CALGARY - Lindsay Airhart was horrified to see how her former boyfriend had deteriorated from the big, strong, carefree man she had known to the bruised, beaten and emaciated individual lying in a hospital bed looking back at her.
"He was a frail, lifeless body," Airhart said softly from the witness stand. "He looked like he had been starved. He had burn marks inside of his legs. Every couple of inches there was a cut or a bruise. Some were infected. Some were new and some were old."
Airhart was the first witness Tuesday at the trial of Dustin Paxton. The Crown alleges Paxton brutalized, tortured and starved his former roommate over a period of years before dropping him off at a Regina hospital in April 2010.
The 31-year-old is charged with aggravated assault, unlawful confinement and sexual assault. The roommate, who just turned 28, can't be named because of a court-ordered publication ban. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Airhart, 29, testified that she and the alleged victim had had a relationship and even though they eventually split up, they remained good friends.
She described her former boyfriend as being about five-foot-eight and weighing 220 pounds — slightly overweight, but a happy and healthy individual.
Airhart told court that after the two broke up, her former boyfriend and Paxton became good friends. When Paxton moved to Calgary, she wasn't surprised that her ex-boyfriend went with him from Winnipeg, she said.
Airhart kept in touch with the man, but that contact eventually stopped and she got worried. She said she reached out to Paxton and was told there had been an accident — her former boyfriend was in hospital after having an industrial freezer fall on him at work.
Airhart said she went to Calgary to visit him after he got out of the hospital.
She noticed Paxton's mood had changed for the worst.
"He was grumpy. You could tell in his voice and physical attitude he just wasn't happy," she said.
What's worse, she said, the two men didn't appear to be friends any more.
"(Paxton) treated him like a piece of crap," said Airhart. "At one point he got angry and sent him to his room."
Her concerns magnified when she caught up with her former boyfriend again on another visit to Calgary.
"He looked sick," she said. "He was tiny. His skin was yellow. He said everything was OK and it was his job that was taking its toll.
"The next time I saw him was when he was dropped off at the hospital in Regina."
The man was down to less than 90 pounds when he was admitted. Crown prosecutor Joe Mercier said the victim was a mere shadow of his former self.
"He was dropped off at the Regina General Hospital in critical condition," the prosecutor said. "He was severely malnourished, he had wounds over his entire body and his lips were severely damaged."
Mercier said he intends to call 50 witnesses during the trial, which is scheduled to run five weeks, who will testify that Paxton dominated his roommate. Mercier said he will be calling an expert witness who deals with human captivity and who will explain the extent of the containment and domination suffered by the victim.
"I expect the evidence to show that Mr. Paxton began to mentally and then physically dominate," said Mercier.
"They will also testify to the steady degradation of his mental and physical state. He began to lose weight and constantly had injuries to his face and ears and was totally submissive to Mr. Paxton.
" Mr. Paxton controlled his movements."