A trial started Monday for a Manitoba man accused of killing his neighbour and leading police on a weeklong manhunt that ended in Ontario.
Eric Wildman is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Clifford Joseph, 40, who was reported missing on June 7, 2021.
His remains were found in a rural area northeast of Winnipeg the following month.
Wildman pleaded not guilty in the killing of his former neighbour. Wearing a grey suit with a blue dress shirt and slightly dishevelled hair, Wildman sat with his lawyers at the counsel table. Throughout opening arguments, Wildman had a slight smirk on his face.
Crown attorney Bryton Moen told a jury on the first day of the trial that no one witnessed Joseph’s killing, but they will hear evidence he went to Wildman’s house with a plan to steal from him.
It is alleged that Wildman then ran Joseph over with a car and shot him three times. An autopsy determined Joseph had a broken leg and broken jaw.
“But those didn’t kill him,” Moen said. “What killed him was three gunshots, including one to the back of the head.”
Moen told the court Joseph was “no angel” and had a history using drugs and stealing.
“(Joseph) went to steal from Eric Wildman. That, however, did not make it OK for Eric Wildman to kill him,” he said.
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Joseph’s girlfriend reported him missing to RCMP after he never returned home.
Moen told the court that Joseph’s girlfriend went searching for him at Wildman’s property and found his shoes, hat and headlamp there. Joseph’s girlfriend also found his truck with his keys and phone inside, but there were no signs of Joseph.
An agreed statement of facts read into court indicated a search of Joseph’s phone found there was no contact between him and Wildman before his disappearance.
RCMP Const. Kyle Beech testified he was one of the officers who first arrived at Wildman’s property after Joseph was reported missing.
He also found Joseph’s shoes, headlamp and hat. Police also found Joseph’s tools on a black utility trailer on the property, Beech said.
Court heard Wildman rented a car and drove to Ontario after RCMP named him as a suspect in Joseph’s disappearance.
Ontario Provincial Police found Wildman at a home just outside Belleville, about 180 kilometres east of Toronto, on June 18, 2021.
Wildman initially refused to leave the home, court heard. When police took Wildman into custody, they found he was in possession of a handgun and ammunition was found in his rental car.
Members of Joseph’s family were in court Monday.
The trial is scheduled for five weeks in front of Court of King’s Bench Justice Richard Saull.