Man who pleaded guilty in Thompson teen's killing tells court co-accused wanted to commit '1st murder'

One of the men who participated in Nicholas Brophy’s killing was in court Thursday to shed light on what may have motivated Brophy’s murder, and just how brutal the 18-year-old Thompson teen’s final moments may have been.

Crown's key witness testifies in trial for two men co-accused in Nicholas Brophy's death

Nicholas Brophy, 19, disappeared Sept. 8, 2015, after leaving a friend's house. One man has pleaded guilty in connection with his death, and two others are now on trial for first-degree murder. (Submitted by Ashleigh Brophy)

A man who pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of Nicholas Brophy alleges that the other two men now on trial in the Thompson, Man., teen's death wanted to commit their first murder. 

Justin Baker, the Crown's key witness in its first-degree murder case against Mark Bradley Thomas, 22, and Zach Edwin Linklater, 24, testified Thursday in Winnipeg's Court of Queen's Bench.

His testimony shed light on what may have motivated Brophy's murder, and just how brutal the 18-year-old Thompson teen's final moments may have been.

Brophy went missing in September 2015. His body was found the following spring, in a wooded area near a hydro line, just days after his family issued a public plea for information regarding his whereabouts.

Baker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last December for his role in Brophy's death, and agreed to testify against Thomas and Linklater as part of a plea bargain.

Victim taken to secluded area, beaten to death

During his nearly four hours in court Thursday, Baker told a jury that he, along with Thomas and Linklater, led Brophy into a wooded area, where the teen was choked and beaten to death with a metal baton.

The 22-year-old appeared in court before Justice Chris Martin in a grey T-shirt and with a shaved head.

Speaking quickly, and often gazing down at this feet, he described in detail what led up to the three men approaching Brophy the night of Sept. 8, 2015.

Baker said he knew the victim from school, that they played basketball and soccer together, and that he remembers Brophy as a good athlete.

On the night Brophy died, Baker said he was at home when Linklater and Thomas came to his apartment in the northern Manitoba city of Thompson. He told them he was tired and didn't want to hang out, but they convinced him to let them inside.

They were drinking heavily that night, he said while being questioned by Crown prosecutor Brian Wilford.

'Let's go get him'

At one point, Thomas pulled a large butcher knife out of Baker's cupboard and said, "We'll use this," the witness alleged, to which Linklater replied, "That's not how it's going to go down."

Baker also said Thomas had been showing off a large, metal baton while at this apartment.

Later, the three men left for a walk, Baker told the court. Near the Giant Tiger store in Thompson, Thomas and Linklater spotted Brophy, Baker said.

Linklater said, "Let's go get him," Baker told the court.

Baker said Linklater told Thomas to accost Brophy, while instructing Baker to be on the lookout. Thomas then robbed the victim, taking his cellphone, wallet and glasses, and restrained him by holding onto this arm, Baker said.

The victim kept asking Thomas to let him go, repeatedly saying that they already took all of his belongings, Baker testified.

'Our first murder'

He said as the three men led Brophy down the street, with Thomas walking a few feet ahead with Brophy, Linklater punched Baker in the head and said, "We're going to do our first murder."

They led the victim past a trailer park, down a trail into a wooded area.

When they got there, Linklater used a shoelace to try to strangle Brophy, but was unsuccessful, according to the testimony. The three men took turns punching Brophy repeatedly, before Thomas pulled out a metal baton and struck Brophy at least 10 to 15 times, Baker said.

He admitted that he also took turns hitting Brophy with the baton, but said it was only because Linklater threatened him.

Gang initiation

On Monday, the first day of the trial, Crown prosecutors said they intended to prove Brophy was murdered as part of a gang initiation.

Baker told the court he wasn't involved in any gangs at the time, but did say that Thomas was asking him "who I was down with" on the night of Brophy death.

"Which means, if I was part of a gang or anything," he said.

He also said that before they left the apartment, Linklater punched him and Thomas about 50 times in the stomach, which he took as some type of gang initiation, "because they usually beat you up first."

Before his involvement in Brophy's death, Baker said he was planning to join the army, having been an air cadet since his teens. He had been under the care of Child and Family Service since he was 16.

He also told the court that he was jumped by seven men a few months ago while serving his sentence at Stony Mountain Institution, which he said he suspects was connected to his agreement to testify.

During cross-examination, Linklater's defence lawyer Bruce Bonney argued that Baker was nervous about what might happen if police found out he was involved in Brophy's murder.

He also pointed out that Baker spoke with his lawyer about reaching some type of immunity agreement in exchange for his cooperation with police as early as 2016, and that he gave a different name for Linklater during one of his first statements to police.

Baker said he only did that because he was nervous about Linklater coming after him.

The trial continues Friday.