New Brunswick

Hit-and-run victim Brady Francis and tan vehicle captured on security video, trial hears

The trial of the man charged in the hit-and-run death of Brady Francis saw security video Tuesday of the victim walking on the road on the night he was killed and a tan vehicle passing by shortly afterward.

Maurice Johnson, 57, is accused of leaving the scene of 2018 accident that caused the death of 22-year-old

Brady Francis was 22 when he was struck and killed in February 2018 while waiting for a drive on Saint-Charles South Road. (Facebook photo)

The trial of the man charged in the hit-and-run death of Brady Francis saw security video Tuesday of the victim walking on the road on the night he was killed and a tan vehicle passing by shortly afterward.

RCMP Const. Caroline Thibodeau testified the timestamped video from a store in Saint-Charles showed Francis walking eastbound on Saint-Charles South Road and talking on the phone around 9:34 p.m.

The vehicle that passed around 9:40 p.m. was of interest, she told the Moncton Court of Queen's Bench, because that was about the same time police received a 911 call about a possible hit and run.

Francis, 22, of Elsipogtog First Nation, was found dead in Saint-Charles, about 100 kilometres north of Moncton, on Feb. 24, 2018.

Maurice Johnson, 57, of Saint-Charles, has pleaded not guilty to failing to stop at the scene of an accident that caused a person's death. He is not in custody.

911 call to accused's home

RCMP Const. Ricky LeBlond testified that the next day, around 11:15 a.m., he responded to a 911 call from someone who wanted to report an accident that had happened.

LeBlond said he didn't know who had called, but the address on Saint-Charles South Road was the home of the accused and he found Johnson's damaged pickup truck was parked next to the garage.

The truck's grill was broken and he saw blood on the vehicle, he said.

The GMC logo was also missing, he added.

On Monday, the court heard a GMC logo was found on the road near Francis's body.

LeBlond said he called his supervisor from Johnson's home and was told to secure the scene until police could obtain search warrants.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.

Maurice Johnson showed no emotion on the second day of his trial Tuesday as he watched the proceedings from the prisoner’s box. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Francis's parents and other relatives were in the courtroom Tuesday, accompanied by members of Elsipogtog First Nation.

Although the security video of Francis's final moments was played in court, people seated in the public gallery were unable to see the screen because it was angled away from them.

Justice Denise LeBlanc asked for the screen to be moved closer to her so she could see it properly and the accused, who had been seated in the prisoner's box, moved beside his defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux so he could see it better.

Thibodeau also moved closer to the screen and all four ended up standing in front of it to watch the short video.

The officer said it shows a man initially walking west at 9:19 p.m, but Johnson's lawyer objected, saying the proceedings should not be a play-by-play.

RCMP Const. Caroline Thibodeau was the lead investigator on the Brady Francis case before it was transferred to the crime reduction unit, the trial heard. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The judge agreed, telling Crown prosecutor Pierre Gionet there should be no narration.

The video continued and about 15 minutes later, it shows the person now walking east instead.

Thibodeau, who was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene and the lead investigator at the time, said she used her cruiser to block the east side of Saint-Charles South Road to protect the scene. Two officers from the Elsipogtog unit used their cruisers to block the west side.

During cross-examination, Thibodeau confirmed to Lemieux she ran to the scene once she parked her car. Asked what debris she saw, she said she was focused on securing the scene, determining if there were any witnesses, getting statements from them, and directing other officers.

Lemieux asked Thibodeau if she was concerned that people had moved evidence before police arrived.

"It was not ideal," she replied.

On Monday, Krista Daigle testified she had picked up some of Francis's personal items from the road, such as his wallet and cellphone, and moved them to the side of the road to ensure no one would drive over them.

Thibodeau subsequently took photos of the items and seized them as evidence.

Police were short-staffed that night, she said. One officer had to leave to respond to another serious call and Thibodeau also had to leave later that evening to respond to a domestic abuse call.

Earlier Tuesday, the court heard from witnesses who may have been among the last to see Francis alive.

Jonathan Richard and Michael LeBlanc both testified they were at the community centre in Saint-Charles that night and both saw someone wearing jeans and a dark hoodie walking on the shoulder of the road.

LeBlanc said the man was swaying and not walking straight. When his mother called to tell him there had been an accident on the road, he immediately thought of the man he had seen, he said.

Spent final hours at diaper party

On Monday, the trial heard Francis spent his final hours at a diaper party for a friend who was expecting a baby.

The friend Francis went to the party with was among those who discovered his body by the side of the road.

Brett Bernard testified it was Francis's white shoes that first caught his attention on the drive home.

Once he got out of his fiancée's vehicle and approached Francis, he saw blood coming from his mouth and realized he was dead.

Brady Francis's parents, Dana Francis and Jessica Perley, both attended the trial Tuesday. ((Pierre Fournier/CBC))

Bernard told the court he felt out of his mind and hopeless.

He started the day having a late breakfast with Francis before they went to CC's Entertainment Center in Elsipogtog, where they each drank a pitcher of beer, he testified.

Around 5 p.m., another friend drove them to the liquor store, where Francis bought a 12-pack of beer and they drank some more before deciding to go to the diaper party.

By 9 p.m., Bernard said he was intoxicated and asked his fiancée, Krista Betts, to come pick them up.

3-week trial

He couldn't find Francis and no one knew where he was, he said. Everyone got a little nervous, but no one was thinking the worst at that point, he said.

Francis had relatives at the party, so Bernard left, believing he would be able to get a ride home with someone else. He hopped into the back seat of the vehicle Betts was driving.

They didn't drive far before they found Francis's body, the courtroom heard. After that, it's all a bit of a blur, he said.

During cross-examination, Lemieux asked what condition Francis was in when Bernard last saw him.

"Intoxicated," he replied.

A total of 12 witnesses testified on Monday, including Francis's parents.

The trial is scheduled to continue until Jan. 31.

Nicholas Comeau is the other Crown prosecutor handling the case.

With files from Maeve McFadden