Whenever I hear one of those crazy judges-gone-wild stories, like the one about Justice Susanne Goodman, who apparently can’t be bothered to provide the reasons for her rulings, one of the first questions I ask is how on earth did this person get appointed to the bench?
Invariably the answer is that there was some kind of political or personal connection. In the case of Robin Camp, who came to be known as the “knees together judge” and was recently forced to retire, his patrons had ties to the Alberta Conservative party. Camp was managing partner at the Calgary law firm where then-premier Alison Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, who led her transition team, was a senior partner.
In Goodman’s case, her father was …
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On Tuesday May 23rd, the trial begins for Matthew Odlum, a 30-year-old Toronto man accused of trafficking the gun used to kill Dellen Millard’s father, Wayne. Very little is publicly known about Wayne Millard’s death beyond information contained in newspaper reports that he was shot through the eye with an illegal handgun.
Odlum and two other men — Matthew Wawrykiewycz and Matthew Ward Jackson — were arrested in April 2014, shortly before it was announced that Dellen Millard had been charged with the murder of his father, and that he and his friend Mark Smich had also been charged with the murder of Laura Babcock, a 23-year-old Toronto woman.
In the three years that have elapsed since then, Millard and Smich have been convicted of the murder of Tim Bosma and there have been a number of developments in what has come to be known, among those familiar with it, as “The Three Matthews” gun trafficking case.
Why only one Matthew is on trial
Unlike his co-accused, Odlum faced just one set of criminal charges, which has made his journey through the legal system somewhat quicker (relatively speaking) and simpler. Thanks partly to this, Odlum’s case was “severed,” as the lawyers say, from those of his co-accused after a preliminary hearing.
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Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.
Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.
I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.
Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.
I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.
This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.
The goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.
If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.
Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.
By now you may have heard the news that Mark Smich, the convicted killer of Tim Bosma (along with his ex-pal, Dellen Millard), wants the charges against him for the murder of Laura Babcock stayed due to undue trial delays.
You may be panicking. Could this really happen? Oh yes it can, you’re saying. Look at this case in Ottawa where an alleged murderer got off and this one, where charges of sexually assaulting a child were stayed because technical issues caused trial delays.
In the latter case, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco said the accused’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. He cited the Supreme Court’s recent Jordan ruling, which set time limits on the period between charges being laid and the trial getting underway. Those limits are 18 months for most criminal cases and 30 months for the most serious cases, including murder.
Justice Julianne Parfett used the same reasoning when she stayed the Ottawa first degree murder charges mentioned above. In something of an understatement, she wrote in her ruling: “I am well aware that, in deciding to stay these charges, the family of the deceased in this matter will not see justice done as they would want.”
According to the news reports, neither of these judges seemed overly concerned about the possibility their rulings might bring the justice system into public disrepute. Ontario’s attorney general almost immediately asked for a review of Parfett’s ruling. (Ed: I’d like a review of how she became a superior court judge. Can you look into it? And what’s up with this Paciocco guy while you’re at it?)
The news of Smich’s upcoming motion was raised by his lawyer Thomas Dungey in Toronto court today for a routine proceeding.
In another case, whose updates were heard just before Smich’s, there were also concerns raised about possible trial delays. Regarding this other, non-Smich case, Justice John McMahon said, “We’re not going to have a murder case in Toronto stayed because we didn’t do it in the time. It’s not going to happen.”
Smich was charged with the murder of Laura Babcock in April 2014. His trial was supposed to have begun earlier this month but was delayed because his co-accused Dellen Millard said he couldn’t find nor pay a lawyer and he had been denied legal aid. That caused the Babcock trial to be bumped to September of this year. (The court also heard Millard still hasn’t gotten his finances sorted and is appealing the Legal Aid decision.)
Millard’s and Smich’s circumstances are somewhat unusual given that they themselves weren’t available at earlier dates for the Laura Babcock trial. They spent several months of 2015 and the first half of 2016 in court in Hamilton for the murder of Tim Bosma for which they were eventually convicted.
Millard is also charged with the murder of his father, Wayne, a trial which isn’t scheduled to take place until 2018.
Both Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty to all charges against them.
My book, Dark Ambition provides the full story to date.
In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.
The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:
Part 5: Post-verdict
Part 6: The appeal
As of Jan. 27, 2017, I am awaiting a court ruling to see what happens next. Sign up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the appeal decision and the epilogue of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
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This spreadsheet of all the tweets from three journalists covering the 2016 trial of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich is an incredibly valuable resource.
Hamilton Spectator columnist Susan Clairmont’s tweets provide an excellent narrative overview of the trial while CBC reporter Adam Carter gives the most transcript-like coverage. Molly Hayes of the Spec often catches fascinating details that others missed.
Big thanks to Ron Verbeek, a “civilian” who followed the trial and pulled it all together.
Since the Bosma trial, I’ve followed some high profile U.S. trials on Twitter and the tweet coverage was nowhere near as good as that provided by these three journalists.
It was an invaluable resource to me as I wrote my book, Dark Ambition.
Goodbye and good riddance to Christina Noudga.
When Dellen Millard’s unpopular ex-girlfriend left a Hamilton courtroom Tuesday, after accepting a plea deal and pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, there was, more than anything, an overwhelming sense of relief.
The deal meant there would be no more Noudga. No recounting of what Crown attorney Craig Fraser described as “the horrific and soul destroying details of Tim Bosma’s murder.” No three-week-long trial to determine if Noudga should be found guilty as an accessory after the fact to the murder of Tim Bosma.
Instead, Noudga, whose trial would have begun this week, pled guilty to the lesser charge of obstructing the course of justice by destroying evidence. The deal meant Tim Bosma’s family would finally be able to end their painful involvement with the criminal justice system. “They believe Ms. Noudga is being held to account for her actions,” Fraser told the court. “The public interest…truly is best served by sparing the Bosma family another trial while still holding Ms. Noudga accountable for the role she played in destroying evidence.”
Christina Noudga, dressed in dark blue and black, dabbed at her eyes before the hour-long proceedings, began and as they ended. Although it was impossible to tell if she was wiping away tears, her attitude was markedly changed from the Bosma murder trial where she shocked the court time and again with her lack of empathy and failure to display any remorse. Smart, pretty and ambitious, she managed to leave even hardened homicide cops and veteran criminal lawyers shaking their heads in disbelief. After the trial, Tim Bosma’s mother Mary would describe her as “evil.”
During her week on the witness stand, Noudga laughed in court as if oblivious to the fact she was testifying at a murder trial in front of the victim’s parents, sisters and widow. She said she remembered little or nothing of many of the key events about which she had been called to testify. She appeared to have no sense whatsoever of right or wrong. Respect was a foreign concept.
In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, a letter Millard had written to Noudga from jail was shown on the courtroom screens. “I believe we deserve each other,” Millard wrote. “I deserve you, and you deserve me.”
“That’s what he wrote to you?” asked Thomas Dungey, the lawyer for Millard’s co-accused, Mark Smich.
“Thank you,” said Dungey, “no further questions.” It was the last time Noudga had exited the Hamilton courthouse in the glare of the media.
This week, her lawyer Brian Greenspan said his client can change. She was just 18 when she met Millard and 21 at the time of the events in question. She has since graduated from university and plans to go to graduate school in health sciences. She has a job waiting for her once her legal issues are settled. And she’s doing grass roots work for indigenous peoples in Honduras. She’s joined Amnesty International.
The old days of Christina posting YouTube videos of herself cursing Ecuadorean immigrants and condescending to entire courtrooms are over. She’s rebranding as a human rights advocate and, though this was not mentioned in court, an artsy Instagram party girl.
Greenspan says Noudga accepts responsibility for those actions she engaged in — destroying evidence by wiping away fingerprints — but not for those conducted without her knowledge, by which he means the murder of Tim Bosma.
This question of what exactly Christina Noudga did or didn’t know about that murder would have been at the heart of her accessory after the fact trial had it taken place. To prove her guilty, the Crown would have had to have shown that she knew her boyfriend had murdered an innocent man when she went with Millard to hide the trailer containing Bosma’s truck and to move the incinerator used to cremate the victim’s remains.
Fraser said the prosecution was in a “strong position” but that its case was circumstantial and “inferences would have to go the Crown’s way.” He said there was no direct evidence of Noudga having knowledge of the murder.
What he most definitely did not express, however, is what Greenspan later told the Canadian Press — that it is “clear and accepted by everyone… that (Noudga) was totally unaware that a homicide had taken place.”
Whether or not Noudga knew or didn’t know is a topic on which there will likely continue to be disagreement along with the question of whether justice was done. But to the people in the courtroom, the plea deal was the right choice. And its rightness was only reinforced when Justice Toni Skarica announced that he would have found there to be “insufficient evidence that would prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused knew about the murder that had just occurred.”
It was a surprising declaration from the judge and a reminder of why plea deals so often make sense for both parties. For better or for worse, they take the unknowns and the uncertainties out of the mix.
In exchange for time already served in jail, a sample of her DNA, and a criminal record, Christina Noudga was free to go. And the Bosmas, the police and prosecutors were free to never spend another minute in her presence. That was worth a lot to everyone involved.
You can read the full story of Christina Noudga’s testimony at the Tim Bosma murder trial, and all about the jailhouse letters she received from Millard in the book, Dark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich.