Edmonton

Decision in Alberta double murder trial expected Thursday

A judge is expected to hand down her decision Thursday in the double first-degree murder trial of Edward Chomiak, who is accused of killing his estranged wife and her daughter in December 2010.

Edward Chomiak on trial for shooting deaths of ex-wife and her daughter

Edward Chomiak being led into the Peace River courthouse on the second day of his trial. Chomiak is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. (Janice Johnston/CBC News )

Edward Chomiak just wanted to talk to his ex-wife the morning he showed up at her mobile home with a loaded gun, a defence lawyer argued Wednesday in a Peace River courtroom.

But the prosecution insisted the very fact that Chomiak was armed that December day and under a restraining order was proof he had malicious intent.

After two days of testimony, Chomiak's first-degree murder trial wrapped up with closing arguments from the Crown and defence.

Chomiak is accused of murdering his estranged wife, Melody Perry, 45, and her daughter, Jerica Bouchard, 20, early on the morning of Dec. 15, 2010. The killings took place in a mobile home near Falher, Alta., about 430 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The 55-year-old chose not to testify in his own defence.

'It was not impulsive in any sense of the word'

It's not disputed the two women were shot to death. Perry was shot 15 times and her daughter suffered five gunshot wounds.

Crown prosecutor David Stilwell urged Justice Mary Moreau to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was the one who fired those shots.  

In a chilling 911 call played during the trial, Perry told an operator the gunman was Chomiak. A third woman who was in the mobile home when a man arrived at the door testified she recognized Chomiak's voice.

Sara Schapansky also said she heard Perry ask the man, "What are you doing here? And what are you doing here with a gun?"

At the time, Chomiak was under a restraining order that forbid him to have any contact with Perry.

"When he (Chomiak) approached the mobile home, he was carrying a firearm," Stilwell told court. "Bringing firearms to a place where one is not allowed to be should be taken as an indication of planning."

Stilwell argued the number of shots fired and the trails of blood found prove that Chomiak pursued his victim throughout the mobile home.

"It was not impulsive in any sense of the word," he said.  

The Crown does not have to establish a motive. But Stilwell suggested the killings might have the result of a dispute about money. The court had ordered Chomiak to pay Perry $85,000 by Dec. 18, 2010. She was killed just three days before the money was due.

Melody Perry (Supplied)

Stilwell admitted the motive for killing Perry's daughter is unclear.

"The most likely explanation is that she was a witness and he chose to eliminate her rather than face the consequences of his actions," Stilwell said.

He conceded that could put Jerica Bouchard's death "into a different category."

Defence argued no proof Chomiak was the killer

Defence lawyer Naeem Rauf said there was no evidence his client even knew where Perry was living, because there had been no communication between them for nearly a year.  

Rauf argued there should be reasonable doubt based on all the evidence that Chomiak was the killer. He pointed to what he called the absence of evidence to create reasonable doubt.

There were no footprints, fingerprints or blood stains that tied the accused to the murder scene. Rauf also questioned the lack of testing done on Chomiak's hands and clothing for gunshot residue when he was taken into custody hours after the murders.  

When Chomiak was taken into custody, he had a loaded pistol in his pocket and a loaded rifle in his vehicle.

"The weapons raise a suspicion, but you cannot take a suspicion and turn it into proof," he said.

But ballistics tests showed some of the bullets recovered during the autopsies matched the guns found in Chomiak's possession.  

Defence also argued against premeditation

Rauf told the judge even if she decided Chomiak was the gunman, she should find him guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. He argued the key issue was planning or the lack thereof.

Rauf pointed to Schapansky's testimony that she overheard Chomiak say, "Let's talk. Let's sit down," to his ex-wife.  

"That is the strongest evidence that at the time he entered the trailer there was no plan to kill," Rauf said.

"It would be dangerous to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that this homicide was planned and deliberate," he said. "There should be a reasonable doubt on both those points."

Decision to be handed down Thursday

Moreau is scheduled to hand down her decision at 10 a.m. Thursday.

If Chomiak is convicted of at least one count of first-degree murder, sentencing would likely take place immediately, because a life sentence with no chance of parole is automatic.  

If he is convicted of the lesser and included offence of second-degree murder, a pre-sentence report may be requested before sentencing takes place. Parole ineligibility for that offence ranges between 10 and 25 years.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston

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