N.L. premier provided key info to ID murder suspect in 2015 botched armed robbery

Weeks before he was elected as Newfoundland and Labrador's 13th premier two years ago, Dwight Ball was facing personal turmoil that included harassment by an accused drug dealer, slashed tires, and tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges to his credit card.

Dwight Ball was going through personal turmoil, including being harassed by accused drug dealer

A judge partially lifted an injunction Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, left, had won prohibiting publication of a story related to the Brandon Phillips, right, murder trial. (CBC)

Weeks before he was elected as Newfoundland and Labrador's 13th premier two years ago, Dwight Ball was facing personal turmoil that included harassment by an accused drug dealer, slashed tires, and tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges to his credit card.

Even as he was preparing for a key debate in the lead-up to the fall 2015 election campaign, Ball was secretly providing information to police that helped them obtain search warrants to crack a murder case.

The previously undisclosed details of the premier's private life are contained in hundreds of pages of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary documents obtained by CBC News.

They are included in what is called an ITO, or information to obtain a search warrant.

In October 2015, a patron in the bar at a downtown St. John's hotel was killed in a botched armed robbery.

A week later, police arrested Brandon Phillips, now 29.

Earlier this month, a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court jury convicted Phillips of second-degree murder.

But what was unknown until now is the role Dwight Ball played in that arrest.

Provided police with information

The future premier gave an interview to police pointing the finger at Phillips as a possible suspect.

Phillips had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Ball's daughter Jade for years.

Days after the armed robbery, in an effort to generate leads, the police released a picture of the suspect taken by the hotel's surveillance camera.

Ball saw that image, and decided he needed to speak with police.

This surveillance photo of the man suspected of shooting and killing Larry Wellman at the Captain's Quarters hotel sparked Dwight Ball to contact police. (RNC)

He said Jade and Phillips both had a serious drug addiction, to opiates.

The man in the picture released by police was wearing a black North Face jacket. It looked similar to one Ball owned — a coat his daughter Jade told him that Phillips had taken.

On Oct. 8, 2015, five days after the armed-robbery-gone-wrong at the Captain's Quarters hotel, Ball told police that the events of the previous week had been "volatile."

Before the murder, the tires on his daughter's Audi were slashed, the police ITO notes. After the slaying, the tires on Ball's personal Audi were also slashed, and windows and a headlight were damaged.

That week may have been volatile, but so were the preceding months.

Ball told police that he had been harassed by an accused drug dealer over alleged debts linked to Phillips.

The accused drug dealer and his girlfriend lived in a rental home co-owned by Ball and his daughter, and Ball told police they didn't pay rent there.

Ball said in his statement to investigators that he received text messages from the alleged drug dealer, as well as Facebook messages from the girlfriend, over money they said was owed.

Unauthorized credit card charges

According to police documents, Ball began noticing unusual activity on his credit card in early 2015.

Significant charges were being put on the card, running into the "tens and tens of thousands of dollars," according to the ITO.

This situation came to a head that summer.

In August 2015, televisions went missing from Ball's St. John's condo.

The scene at the Captain's Quarters hotel remained taped off in early October 2015, after Wellman was fatally shot. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

Then the numbers on Ball's credit card were used to buy a car at the Royal Garage in St. John's.

Six instalments were paid, for a total of between $12,000 and $15,000.

Ball said he was advised by the Royal Garage that Phillips and the accused drug dealer living in his family rental property were the ones who bought the car using his credit card number.

The police summary noted that Ball did not think any of this was a "coincidence."

Information helped obtain search warrant

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary investigators included the information provided by the future premier in their submission that convinced a judge, a week after the slaying, to issue a search warrant for a downtown St. John's home where Phillips's mother lived.

There, police found the murder weapon — the shotgun that killed Good Samaritan Larry Wellman, who tried to intervene in the armed robbery.

All this private drama was taking place at the same time Ball was gearing up to reach the pinnacle of public life in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Brandon Phillips was convicted of second-degree murder earlier this month. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

At the time, he was Liberal Opposition leader. His party had a commanding lead in the polls, and the provincial election was set for Nov. 30, 2015.

One night in mid-October 2015, days after Phillips was arrested, Ball was on stage with the other party leaders for a debate at Memorial University.

The next day, he again spoke with police about alleged harassing messages from someone else, according to a second police ITO related to the case.

Two years later, those police documents became part of the public record when lawyers representing accused killer Phillips unsuccessfully tried to have the search warrants tossed out.

CBC News filed a successful Supreme Court application to access them.

Their contents were covered by a publication ban, until the jury began deliberations.

CBC News contacted the premier days before that happened, seeking comment.

Ball then filed for an interim injunction blocking the story.

At Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Tuesday, Chief Justice Raymond Whalen rejected Ball's request to get the province's attorney general involved in the matter.

Whalen then partially lifted the injunction.

About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.

With files from Ariana Kelland, Fred Hutton and Jen White