Accused killer Dellen Millard's uncle vehemently tried to dispel any notion he planned to go into the pet cremation business with his nephew, during his extremely tense and at times angry testimony at the Laura Babcock murder trial in Toronto this afternoon.
Millard, 32, is acting as his own lawyer, and has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Ontario Superior Court. His former friend and co-accused Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont. has also pleaded not guilty.
"Can you imagine driving up to a strip mall to a vet clinic, carting out cadavers and lighting up an incinerator, with embers flying out right there in the parking lot, and then travelling down Main Street to the next clinic?" said Robert Burns, a veterinarian in Woodbridge, Ont., whose sister is Millard's mother.
The Crown alleges Babcock's body was burned inside an animal incinerator, called The Eliminator, after she was killed in early July 2012.
Court heard Wednesday from one of Millard's former employees who purchased an animal incinerator for his boss costing just over $15,000. The plan, the jury heard, was that Millard and his uncle were going to start a mobile pet cremation business together.
"I, in 30 years, had never heard of one. Quite frankly I was blown away. It was the most absurd thing I ever heard of," Burns told the jury.
He said he only learned of the so-called plan through one of his clients, Charles Dubien, who owns a neighbouring business in Woodbridge.
"He said, '[Millard's] bought this monstrous animal incinerator.'"
Judge cautions uncle
Justice Michael Code interrupted Burns several times during his testimony, urging him to refrain from offering his personal opinion on his nephew — who he clearly dislikes.
At times Burns appeared to be almost shaking as he sat in the witness box.
Burns told the jury he "never bothered to categorize the useless events in [Millard's] life" adding that he worked to "disentangle" his family from his nephew. The two barely communicated after some kind of family rift in 2002.
"I just remember the useless dribble that came from his mouth," Burns told the court.
A 'tragic and diabolical affair'
Burns had no choice but to face his estranged nephew, as Millard stepped up to a tall wooden podium for his cross-examination.
Millard questioned his uncle about a police statement he gave. Burns told officers he treated several of Millard's pets in the summer of 2012 during a couple of visits to his Etobicoke, Ont., bungalow.
It's where the Crown alleges Babcock was killed, on the evening of July 3, 2012, or the morning of July 4, 2012.
Previously, at the Laura Babcock murder trial:
- Day 11: Accused killer, girlfriend compared Babcock to 'herpes'
- Day 12: Jury sees animal incinerator Crown alleges was used to burn body
- Day 13: Expert says photo appears to show human bones burning
- Day 14: Photo of burning bones challenged by defence
- Day 15: Millard's mechanic testifies about incinerators
Read CBC News's full coverage as the trial continues.
Burns responded to his nephew's question by saying, "I have to be very clear that my only role in this tragic and diabolical affair..."
Justice Code once again interrupted Burns, his voice booming with a severe caution: "You must stop that. You're being asked about your police statement."
"In all due respect, being pulled into a police station and put into a corner and being asked about you," he said, thrusting his index finger directly at Millard.
"Those are the responses I gave at the time."
Millard, seeming to address the palpable tension in the courtroom, concluded his cross-examination, conceding the two never talked about a business plan for a pet cremation business.
"It's no wonder I would not make a proposal for you," Millard said.
Burns responded: "I don't know what goes on in your head."
An easygoing boss
Earlier Thursday, Millard attempted to present an image of himself as an easygoing boss who offered his former mechanic challenging and creative work.
"Building a custom incinerator wasn't that different from other projects you did. There was a variety of work, it was challenging, there was a creative element to it — you liked it?" Millard asked.
Schlatman answered with just one word, one he would repeat often during cross-examination: "Yup."
'A funny smell. Like rotting'
Millard also chipped away at testimony Schlatman gave Wednesday, about seeing ash and what appeared to be bones, inside the incinerator.
Schlatman couldn't pinpoint the exact date, just that he was visiting Millard's Waterloo, Ont., region farm, to fill the incinerator propane tank, sometime in late July 2012.
Schlatman told the jury about a peculiar smell.
"I could smell a funny smell. Like rotting. Not nice. There was stuff inside of it," he said.
The jury has previously seen a photo of objects engulfed in flames from inside The Eliminator, which was taken on July 23, at 11:20 p.m.
During cross-examination this morning, Millard pointed out his farm, more than 100 acres and surrounded by marshland, and its buildings, had a particular smell to it.
"The barn was old, musty. It smelled like old hay, like an old barn?"
Schlatman answered, "Oh yes."
The trial continues Friday at 10 a.m. ET.
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