Defence in Wentworth trial responds to Crown arguments

The Frontenac County Courthouse, which serves as the Superior Court of Justice in Kingston, Ontario. Kingstonist file photo.

In the final two days of submissions in the Michael Wentworth trial before Justice Laurie Lacelle, the words “my friend” were used repeatedly by each lawyer to refer to the man on the opposite side of the room. However, the way they eviscerated each other’s arguments lacked the warm feelings usually associated with that phrase.

Contrary to the Crown’s conclusion on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, that Wentworth is a killer who once tortured an elderly woman, defence counsel John Kaldas portrayed Wentworth as a “colourful” storyteller who made up various tales to impress friends or lied to protect himself from harm.  

To demonstrate this, Kaldas began by referring to the time Wentworth and his associate and alleged murder victim, Richard Kimball, broke out of Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre in 1988. Kaldas chuckled as he described the breakout story as “very funny… I know it is illegal and we’re not supposed to break out of jail, but it is funny. We have a funny storyteller in the defendant.”

“The criminal trial must always seek the truth. Are the confessions truthful? Have they been proven without a doubt?” he asked rhetorically.

“Generally… we see that there is some compelling clincher that comes [from a Mr. Big investigation],” stated Kaldas, giving the example of an accused knowing secrets no one but the criminal would know. “That’s not at all the case here. The defence [reminds] the court… that there is no proof here.”

Kaldas spent much of the day arguing that the Mr. Big technique was flawed in this case. Wentworth has variously confessed to all of the charges against him to an undercover officer and to a former friend known as “Barney,” who willingly collected evidence for the police.

Going through each of the charges against Wentworth, the defence pointed out two types of “inconsistencies” in the Crown’s arguments: “internal inconsistencies” and “external inconsistencies.”

As an example of an internal inconsistency, where the accused told various versions of the same story, Kaldas pointed to Wentworth’s taped confession in which he said he shot Richard Kimball while he was asleep. Later, Kaldas animatedly described a different version Wentworth gave — which Kaldas called “darkly humourous” and an “almost zombie-like” killing — where the man got up after being shot and attempted to continue walking.

External inconsistencies, Kaldas said, were between what the defendant said and what the “objective, very best evidence supports.” In relation to the death of Stephen St. Denis in a fire, Kaldas argued that the fire marshal originally called the fire a tragic accident. 

Wentworth admitted on tape to killing Denis; in Kaldas’s words, “[Wentworth said] he put the oil on the stove; it then went up into the curtains. That clashes with external evidence that the fire didn’t start on the stove, [but] on a wooden table using an electric fryer, exactly the kind of inconsistency we would expect in a false confession… proving that [the innocent but untruthful] party didn’t know how the fire was set.”

Kaldas pointed out that Wentworth had “ample access to all kinds of information” from his peer group of “long-term criminals.”

“If you’re hanging out with criminals, getting drunk with criminals, swapping war stories, you certainly would hear about the details of crimes,” he remarked.

Kaldas also suggested that the information about each of the crimes Wentworth is charged with was available in the media. “The court and police heard from The Kingston Whig-Standard editor to find out what details have been published for this exact reason.”

“We are proposing a reason-based way [for the Justice] to assess the evidence… The Crown is hanging its hopes on what it calls ‘trust’ between the police agent, the undercover officer, and the accused… That is a hypothesis, an inference, [that] the Crown is asking you to draw,” he continued.

“This reasoning is faulty. Trust is an emotional state, a feeling I have for someone. It doesn’t necesarily mean everything you tell them is true… The idea that trusting someone makes their statement truthful makes no sense.”

According to Kaldas, “Except for one witness, none of the witnesses but one called by the Crown said anything of value.” He referred to Michael Tecchi, Wentworth’s brother-in-law, who couldn’t remember who said what and called all of it “drunk talk.” Kaldas stated that Tecchi agreed with the defence’s assessment that Wentworth is an “enthusiastic storyteller [who] exaggerates”; Kaldas added that Tecchi even gave Wentworth the nickname “Ripley, because can you believe it or not?”

Justice Lacelle interrupted the defence on occasion to question his recollection of certain testimony, saying, “That’s not what I recall.” 

She also questioned the defence’s suggestion that a “photo lineup” of the alleged spotter in the bank robbery “should have been done” to prompt eyewitnesses to identify her. “When could they have done a photo lineup if they didn’t know [she] was a suspect at the time?” asked Lacelle, pointing out that police only learned of the person’s involvement because of the confessions by Wentworth.

Kaldas answered, “They had three years to do this during witness prep/hypothesis,” suggesting the police could have used the woman’s driver’s license photo from 1995, the time of the bank robbery 27 years ago.

Then the defence moved on to what he called “the Henrietta Knight matter,” referencing Wentworth’s alleged crime of manslaughter against Knight, a 92-year-old woman. Wentworth allegedly tied her to a chair, beat her about the head, threatened her life, and ransacked her home — all leading to her death five months later from the sustained blunt force trauma.

Kaldas pointed out the external inconsistency that Wentworth had confessed to operatives that Knight died weeks later, not five months.  Wentworth also told the undercover officer he was there at Knight’s home for hours, not the half hour the woman had stated to officers soon after the brutal beating.

Kaldas also noted that Mrs. Knight said the robber brandished a revolver — which was evidence held back and not released in the media — but the defendant didn’t mention that; nor at the time of his arrest did he own a “revolver,” but did possess other types of handguns. Kaldas repeated this multiple times.

Nearing the end of the day’s session, Kaldas said he “had come to the conclusion during the trial” that the promise of becoming involved with the undercover officer — who was posing as a criminal from Montreal who could bring Wentworth on board in his “lucrative marijuana grow op” — was a significant inducement to his client to lie, as was the “threat” or “pressure” of being involved with the undercover officer, who Wentworth believed had already killed two people.

Crown attorney Fraser Kelly took advantage of a moment of conference between Kaldas and his assistant counsel to point out an error of footnoting in the defence’s written submission, saying he “just wanted to draw everyone’s attention” to the mistake. The passage noted a reference to evidence “from August 8,” but when he looked at the trial record, there was no corresponding information on that date for what the defence had “cited as evidence.”

The judge allowed the defence counsel to take the night to reexamine his written records and resubmit. On Thursday, when court resumed, Kaldas did resubmit a corrected version of his case summation.

Also on Thursday, Fraser Kelly took an hour to rebut much of what the defence had presented as evidence of inconsistencies. Kingstonist will have further coverage of that rebuttal shortly.

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