Judge rejects acquittal of soldier accused of feeding troops cannabis-laced cupcakes
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell facing 10 charges in connection with 2018 live-fire training exercise
The judge presiding over the court martial of a New Brunswick soldier accused of giving cannabis-laced cupcakes to troops on a live-fire training exercise has dismissed the defence's request for an acquittal on all charges, but has yet to reach a verdict in the overall case.
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell's trial is scheduled to resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m. AT at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B.
Cogswell, who left the courtroom in tears Wednesday, is facing a total of 10 charges, 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 given soldiers cupcakes she baked that secretly contained cannabis during a July 2018 training exercise, which involved explosives and weapons drills. She was in charge of the canteen at the time.
If convicted, Cogswell faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, according to the prosecution.
On Monday, after the prosecution concluded its case, her lawyer, Ian Kasper of Toronto, sought the acquittal, arguing the evidence presented was "extremely circumstantial."
Cogswell did not have exclusive opportunity to lace the cupcakes — a roommate or another person with access to them could have done it, he said. In addition, not all the soldiers were drug tested and only one cupcake wrapper was seized and tested by Health Canada.
But in her hour-long decision Wednesday on Kasper's request, military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf ruled that based on case law, the prosecution does not need to prove Cogswell had exclusive opportunity to put the cannabis in the cupcakes.
Cogswell had access to cannabis and the knowledge of how to use it and what it would do, Sukstorf said. In an interview with military police, Cogswell said she used medical marijuana in capsule form at the time to help her sleep because of a traumatic event the year before. No details about the event were provided.
Inconsistencies in police statements
Sukstorf also noted several inconsistencies in Cogswell's statements to police about what happened.
Over two interviews in September and October 2018, Cogswell changed her story about why she baked the cupcakes for the soldiers that day, she said.
In the first interview, Cogswell said she brought them in as an afterthought, having baked them and eaten five that night and not wanting to eat any more.
In the second statement, she said she brought them for the troops, who had been in the field for several days and wanted something different to eat from what was offered at the canteen.
"In reviewing both statements of yourself given to Sgt. [J.C.] Leblanc there are a string of not just exaggerations — and most of those are harmless — but there are also significant inconsistencies.
"Their mere existence is noted and it likely suggests that there are some evidentiary concerns and possibly delivered falsehoods contained therein," Sukstorf told the court.
The process of baking, transporting and distributing the cupcakes was actually on the very high end of the exclusivity scale.- Sandra Sukstorf, military judge
Sukstorf noted that Cogswell told Leblanc that she lived with her two cats and did not often go out to socialize. She also referenced Cogswell's statements that she ensured everyone who took a cupcake was aware that they might get sick if they ate it, suggesting she was near the cupcakes.
"Based on the totality of the facts before the court, mostly taken from your own statements, the process of baking, transporting and distributing the cupcakes was actually on the very high end of the exclusivity scale," Sukstorf said.
Kasper also argued that there was no evidence of which cupcake the wrapper came from, how the THC got on it, or where on the wrapper it was. Sukstorf did not accept this argument.
"At this stage it is not the role of the court to engage in the assessment of the reliability of the test conducted on the cupcake wrapper, nor in the weighing of it as evidence," said Sukstorf.
Sukstorf also dismissed Kasper's argument that the prosecution had not proven well enough that another person could have tampered with the cupcakes, in his suggestion of a roommate or another soldier.
Sukstorf said she was satisfied with the evidence provided to the court in dismissing the defence's request.
"The direct proven facts are: you baked the cupcakes, you said you lived in a somewhat isolated scenario, you personally transported the cupcakes to the canteen, you purportedly warned every person, suggesting that you exercised close control over the distribution of the cupcakes, further one of the cupcake wrappers from a cupcake you baked tested positive for THC."
After the judge's decision, Kasper requested a recess. When court reconvened at about 2 p.m., the lawyers briefly discussed negotiating a way to possibly expedite the process, which began Aug. 4, continued Saturday, and is slated to wrap up by next week.
Following the proceedings, lead prosecutor Maj. Max Reede declined to comment outside the courtroom on what that means for the case or how it will proceed.
Soldiers felt 'spaced out,' paranoid
The court has heard from 16 witnesses, including the eight soldiers who ate the cupcakes, which were described as being chocolate with chocolate frosting and a jelly bean on top.
The soldiers 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, the court heard.
Cogswell has not testified, but denied the allegations during her two videotaped statements to police, which were played for the court on Monday.