New Brunswick

Defence makes closing arguments in soldier's court martial

The court martial proceedings against Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell came to a close Saturday after two weeks of testimony and arguments. 

Chelsea Cogswell accused of feeding cannabis-laced cupcakes to troops without their knowledge

Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell, pictured arriving at her court martial Thursday with her lawyer Ian Kasper, is accused by the military of giving eight soldiers cupcakes she baked that secretly contained cannabis during a July 2018 training exercise. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

Court martial proceedings against Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell came to a close Saturday after two weeks of testimony and arguments. 

Cogswell, of the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B., is facing 10 charges.

She is accused of feeding troops cupcakes laced with cannabis without their knowledge, including eight counts of administering a noxious substance to soldiers without their consent.

She's also charged with behaving in a disgraceful manner and committing an act to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

Cogswell is alleged to have baked cupcakes laced with cannabis and given them to troops who were on a training exercise that involved explosives and weapons drills in July 2018. 

Defence concludes

Defence lawyer Ian Kasper made his closing arguments to the judge in a small courtroom at the base.  

He told the court that this was a case about the absence of evidence. 

"When you apply the rules of evidence and when you apply the criminal standard of proof, I submit you must conclude that prosecution has not proven its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, and Bombardier Cogswell should be acquitted of the charges before this court," Kasper said.

He argued that there was no clear evidence to prove it was cannabis that made the soldiers sick. He also said that the prosecution didn't prove beyond reasonable doubt that the cupcakes contained marijuana, or that someone else couldn't have tampered with the cupcakes, if they were tainted.

Kasper suggested that the symptoms endured by the soldiers that day aren't exclusively symptoms of cannabis use. Soldiers who testified during the trial said they suffered from paranoia, feeling anxious, fatigue and dry mouth.

He said those symptoms could have been the result of heat exhaustion, although Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf questioned him, saying members of the military at that time were trained to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Earlier in the trial, Ashley Diggs, a retired sergeant, testified to eating a cupcake but not feeling any effects other than a dry mouth.

Five of the soldiers tested positive for cannabis, but Kasper said they could have ingested it at any other time in the previous 28 days.

Kasper reiterated his argument from earlier in the week that Cogswell was not the only person with access to the cupcakes.

A decision in the court martial of Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell is expected Wednesday. (Submitted)

The cupcakes were described as chocolate, with icing and a jelly bean on top. According to testimony, about 12 cupcakes were brought in and eight were eaten by soldiers on a hot July day.

In closing arguments on Friday, the prosecution argued that Cogswell was the only person who could have contaminated the baked goods, and that she had a prescription for cannabis at the time and knew enough about it to use it in this way.

Prosecutor points to inconsistencies

Lead prosecutor Maj. Max Reede summarized the testimony of the eight affected soldiers and went through Cogswell's statements in two separate interviews with military police from September and October 2018. He pointed out inconsistencies in Cogswell's two statements.

Reede noted that in the two interviews she gave different reasons for baking the cupcakes.

In one interview, she said she brought the cupcakes as a treat for the soldiers who had been in the field for a week and wanted something to eat other than what was offered in the canteen.

In the other interview, she said had eaten five of the cupcakes she had baked and brought them in for the soldiers so she wouldn't eat any more.

Reede pointed to other inconsistencies and exaggerations and called Cogswell's credibility into question.

He noted that she told the investigator that she often brought treats for soldiers and spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on them. Kasper called that a harmless exaggeration, and even Sukstorf agreed.

Earlier in the week, at the end of the prosecution's case, Kasper asked for an acquittal of all charges, calling the evidence circumstantial.

Applications denied

He also asked that the only cupcake wrapper tested for cannabis contamination be thrown out. Both of those applications were denied.

Sukstorf is scheduled to give her decision Wednesday morning.

The court martial, which began Aug. 4, heard from 16 witnesses, including the eight soldiers who ate the cupcakes.

They testified they soon experienced fatigue, drunkenness, disorientation, confusion and paranoia. Some said they believed they were high and worried about handling guns and ammunition.

The cupcakes were the only common factor, they concluded.

The training exercise was halted, the soldiers were sent to a tent to recover and the military police started an investigation that day.

Cogswell did not take the stand in her own defence, but denied the allegations during two videotaped statements to police in September and October 2018, which were played for the court on Monday.

If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, according to the prosecution.