On Watch

What We Couldn't Tell You

Posted: Oct 10, 2012 3:37 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 10, 2012 3:37 PM ET
Take a look at the picture at the top of this blog. That's Chaze Lamar Thompson, being led into Dartmouth court in handcuffs.

That was something you did not see during his murder trial: Thompson in handcuffs. It's part of the extraordinary lengths our court system goes to, to maintain the image of innocent, until proven guilty. The accused is to appear in the courtroom like any other person. Nothing is to be said or done in front of the jury that could taint their impression of him.

Thompson is on trial for first degree murder in the death of Dartmouth cab driver Sergei Kostin.

But now that the jury is sequestered; cut off from family, friends and - most importantly - the media, we can tell you what they weren't supposed to see.
 
Everyday, even before the final jury panel was selected, Chaze Thompson was brought into court by at least three sheriffs. They removed his handcuffs in the hall outside, and brought him in to sit beside his lawyer. The sheriffs then took up positions at a discreet distance from Thompson; watching, but not restraining him.
 
These careful measures encountered a hiccup in the early days of the trial. 
 
It seems the new sheriffs vans that the Justice Minister introduced with great fanfare back in June are too big to fit into the secure garage under the Law Courts. So the sheriffs were parking in front of Stayner's Wharf restaurant, in full view of people strolling along the waterfront, then marching Thompson in handcuffs and leg shackles, down into the court building. 
 
Thompson's lawyer complained about how that looked, especially given the possibility that members of the jury could be walking in that area. Justice McDougall agreed and sheriffs had to find a less public way to get Thompson into the building.
 
Another closely-guarded secret in this trial was the star witness: Thompson's cousin, Wayne McAvoy. He testified that he was in Kostin's cab when Thompson killed him, and then saw his cousin dispose of the cab and Kostin's body.
 
McAvoy was whisked into the courthouse using the same entrance used for Thompson. Only the plain-clothed police detail guarding McAvoy had a van small enough to slide right into the secure underground parkade. No one would say exactly how McAvoy was brought up to the courtroom on the third floor. But he came in through the same entrance reserved for the judge and jury. He was always under guard and never appeared in any of the public areas of the courthouse. 
 
Again, the jury never saw any of this. When they came into court, McAvoy was already seated in the witness box.
 
While McAvoy was on the stand, the crowd in the courtroom got a lot bigger. There were more members of Thompson's and McAvoy's family present for what must have been an uncomfortable family reunion. There were also at least four plain-clothed police positioned around the courtroom. That's in addition to the sheriffs.
 
The final bit of information we couldn't repeat during the trial is that Thompson is already a convicted criminal. 
 
The reason he was in handcuffs throughout this proceeding is that he's serving a four-year sentence for armed robbery. Again, talking about an accused's prior record could taint a jury.
 
So now you know what the jury may never be told.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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