POLITICS

Jury considers verdict in trial of man accused of killing his teenaged cousin

11/02/2012 04:30 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
MIRAMICHI, N.B. - The first-degree murder trial of a New Brunswick man accused of killing his teenage cousin was sent to the jury late Friday following seven weeks of testimony.

Curtis Bonnell has pleaded not guilty in the death of 16-year-old Hilary Bonnell, whose body was found in a wooded area in northern New Brunswick three years ago.

The jury deliberated for more than four hours Friday before retiring for the night. They were expected to resume their discussions Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

During the six-week trial, the Crown alleged Bonnell, 32, picked up the girl while driving on a rural stretch of road, sexually assaulted her and killed her.

Prosecutor Bill Richards told the Court of Queen's Bench in Miramichi that Bonnell buried her body near an old firing range to avoid detection.

The girl's disappearance from the Esgenoopetitj (Es-geh-no-peh-titch) First Nation on Sept. 5, 2009, sparked an extensive search and gripped the native community for two months.

Curtis Bonnell was arrested on Nov. 8, 2009, and led police to the burial site the next day.

During subsequent interviews with police that were entered as evidence, Bonnell told officers that he fought with Hilary, sexually assaulted her and killed her.

But during the trial, Bonnell offered a different version of events.

He testified that he woke up on Sept. 5, 2009, after a night of alcohol and drugs to find Hilary dead next to him in his pickup truck. He said he didn't know how she died, but panicked and buried her.

Bonnell said police filled his head with what they believed happened, and he just told them what he thought they wanted to hear.

"I never murdered her. I never laid a hand on Hilary Bonnell,'' he told the jury. "I've waited three years to tell this story."

The Crown bluntly dismissed Bonnell's testimony.

Richards reminded the jury of a videotaped interview where Bonnell gave a detailed confession to police and a recorded phone conversation where a spiritual leader asked Bonnell if he had taken a life. Bonnell, speaking in Mi'kmaq, said yes.

But defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux said there is no evidence in the autopsy report to show his client is guilty of murder.

A forensic pathologist who was called as a witness this week by the defence cast doubt on whether the girl was the victim of a homicide.

Dr. David Chiasson of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto said there was no trauma on Hilary's body and no cause of death identified in the toxicology report.

Chiasson said while the death was criminally suspicious, there wasn't enough information to determine she died as a result of homicide.

Judge Fred Ferguson told the six-man, six-woman jury Friday that they have the option of finding Bonnell guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter or not guilty of any crime.