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Forensic psychologist testifies about rare legal defence at Garnier murder trial

Christopher Calvin Garnier, charged with second-degree murder in the death of Truro police officer Const. Catherine Campbell, arrives at Nova Supreme Court for the start of his trial in Halifax on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The murder trial for Christopher Garnier heard from two witnesses on Thursday. The first was a forensic psychologist who spoke about a rare psychological condition known as automatism. The second, a Truro police officer who worked with the slain officer Garnier is accused of killing.

Garnier, 30, is facing charges of second-degree murder and improperly interfering with a dead body.

He pleaded not guilty to both charges on the opening day of the trial.

READ: A complete look at the Crown’s case against Christopher Garnier

Crown alleges Garnier strangled Campbell, defence says death was accident

The Crown has alleged Garnier killed Catherine Campbell, 36, by striking her on the head and strangling her before placing her body in a green bin and disposing of it in a wooded area under the Macdonald Bridge in Halifax.

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Campbell was a member of the Truro Police Service and a volunteer firefighter. She was off-duty at the time of her death.

The defence has said Campbell’s death was an accident that occurred during rough sex, which was initiated by her.

Garnier told the court this week that Campbell asked him if he was into domination when they were alone at his friend’s apartment on McCully Street in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2015 and requested that he choke and slap her. He does not recall most of what happened after Campbell died.

READ MORE: Christopher Garnier testifies at murder trial, tells court Catherine Campbell wanted to be choked

Psychiatrist testifies about rare legal defence known as automatism

Dr. Stephen Hucker, a psychiatrist that was hired by the defence, was qualified as an expert and able to give opinion evidence in assessing and diagnosing medical disorders and also in the area of paraphilia, like sexual masochism, asphyxiophilia and erotic asphyxiation.

Thursday, defence lawyer Joel Pink questioned Hucker about automatism, which is considered a rare legal defence involving a person being in a state of impaired consciousness.

Garnier testified he remembers having his arm on Campbell’s neck and slapping her quickly three times at her request – but does not remember much else, including allegedly placing her body in a green bin and disposing of it.

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Hucker testified Wednesday that he interviewed Garnier twice in the Spring of 2016 and that he showed no signs of a personality disorder. Hucker said that Garnier comes across as a quiet, unassuming person, a people-pleaser and someone who would back away from confrontation.

Hucker said Garnier’s account of what happened on the night Campbell died — that she asked to be choked and clapped — amounts to him facilitating erotic asphyxiation and that he believes Garnier suffered from acute stress disorder following Campbell’s death. He also diagnosed Garnier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

When asked by Pink if Garnier was in a state of automatism after Campbell’s death, Hucker told the court “I think a good case can be made for that.”

READ MORE: Defence calls sexual masochism expert at Garnier murder trial

Crown questions Hucker’s findings

During cross-examination, Crown Attorney Carla Ball pointed out that Hucker did not speak to Garnier’s doctors or former employers when preparing his report.

Ball also said that Hucker did not consider a DNA report from Dr. Greg Litzenberger, a report from RCMP Sgt. Adrian Butler, a Blood Stain Pattern Analyst, the findings from Blair MacLellan, who analyzed Garnier’s computer following his arrest or surveillance video that was taken from the Soma Laser Centre.

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WATCH: Video of a man pushing a pushing a green bin from a McCully Street home 

Click to play video: 'Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 1' Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 1
Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 1 – Nov 24, 2017

Hucker said he did watch a video taken from the Halifax Alehouse which shows Garnier and Campbell on the night of the alleged offences. He also watched Garnier’s 9.5 hour interrogation video with police.

Pink later showed Hucker the reports prepared by Litzenberger, Butler and MacLellan. The video from Soma Laser was also played in court on Thursday for Hucker to watch. After reviewing the material, Pink asked Hucker if there was anything that would change the opinion he previously gave to the court, Hucker said no.

WATCH: Surveillance video from inside the Halifax Alehouse on the night the Crown alleges off-duty Truro police officer Catherine Campbell was killed

Click to play video: 'Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 2' Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 2
Christopher Garnier Court Exhibit 2 – Nov 25, 2017

MORE: ‘My hands were on her neck’: Jury shown Christopher Garnier interrogation video

Crown questions Hucker on erotic asphyxiation

Ball also questioned Hucker about erotic asphyxiation and a report he prepared.

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Hucker said of the 172 fatal cases involving erotic asphyxiation in Ontario that he has studied, all but two of the victims were male and all died alone.

When questioned about an internet-based study that Hucker completed on the topic, he said “a surprising number of women” participated in the survey, noting that 28% of the 115 participants were female.

Hucker agreed with the Crown that there has only been one case he has seen in his career where someone died from erotic asphyxiation while they were with a partner.

READ MORE: Jury shown pictures of body discovered under Macdonald Bridge

Officer testifies about training at police academy

The third witness the defence called to the stand was Const. Justin Russell, who has been a police officer with the Truro Police Service for eight years.

Russell testified he went to the Atlantic Police Academy in Prince Edward Island with Catherine Campbell. The pair also worked together with the Truro police.

Joel Pink questioned Russell about the training officers receive at the academy, in particular, when it comes to self defence and the vascular neck restraint.

Russell told the court the vascular neck restraint is used to restrain an individual from violent behaviour and that it can cause bodily harm or even death if it is not applied properly. He said police officers are trained how to break a vascular neck restraint if it is applied to them. Russell also said police are trained to use “personal weapons” like hands and elbows as part of their self defence training.

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When asked by Pink if he felt confident with Catherine Campbell’s ability to back him up if need be, Russell said yes.

Under cross-examination, Crown Attorney Christine Driscoll pointed out that Russell was testifying after being subpoenaed by the defence.

When asked about whether or not he has ever had to apply the vascular neck restraint, Russell said no and that he never saw Campbell use the vascular neck restraint either.

READ MORE: ‘My hands were on her neck’: Jury shown Christopher Garnier interrogation video

Jury sent home early, trial to continue Friday

The seven-woman, seven-man jury hearing Garnier’s murder trial were sent home early Thursday.

The case will resume Friday at 9:30 a.m. at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

In total, 23 court days over a five week period have been set aside to hear the case.

Friday will mark the end of the fourth week of testimony in the trial.

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