RCMP testify in trial of youth charged in death of Charlotte Lafferty
2 of 4 police officers stationed in Fort Good Hope testified in 1st-degree murder trial
The first days of the trial of a Fort Good Hope youth accused in a brutal murder have focused on the RCMP's initial investigation of the crime.
The jury has heard from two of the four RCMP officers stationed in Fort Good Hope the morning the bloodied body of young mom Charlotte Lafferty was found near the community's seniors complex, on March 22, 2014.
A young man from Fort Good Hope, aged 17 at the time, is facing trial on a charge of first-degree murder. His name cannot be published under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
On the witness stand in the N.W.T. Supreme Court the detachment commander, now Staff Sergeant in Inuvik, Kent Pike said he got called at 7:45 a.m.
Two officers were at the scene of the murder near the seniors complex. Pike called another officer, Const. Adam Wood (now stationed in Tuktoyaktuk), and told him to meet him at the crime scene.
Pike and Wood arrived within 20 minutes. Pike said his main concern was preserving the crime scene until investigators from the Major Crimes Unit in Yellowknife arrived.
When he arrived, one of the two other officers on duty told him the body had been moved from where it was found during a desperate attempt to get the person to the health centre.
Officer never suspected Lafferty was the victim
Wood took the first photos of the crime scene then cordoned off the area. He testified that other officers at the scene told him the accused youth was responsible for the murder. He spent much of the day in his cruiser stationed outside the youth's home.
At 10:30 a.m. Pike called Louisa Lafferty, Charlotte's mother, after getting a call from dispatch in Yellowknife. Lafferty told Pike her daughter was missing. He told Lafferty he would look around town for Charlotte.
After two and a half years stationed in Fort Good Hope, Pike recognized everyone in the tiny community. But he did not suspect that the badly beaten body laying on the ground beneath the white sheet was Charlotte. He thought it was someone else, but later made contact with that person and realized he was mistaken.
Just after noon, Pike got a call from Louisa Lafferty. She said she had learned that Charlotte had been out drinking and "said she had heard that at about six or seven in the morning her daughter was at a residence near the seniors complex."
An hour later, Pike called Louisa Lafferty back and asked her to come to the detachment. He did not show her photos of the body, but she immediately realized it was Charlotte when he showed her photos of clothes seized from the crime scene.
At 2:30 p.m., investigators from Yellowknife, including forensic technologist Const. Shaun Brown, arrived in Fort Good Hope. After being briefed by local RCMP, Brown was escorted to the crime scene by the local officer who (according to the prosecutor) saw the accused youth at the scene.
Brown drew a map of the crime scene. A light snow had been falling since 10 a.m. The body and the area around it had been covered with tarps.
"I lifted the edge of the tarp and I could see the blood-stained snow," said Brown. He saw a blood-stained stick on the snow nearby and blood, hair and splinters in the surrounding snow. He lifted the tarp and the blanket covering the body.
"There was quite a bit of blood on her and in the surrounding area," said Brown. "She had been disrobed."
Brown took photos of the body, the crime scene and footprints in the surrounding snow that he later enhanced using Photoshop.
At 8:20 p.m. RCMP arrested the youth at his home.
Clipped fingernails, clean laundry
Pike says his mother did not seem that shocked that they had come for him. "She suggested more or less that we were picking on [him], that we had the wrong person."
Officers who fingerprinted him at the detachment noticed his nails were cut very short. They took DNA swabs of his hands and seized his jacket, belt and shoes.
The head of the Major Crimes Investigation, Sgt. Chris Self, said they started searching the youth's home at 10:30 p.m. and did not finish until after 1 a.m. He and other officers noticed a pile of clean laundry in the laundry area.
"We were looking for a gray jacket with orange zippers, black running shoes, black jeans, a belt with studs in it, and blood," said Self. "We were told we should also look for fingernail clippings."
He searched the garbage cans in the house but found no clippings.
Under cross-examination, Self confirmed no blood was found in the house.
Pepsi, vodka, a tube of Chapstick
Earlier in the trial, Brown, the forensic technician, showed photos he had taken of exhibits police had seized, including a pair of boxer style underwear with red stains on the waistband, and blood on shoes and a belt.
On March 23 Brown and Const. Wood went back to the crime scene, took more photos, and collected the items that lay on the ground: a tube of Chapstick, shoes, a sock, lighter, necklace, full can of Pepsi, a clump of hair, jeans and blood-stained underwear, and three-quarters full mickey bottle of vodka.
Brown says he did not check the blood-stained stick for fingerprints, that he was never asked to.
On March 25 Const. Wood said Staff Sergeant Pike told him there was more evidence to be gathered at a home near the home of the accused youth. Wood went there and took swabs of red stains on the wall and floor.
On April 4 the RCMP conducted a second search of the youth's home. They seized a desktop computer a laptop, mouse, keyboard and monitor.
They got the same frosty reception from the youth's mother.
"She wasn't happy with us being there," said Wood. "She was pretty upset. She didn't want to give anything to us."
The full picture of the investigation will be filled out in the coming days. Among those still left to testify: the two officers who were first on the scene, a blood stain expert, and the doctor who performed the autopsy on Charlotte Lafferty's body.