Teen accused in Chelsie Probert killing found guilty of manslaughter

Chelsie Probert was stabbed to death on a path in north-end Dartmouth in June 2017. The Crown describes her death as the result of a botched robbery attempt.

Probert, 18, was stabbed to death on a path near Farrell Street in Dartmouth in June 2017

Chelsie Probert was found on a Dartmouth path in June 2017 and taken to hospital, where she later died of her injuries. (Facebook)

The family of Chelsie Probert gasped and sighed in court as the judge found a Dartmouth, N.S., teenager guilty of manslaughter in the young woman's death.

The now 17-year-old boy had been charged with second-degree murder.

However, Judge Elizabeth Buckle said she was not presuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused stabbed Probert.

Probert, 18, was stabbed to death on a path in north-end Dartmouth in June 2017. The Crown described her death as the result of a botched robbery attempt.

Halifax youth court has heard that two people were with Probert when she was fatally stabbed: teenage boy who was charged in her death and his 20-year-old acquaintance.

The teen's identity is protected by a publication ban.

In previous coverage of this case, CBC News did not identify the 20-year-old acquaintance due to a concern that it might inadvertently identify the accused. CBC News is now satisfied this is no longer a concern and is naming him as Rory Taylor. 

Jason Probert had his daughter's name tattooed on his forearm. (CBC)

The trial, before judge alone, heard that Probert was the third person the pair tried to rob that night. 

In her decision read in court on Friday, Buckle said she believed the Crown was able to prove both the youth and Taylor had a common purpose when they went out with weapons to rob people the night Probert was killed. 

She said evidence presented in court showed Probert's injuries were on her left side, indicating her attacker was right-handed. The youth accused in her death is left-handed, Taylor is right-handed. 

"As Dr. Bowes [the medical examiner] said, the common-sense inference would be that if her assailant was facing her during the attack, a right-handed person caused the injuries," said Buckle.

"This is not determinative of who attacked her. But it is another piece of evidence that causes me to have reasonable doubt that [the accused] is the person who stabbed Miss Probert." 

There was no evidence Probert turned or tried to run away during the attack, said Buckle, casting further reasonable doubt on who stabbed Probert. 

Buckle said while the youth testified "he was done" robbing people before the stabbing, he did not abandon the crime in a legal sense.

Because he was still present when Probert was stabbed, and serious harm was foreseeable in this circumstance, the youth is guilty of manslaughter.

The youth, dressed in a black suit and shiny black oxford shoes had sat quietly taking notes as Buckle read the sentence.

When the guilty verdict was announced, he hung his head in his hands and wept. He was composed by the time he walked from court minutes later.

Sentencing is scheduled for the week of May 27.

A floral tribute and lights were placed in 2017 where Chelsie Probert was found "in medical distress," according to police. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Both the teen and Taylor testified in the trial. Each blamed the other for the fatal stabbing.

Taylor was the Crown's key witness, but throughout the trial the defence painted him as an accomplished liar and criminal, and suggested he was actually the killer.

Taylor previously testified that he is an avid marijuana user, drinks heavily, has abused pills, is a low-level drug dealer, has threatened someone and wanted to buy a weapon.

The Crown countered that the 17-year-old boy charged in the case who should not be believed. The accused testified in his own defence and the Crown said there were serious discrepancies in his evidence.

In her decision on Friday, Buckle said she didn't believe many of the details presented in court by both the youth and Taylor. She said she believes Taylor is more likely to have been the leader the night Probert was killed.

"I am left with the view that neither [the accused] nor Rory Taylor told the complete truth about the events of June 6th and June 7th," said Buckle.

"I prefer [the accused's] evidence. I can't say I fully believe him."

Crown reaction

It's "not a fruitful or fair exercise" to try to determine who wielded the blade that killed Probert, said Crown attorney Jamie Van Wart said following the judge's decision.

"We don't know," he said. "What we know from this decision is that the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who stabbed Chelsie Probert."

As Probert's father left the courthouse, he told reporters he was "glad it's not an acquittal." Jason Probert said he'd like to see the Crown prosecute Taylor.

But Van Wart noted that Taylor had co-operated and provided testimony in the case.

"This isn't the moment to comment on that," he said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the first name of the acquaintance of the accused. He is named Rory Taylor. This version has been corrected.
    Jan 18, 2019 12:39 PM AT

With files from Jack Julian