POLITICS

Man convicted of firearms offences in 2010 Newfoundland standoff with RCMP

06/01/2012 01:24 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - It was a kind of vindication Friday for the RCMP as a Newfoundland man who fled undetected from a week-long standoff was convicted on five of six charges, including reckless discharge of a firearm.

The Mounties were the butt of ruthless jokes after Leo Crockwell slipped from his besieged home in Bay Bulls, N.L., as they flooded the not quite surrounded house with water in December 2010.

A jury of seven women and four men in provincial Supreme Court found Crockwell, 57, guilty of every charge but making a threat against his sister Catherine Crockwell.

In all, he was convicted of reckless discharge of a firearm, use of a firearm during an assault, mischief, assault with a weapon and careless use of a firearm.

Crockwell, who represented himself, faces minimum mandatory sentences totalling five years in prison for the first two gun-related offences.

He had his head down in the prisoner's box as the verdicts were read, showing no visible emotion and ignoring a request for comment as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

"Obviously, sir, you're remanded in custody," Judge Richard LeBlanc told Crockwell as he called the matter back to court Tuesday to set a date for sentencing and to discuss a Charter of Rights application to stay proceedings.

It was filed weeks ago by defence lawyer Ken Mahoney before Crockwell dismissed him to represent himself.

The application argues that police violated several of Crockwell's rights. It alleges police used excessive force, failed to uphold Crockwell's right to counsel and conducted an unreasonable, warrantless search in the earliest stages of the standoff.

LeBlanc opted to deal with the application post-verdict, which now means it may serve to lessen Crockwell's sentence if it succeeds.

The judge instructed the jury Thursday morning before it began deliberations later that day.

Crockwell had denied firing on officers and told the court that he acted in self defence in the face of an unlawful "assault" on the home where he lived with his mother, Margaret Crockwell, and sister Catherine.

He told court as the six-week trial wrapped up that on Dec. 8, 2010 — four days into the siege — he was on the floor of his tear-gassed house, gasping for air and trying to protect his family home from what he described as an attack straight out of war games.

Several police officers testified that a Mountie was slamming the back door with a battering ram that day when a shot blasted through it from inside the house. Some officers said a second shot was soon heard, but others said they heard one blast or that the second was aimed at a police robot.

Crockwell's sister, Catherine, testified that it all started when he shoved her down, put a rifle to her neck and kicked her in the head and face on Dec. 4, 2010.

She and her mother, Margaret, both testified that Crockwell was acting strangely, showing signs of sleeplessness and paranoia in the days leading up to that assault.

Catherine Crockwell told court that her brother was usually good to her and that neither she nor her mother wanted to involve police because "that's not the place for him."

After the verdict Friday, Bill Crockwell said he believes there will be little help for his younger brother inside prison.

"Our opinion, the family's opinion, was that he should be in hospital but he doesn't accept that. So it's a Catch-22 in that kind of situation," he said in an interview.

Leo Crockwell said in his defence summation that he was detained without a warrant under the Mental Health Act in 1998. He said he spent 140 days at the Waterford psychiatric hospital in St. John's before successfully fighting for his release.

That experience helps explain his response in 2010 "when a similar situation came," and police failed to present a warrant for his arrest, he told court.

Negotiators testified that they did not show Crockwell a warrant obtained after the standoff began because they thought it would exacerbate the conflict.

The RCMP tried negotiations, tear gas, noise grenades and pepper spray during the seven-day siege before Crockwell made his notorious escape.

Documents released under Access to Information show the Mounties spent more than $444,000 on the botched standoff.

Crockwell was arrested the next day without incident on Dec. 11, 2010, after a couple who'd given him a ride tipped the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

Friends and family have said the showdown might have been defused if a friendly face had been dispatched on the first day to talk to Crockwell.

Several Mounties testified that they did all they could to peacefully resolve a potentially deadly situation while protecting public safety and that of Crockwell.