At Laura Babcock trial, court hears of love triangle and 'catty' texting war

Jury members hear from a friend of Laura Babcock's, who details tension between Babcock and a woman named Christina Noudga. Both were romantically involved with one of the men accused in Babcock's death, Dellen Millard.

Testimony builds on Crown’s theory that alleged murder was motivated by a love triangle

University of Toronto graduate Laura Babcock, described by friends and family as fun-loving and a voracious reader, went missing in July 2012. (Babcock family)

It was Laura Babcock's 23rd birthday — Feb. 12, 2012 — when she opened a text message taunting her about a former lover.

"We thought it would be funny if we sent her a catty text message for her birthday," Karoline Shirinian, 25, testified Friday in a packed courtroom at the trial into Babcock's alleged murder.

Shirinian said she'd been having drinks with another friend, Christina Noudga, who was not very fond of Babcock. That's because Babcock had once dated Noudga's then boyfriend, Dellen Millard.

Noudga crafted the text to Babcock, Shirinian said. It read: "Happy birthday. A year ago today was the first time I slept with Dellen."

Shirinian told the jury Babcock immediately sent a reply: "That's fine, I slept with him a couple of weeks ago."It's yet another thread in the Crown's case against the two men accused in Babcock's death.

The Crown alleges that Millard, 32, of Toronto, and his onetime best friend Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., killed Babcock in July 2012 and then burned her remains in an animal incinerator. Her body has never been found.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

Dellen Millard, left, and Mark Smich, right, are accused of first-degree murder in the death of Laura Babcock, whose body has never been found. (Facebook, Instagram)

'Unnecessary and petty'

Shirinian said she knew Babcock and Millard continued to sleep together on and off, sometimes in the back of a truck. 

She now admits that the text Noudga sent was "unnecessary and petty" but the tension between Noudga and Babcock had long been simmering.

"They would get along sometimes, most of the times they didn't.... After Christina started dating Dellen, Laura would be OK with it sometimes, then she would get upset and lash out," Shirinian testified.

"[Laura] would say rude things, send her nasty text messages," she said.

Karoline Shirinian, centre, faces questioning from Crown Attorney Jill Cameron as Justice Michael Code and co-accused Dellen Millard watch. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Much of the Crown's case centres around text messages.

During opening statements, Crown attorney Jill Cameron read a message about Babcock that Millard sent to Noudga in April 2012.

"First I am going to hurt her. Then I'll make her leave. I will remove her from our lives," it read.

Millard, acting as his own lawyer, will have a chance to cross-examine Shirinian on Monday.

'Emotional issues'

Earlier Friday, two men who spent time with Babcock in the months before she disappeared were in the witness box. They described her as an intelligent person who was struggling with emotional issues.

Jeff Wilson, a film and television producer, told jury members he met Babcock at a bar called The Rhino in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood.

On the first night they met, the 41-year-old said he invited Babcock, to live with him after she told him she was having trouble with her roommate.

She was a very intelligent girl who was going through some emotionally difficult times.- Dr.  Sohail   Khattak , who met Babcock on a few occasions

He helped her move some of her belongings, clothing and her tiny Maltese dog named Lacey, from an apartment in Yorkville where she was staying, to his place.

The arrangement didn't last long. 

Wilson said Babcock told him she intended to look for work and to find her own apartment. But after two weeks he said she didn't appear to be doing either so he asked her to leave.

Babcock, who he said was using medication for depression, anxiety and to help her sleep, was in tears. The next morning he testified that she had scratched her wrists and forearms until it drew blood, and that she was talking about suicide.

Wilson said he eventually drove her back to the apartment where she had previously been staying.

'Where did she sleep?'

During cross-examination, Millard asked Wilson a number of direct questions beginning with where Babcock slept.

"In the guest bedroom," Wilson said.

Millard pressed further. "I'm going to suggest she was trading sex for these things," he said.

Dellen Millard, centre, is acting as his own lawyer at the murder trial. (Pam Davies/CBC)

"That's not the case," said Wilson, who was visibly uncomfortable.

Millard asked if Wilson was aware that Babcock was an escort. Wilson said he was, but Babcock never used his apartment to conduct any business.

Drinks and chats

Crown attorney Ken Lockhart also called Dr. Sohail Khattak as a witness. He met Babcock through one of her friends, who also worked as an escort.

Khattak told the court he met Babcock on three occasions at the Park Hyatt Hotel in downtown Toronto, where they would share "drinks and chats" in his hotel room.

"She was a very intelligent girl who was going through some emotionally difficult times," Khattak testified.

The Crown asked Khattak if he ever had sex with Babcock.

The 53-year-old said no, but admitted he had given her cash on two occasions, though he couldn't say how much. He also offered to co-sign for an apartment after Babcock told him she wanted to move closer to university. Nothing came of the proposition, Khattak said, because he suddenly stopped hearing from Babcock.

The trial, which is taking place in Ontario Superior Court, is expected to last 10 weeks and will continue on Monday at 10 a.m.

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About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.