Nfld. & Labrador

Al Potter's story 'nonsensical,' Crown says, as defence tells jury client had 'no choice'

Defence at murder trial says there is 'no shred of evidence' to dispute self-defence claim.

Defence at murder trial says there is 'no shred of evidence' to dispute self-defence claim

Final arguments were made Monday by lawyers in Al Potter's first-degree murder trial. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

The facts of the case are the same but the interpretation laid out by lawyers on both sides at Al Potter's first-degree murder trial paint a different picture of the reasons for Dale Porter's 2014 death.

"Allan Potter caused the death of Dale Porter," Sheldon Steeves told the jury at Supreme Court in St. John's on Monday afternoon.

Potter, 55, intended to kill or cause bodily harm to the father of two from North River, Steeves said, and had no other option but to concoct a false story to tell the jury after confessing to an undercover police officer. 

"[It] may not have been a great plan, but a plan nonetheless."

A diagram created by medical examiner Dr. Nash Denic shows the extent of Dale Porter's injuries, including 17 stab wounds, four cuts and bruising. The emergency room doctor who treated Porter said he lost significant amounts of blood, having been cut in the jugular vein. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

The proof, the Crown said, of planned and deliberate murder in the first degree came from testimony of a 39-year-old man who at one point was a member of the Vikings motorcycle club.

The man, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban and is under witness protection, said he sold drugs for a numbers of members of the Vikings, including Potter.

He claimed Potter, after doing crack, admitted to killing Porter, 39, because he disrespected the club.

Don't believe anything he said.- Randy Piercey

Further, he said, he witnessed a black-handled knife being thrown into the ocean at Cape Spear shortly after Porter's death. It was his understanding, he said, that it was Potter's, but upon cross-examination said he wasn't sure. 

But defence lawyer Randy Piercey told the jury there's a problem with that witness. "Don't believe anything he said."

"He was offered $150,000 to get Al Potter," Piercey said, referring the original contract between the RCMP and the police agent — a person who provides information to police and agrees to testify in exchange for money.

Don't consider 'character evidence'

"His character is such that he lasted no time [with the RCMP] and all he had to do was keep that salary was not to contact his wife, who he was charged with beating up. He could not do that. That speaks volumes about that man," said Piercey, who warned the jury, "Don't believe anything he said."

The purported confession was also not recorded, Piercey pointed out. 

Steeves, however, said Potter himself told the undercover police officer the knife was thrown in the ocean, thus corroborating the police agent's testimony. 

"What shred of evidence is there that Mr. Potter wasn't defending himself?" Piercey said. "Not a shred."

Porter, pictured here working on a fishing boat, was killed on his property during the early morning hours of June 29, 2014. (Submitted photo)

Piercey does admit the jury heard plenty of unsavoury details about his client — his lifestyle, criminal record and the fact he served time in prison — but he stressed that cannot play a role in deliberating his guilt or innocence. 

Character evidence was only introduced because of the so-called Mr. Big sting, in which Potter's full conversations with the undercover officer could be heard.

"You're judges now," Piercey reminded the jury. "There's no doubt he had many times in jail.… You have a lawful duty to ignore that."

As for the number of injuries to Porter's body — 17 stab wounds, plus cuts and bruises — Piercey said it's not enough to convict.

Singing Alice Cooper

Holding up a photo taken during Porter's autopsy, Steeves pointed to an injury to the victim's hand: a knife wound starting at the palm and coming out the other end. 

"The explanation for the fight was nonsensical," he said, adding the explanation of Potter pulling out his knife as a way to stop a verbal argument was "baffling."

"Look at the number of wounds: 17.... Was the force that he used reasonable?"

Sheldon Steeves and Erin Matthews, not pictured, are the Crown prosecutors of Potter's first-degree murder trial. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

As for Potter's claim he was afraid of the undercover police officers during the sting in Ontario in September 2016, Steeves told the jury to simply listen to the audio of Potter's conversations with them.

"He's so unfazed that he was singing Alice Cooper's Welcome to my Nightmare. Does any of that suggest he was scared or fazed by what was going on?"

Steeves also suggested that the second man, whom Potter alleged he was defending, is not mentally challenged as Potter had suggested.

In fact, Steeves said, it was the second man — whose name is covered by a publication ban — who was suspicious of the two undercover officers at a bar in St. John's, whereas Potter fell for their story, "hook, line and sinker." 

Deliberations likely to begin Tuesday

The jury, which now comprises 13 people, will likely begin deliberations Tuesday afternoon, though not all of them will get to decide Potter's fate. 

Justice Garrett Handrigan has said just 12 of the jurors will be able to deliberate, and one will be let go prior to them being sequestered. 

"He's a Supreme Court judge," Piercey told the jury as he pointed to Handrigan. 

"But you guys are the judges of the facts."

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About the Author

Ariana Kelland

Reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.