New Brunswick

Python deaths trial: 6 key pieces of background

Here's some background on the python case that has captured attention around the world.

Jean Claude Savoie on trial for criminal negligence causing death

The case of a python escaping its enclosure and killing two young brothers in Campbellton, N.B., has captured attention around the world.

Here are six key pieces of background to help follow this trial.

1. The victims

Connor Barthe, 6, and Noah Barthe 4, were killed by a python on Aug. 5, 2013. (Facebook)

Connor Barthe, 6, and Noah Barthe, 4, were at a sleepover in Savoie's apartment with his four-year old son.

Savoie's African rock python escaped its enclosure in the apartment through the ventilation system, fell through the ceiling tiles into the adjoining living room where the Barthe boys were sleeping.

The python bit the boys multiple times and killed them by asphyxiation.

2. The accused

Jean-Claude Savoie is charged with criminal negligence causing death after two young brothers, Connor and Noah Barthe, were asphyxiated by an African rock python in August 2013. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
Savoie, who was 39 at the time of his first court appearance in the case in April 2016, was well-known in the city of about 7,000.

He operated Reptile Ocean, an unlicensed zoo and pet store at 2 Pleasant St., with his apartment above it.

His next door neighbour at 4 Pleasant St. was Mandy Trecartin, who lived there with her two boys.

Trecartin testified she had known Savoie since they were preteens, had been friends since 2001, and he was her "best friend."

The first time Trecartin and Savoie came face-to-face since the boys were killed was when she testified in court on Wednesday.

3. The snake

The African rock python that killed the two brothers measured 12 feet, four inches long and weighed 53 pounts, a veterinary pathologist who did the necropsy on the snake testified. (Campbellton Court of Queen's Bench exhibit)
The Canadian Wildlife Service turned a juvenile African rock python over to Savoie for him to care for in 2002 after taking possession of it in Saint John.

Dr. James Goltz, a veterinary pathologist, performed the necropsy on the python and listed its measurements at:

  • Length: 12 feet, four inches (3.8 metres)
  • Weight 53 pounds (24 kilograms)
  • Circumference: 12 inches (30 centimetres)
  • Diameter: 4.25 inches (10.8 centimetres)

Goltz testified the python's digestive tract was empty at the time of the necropsy, indicating it had not eaten in at least the 24 hours before its death.

RCMP Const. Eric Maillet testified that after the python was put back in the enclosure following the attacks, it rose straight up in the air, hissed and lunged at the Plexiglas wall between them with its jaw open several times.

Ocean Eagles, a volunteer at Reptile Ocean, testified the python routinely did the same thing during her time at the store and said it was normal behaviour.

But she also noted "it's a dangerous snake."

4. The vent cover

The vent cover from the air duct in the python enclosure was entered into evidence in Savoie's trial on two counts of criminal negligence causing death. (Julie-Anne Lapointe/Radio-Canada)
There has been much testimony about the vent cover — something similar to a dryer vent cover — for the air duct into the ceiling of the python's enclosure.

Eagles testified "it was always on the floor" and she believed it needed to be fixed in place with screws.

John O'Brien, the boyfriend of Trecartin, testified he saw the vent cap on the floor at least once, and possibly as many as 20 times, in the weeks before the boys were killed.

However, neither thought much of the cap being on the floor and leaving the air duct entrance open. The entrance to the air duct was 3.5 inches in diameter

Eagles, who owned snakes as well, believed the python's girth was too big to allow it to fit through the ventilation pipe.

"If I was Jean-Claude, I probably wouldn't have screwed [the vent in place] either," said Eagles.

5. The charge

Savoie operated Reptile Ocean, an unlicensed zoo and pet store at 2 Pleasant St., with his apartment above it. (CBC)

Savoie is charged with one count of criminal negligence causing death, which falls under Section 220 of the Criminal Code. It carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.

Justice Frederick Ferguson told the jury at the outset of the trial that to find Savoie guilty they must find:

  • Savoie had a legal duty to care for and protect the Barthe brothers.
  • That he failed to do so and showed wanton and reckless disregard for their lives in that failure.
  • Savoie's actions showed a marked and substantial departure from the actions of a reasonable person.

6. The jury

A jury of seven women and four men is now hearing the case.

A female juror was discharged by Ferguson on Friday on the recommendation of the both the defence and the Crown.

No reason was given for the discharge of the juror and Ferguson ordered the hearing be sealed until the jury is sequestered.

However, on Thursday, the juror, who was discharged, was openly grimacing at photos of the python during the testimony of the veterinary pathologist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alan White is a Fredericton native who has been working as a journalist since 1981, mostly in New Brunswick. He joined CBC in 2003 and is now a senior producer. He can be reached at alan.white@cbc.ca

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