Nfld. & Labrador

Accused of 1st-degree murder, Kirk Keeping fires lawyers day before jury selection

The start date for the trial of the man accused of killing Chantel John, a 28-year-old woman from the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River in 2019, is now unknown.

Accused of killing 28-year-old Chantel John in 2019

Kirk Keeping, seen here on May 7, 2021, threw his 1st-degree murder trial into upheaval, saying he didn't have confidence in his lawyers. Jury selection was due to start the next day, but now the trial is on hold indefinitely. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The defendant in a first-degree murder trial in central Newfoundland has fired his legal aid lawyers — the day before jury selection was to get underway. 

Kirk Keeping's move in Supreme Court on Friday morning means his murder trial is now delayed indefinitely.

Keeping is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Chantel John, a 28-year-old woman from the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River in January 2019.

He is accused of killing John in her family home, and is also charged with the attempted murder of her biological mother.

In a written statement, Chantel John's adoptive mother, Jennifer John, said the delay has inflicted more pain on the family.

"It's really frustrating having to deal with this every day," Jennifer John wrote. "We want justice for Chantel, we are reliving this nightmare over and over, our lives will never be the same again."

Until Friday morning, Keeping was represented by Derek Hogan and Derek Ford, experienced legal aid lawyers. But Keeping told Justice Glen Noel he did not have confidence in either of them just minutes before a jury pre-screening process was set to begin Friday.

Keeping told the court he did not know what his lawyer's strategy was, did not receive a list of witnesses and evidence, and could not meet with his lawyers enough while he was being held at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.

"I am charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder and facing life in jail," he told Noel. "My lawyers have spent two or three hours with me in 28 months."

Hogan told Noel he disputed those comments and had only heard about Keeping's desire to ditch his lawyers 15 minutes before the court hearing had begun.

Noel accepted that Keeping's lawyers could no longer represent him if Keeping had no confidence in them, but told Keeping he should have made his intentions clear well before the trial was set to start.

He concluded that the trial could not continue while Keeping had no lawyer, something Crown attorney Karen O'Reilly agreed with.

Noel said Keeping has put the court in an unfortunate and difficult condition, and warned him that a delay would not be granted again.

Keeping is charged with the first-degree murder of Chantel John. (Facebook)

Keeping, who will now return to Her Majesty's Penitentiary, must report to the court next month to update the justice on his search for new lawyers. 

Similar delay in high-profile 2018 murder trial 

There was similar last-minute delay in a recent high-profile murder trial, also involving lawyer Derek Hogan, albeit in a different way. 

Trent Butt was accused of the first-degree murder of his five-year-old daughter, Quinn, and then setting his house on fire back in 2016.

In 2018, one week before his trial was set to begin, Butt fired his lawyers. Hogan ultimately became Butt's lawyer. .

Butt's trial was delayed a year. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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