A parole eligibility hearing for a Nova Scotia man convicted of murder took an unexpected turn on Monday.
Christopher Garnier, 30, was convicted by a jury in December 2017 of second-degree murder in the death of Catherine Campbell.
Campbell, 36, was a volunteer firefighter and member of the Truro Police Service. She was off-duty at the time of her death.
A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence. However, parole eligibility can range anywhere from 10 to 25 years.
A hearing was scheduled to take place on Monday to determine when Garnier would be eligible to apply for parole. The case ended up being adjourned for three months, after several legal issues came up.
“The Crown was prepared to proceed. We had filed all our materials and had discussions with defence. The matter did not proceed,” said Crown Attorney Christine Driscoll.
“I understand the Campbells would be disappointed about that but we will return and we will finish the matter in August.”
WATCH: Jury finds Christopher Garnier guilty of second-degree murder in death of Catherine Campbell
It’s expected between 7 and 10 victim impact statements will be read into the court record as part of the hearing. Moments after proceedings began, defence lawyer Joel Pink asked the judge for a definition of “victim” and how it relates to who can submit a victim impact statement.
It’s a move that the Crown says caught them off guard.
“We weren’t aware that we were going to have to have that discussion and finding, so that took some time,” said Driscoll.
After reviewing the issue, the judge sided with the Crown and said all of the victim impact statements that were submitted to the court were fine. The court previously heard that victim impact statements from both family members and co-workers of Campbell’s had been submitted in the case.
Another issue that arose was that the defence sought to have a psychologist who is treating Garnier be qualified as an expert and testify.
“She had provided a letter in the defence materials but we had no notice of expert opinion,” Driscoll said outside the courtroom.
The psychologist’s testimony — as well as the testimony of Dr. Stephen Hucker, who previously testified at the trial about a rare legal defence known as automatism, as well as sexual mascohism — is now expected to take place when the matter returns to court in late August.
However, the court did hear new testimony from Garnier’s girlfriend, Brittany Francis.
Francis did not testify at Garnier’s murder trial but was called as a defence witness to give evidence during the parole ineligibility hearing. That’s because she submitted a character reference letter for Garnier.
Upon reviewing the letter, the Crown says they felt they needed to have text messages between Garnier and Francis submitted as evidence because her letter didn’t provide “balanced information” about their relationship.
“Our goal, as Crown attorneys is to address risk issues and matters that might need to be dealt with so that Mr. Garnier has a successful integration into society, perhaps when the parole board deems that appropriate. So, we wanted all the information and a balanced representation of that, what was going on in the summer of 2015 with Mr. Garnier before the court,” said Driscoll.
The judge ultimately allowed the text messages to become part of the hearing, so Pink called Francis to explain them.
Francis told the court that Garnier has only lied to her once in their relationship, about the fact that he smoked marijuana. She also testified that she and Garnier never fought but were having some trouble financially and that he would get help from his parents without telling her.
Francis said that the text messages were only a portion of larger conversations that she and Garnier had.
When asked about references to Garnier lying and cheating on her in their conversations, Francis said Garnier never cheated on her, but that they had some misunderstandings and that she was being dramatic in the text messages.
“We had avoided those text messages altogether at trial because they referenced character and we’re not allowed to get into that,” said Driscoll.
“It was only in response to the letter that was filed by Ms. Francis that we thought it was important to bring up the information from the text messages and the point was to be made that there was something going on in the summer of 2015.”
Pink did not wish to comment on the case while it was still before the courts.
Driscoll said the Crown has filed paperwork seeking that Garnier not be eligible to apply for parole for a period of 16 years on the murder conviction. She believed the defence was suggesting a 10-year period of parole ineligibility.
The hearing is now scheduled to continue on Aug. 27 and 28 at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
Garnier is currently appealing his second-degree murder conviction.
At this time, no date has been set to hear the appeal.