. Nobody's going to believe an Indian."

Earlier this month, the jury watched a police video where Bonnell admitted to RCMP that he had killed Hilary in his backyard after they had sex.

Bonnell told police they had fought because Hilary wanted $100 in exchange for the sex and he refused. He said he covered her mouth to stop her from yelling and before he knew it, she was dead.

The Crown alleges Bonnell picked up Hilary the day she went missing, as she was walking along Micmac Road in the province's northeastern community after a party.

Bonnell is accused of holding Hilary against her will, sexually assaulting her and killing her.

Her body was discovered buried in a remote wooded area in Tabusintac two months after she disappeared.

Was drinking, drugging

Hilary Bonnell disappeared from her northern New Brunswick community in September 2009. (RCMP)

On Monday, Bonnell said he didn't remember much about that night because he had been drinking heavily and using cocaine after having a fight with his girlfriend.

He was at a bar with a friend, remembered turning on his truck lights and the next thing he knew he was at someone's house and trying to fix a water pump.

After that, he woke up in his truck with Hilary beside him, he said, breaking down several times during his testimony as Hilary's mother quietly wiped away tears and people in the packed courtroom muttered comments.

Defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux asked Justice Fred Ferguson to address the crowd, saying they were getting too loud and were distracting.

The judge reminded everyone they needed to be quiet, or would be asked to leave.

Bonnell said he put Hilary's body in the bed of his truck, drove to the woods and left her on the ground, with her sandals beside her.

Then he drove home to look for any clues about what might have happened to Hilary. He also went to his mother's house, hoping someone there might be able to fill in the blanks about the night, but didn't find out much, he said.

Admits burying Hilary

Bonnell said he continued drinking and drugging that day and had difficulty sleeping because he kept thinking that animals might get at Hilary. He eventually passed out, he said.

When he woke up, he went to Tracadie to see his son, then he went back to his father's garage, where he had some beer and cocaine. He took a shovel from the garage and a four-wheeler and went to Hilary's body.

Bonnell told the jury he put her body on the four-wheeler, drove to a different location, dug a hole for a few hours, then rolled her into the hole and put dirt on top of her.

He drove the four-wheeler back to the garage, put the shovel in his truck and went home, he said.

Father challenged by Crown

Bonnell's father, Chris Bonnell, also continued his testimony on Monday morning after Friday's court session was cut short when a jury member took ill.

Crown prosecutors challenged him over discrepancies in his police statements and testimony.

Chris Bonnell was asked about the morning of Sept. 5, 2009 — the day Hilary went missing. Chris said he was driving to Tim Hortons to get a coffee when he saw Hilary walking along the road.

He also saw his son driving in front of him, then Curtis drove up a road that leads to Tabusintac, he said.

Chris continued on to Tim Hortons, and a short while later went to his son's home, where he saw his vehicle parked in back.

During cross-examination, Richards pointed out a number of discrepancies between what Chris told police in statements, what he testified under questioning by the defence, and what he told the Crown.

For example, he noted that Chris, in his first two statements to police, on Sept. 12 and Sept. 15, 2009,  never mentioned seeing his son the day of Hilary's disappearance.

Chris said he didn't tell police he saw his son because he didn't think anything of the matter.

"You were trying to protect your son," said Richards.

Chris replied: "How can I protect something I have no knowledge of?"

'No such thing as certainty'

The Crown asked when Chris became suspicious of his son. Chris pushed back, appearing hesitant to go over transcripts of his police statements.

"There's no such thing as certainty. I'm sure you don't remember every case you've tried," Chris said.

The Crown also argued, based on cellphone records, that Chris didn't go to his son's house before he went to Tracadie, as he told the defence under direct examination. Chris went to Curtis' house afterward, Richards said.

"Well I could have gone twice," replied Chris. "You tell me, you've got all the answers."

Before leaving the stand, Chris asked the judge if he could "address the family." Justice Fred Ferguson said he could not; that it was a matter between him and Hilary's family.

The trial started on Sept. 17 and is scheduled to last up to eight weeks.