Aaron Douglas attempted murder charge dropped mid-trial in Chilliwack
In a sudden and surprising turn of events, an attempted murder charge was dropped against Aaron Douglas in BC Supreme Court Thursday in Chilliwack.
Douglas was released from custody just a few hours ago.
Two days after shooting victim Jeff Karpes testified in court, Crown Counsel took a guilty plea from Douglas on one weapons charge and stayed the attempted murder charge.
"Based on the evidence that had gone before the court we decided there was no substantial likelihood of conviction," Crown lawyer Lori Stevens told the Times Thursday.
Douglas—who has been in custody for close to 19 months and who never asked for a bail hearing in that time—was sentenced to time served, three years probation, and ordered to have no contact with Karpes and the Crown's other witness Theresa Conlon.
Conlon is the mother of one of Douglas's children, and is currently married to Karpes. She testified in court on Monday.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, Douglas's first cousin Roxanne Peters and two of his friends awaited his release.
"He's going to straighten out," Peters said of the troubled Douglas, who has a long criminal record with convictions on weapons and drug charges.
Peters said Douglas's mother died of a drug overdose when he was just four years old, and his father also struggled with substance abuse.
"He's been dealt a lot of hard cards. Sometimes it's how you deal with life; you go one way or you go the other."
Gunshot residue found on Douglas's clothing was found to be inconclusive evidence that he fired the gun on the day of the shooting, or even that it came from a gun. Experts say that automobile brake pads and exploded air bags can have particles that are difficult to distinguish from gun shot residue.
The case against Douglas rested primarily on the witness testimony of Karpes who was hit by two bullets in the chest while sitting in a vehicle on Dec. 23, 2012.
"It's a whodunnit if I can put it that way," Crown lawyer Pat Beirne said Monday, the first day of the trial.
Karpes spoke through tears in BC Supreme Court on Tuesday, and explained how, as he lay there, he called 9-1-1.
"I told them I was shot," he said. "I told them that Aaron had shot me and that I just wanted my kids to know that I loved them."
The 47-year-old's words were part of his testimony on day two of the trial.
Both Conlon and Karpes testified that they received threatening phone calls from Douglas in the months leading up to the shooting.
"He said he was going to riddle the place, shoot it up," Conlon said of Douglas during her testimony on Monday.
Defence lawyer Ken Beatch went at Karpes hard on Tuesday, painting the shooting victim as a criminal himself. A former drug dealer, Karpes was working as a bootlegger providing an illegal after-hours alcohol delivery service at the time of the shooting.
He was making a delivery to an address on the Skwah First Nation reserve near McCammon traditional elementary school when he was shot. Two days before, Karpes vehicle was shot up as he made a delivery to a Cleveland Avenue home. He escaped that incident with minor injuries from broken glass.
Karpes testified Tuesday that as he sat waiting for a woman to walk along Lower Landing Road towards where he was parked in the early hours of Dec. 23, 2012, what he saw instead was Douglas wearing a hoodie pulled up over his head with a handgun aimed at him.
"I didn't see her. I saw Aaron. I saw Aaron and Aaron shot me," he told the court.
He testified that he slumped to the left of his vehicle and pretended he was dead. After a few moments, he started the jeep, which had stalled, and drove off turning left onto Ashwell.
When he got to the intersection of Ashwell and Hodgins/Wolfe, he stopped, got out and felt the need to lie on the ground. That's when he says he called 9-1-1 and his wife.
Much of the afternoon Tuesday was spent with a heated cross-examination of Karpes by Beatch.
Beatch asked about a pharmaceutical Karpes takes for a nerve condition, which apparently causes some form of memory loss.
The lawyer also pointed to the vehicle he was driving the night of the shooting. For his business, Karpes said he uses rental vehicles. After the first incident where his rented SUV was shot up, he was without a vehicle. So his friend Jerry Elliott let him use a Jeep he wasn't using. Elliott, who himself has an extensive criminal record (and is currently in jail for a vicious hammer attack in the Chilliwack River Valley in 2013), was also previously the victim of a drive-by shooting.
Beatch was clearly laying the groundwork for reasonable doubt suggesting that Karpes might have been the subject of robbery, he might not remember things as well as he could, and he may even have been the victim of mistaken identity.
But Beatch spent most of his time Tuesday addressing inconsistencies with Karpes' various statements, including: to police after the first shooting and after the second shooting; again in hospital; to the court at the preliminary hearing; and earlier in the day Tuesday.
Beatch got Karpes to all but admit that he did not even see a person at all after the Dec. 20 shooting, even though he described someone to police.
"I suggest you are doing the same thing today," Beatch said of the night he was shot. "You didn't see anyone. All you saw was muzzle flash."
Karpes responded: "If you are accusing me of lying on the second shooting, why wouldn't I have just put him away on the first shooting? That's what you are making me out to be, a liar in both cases. I could have saved myself the lead in the chest, couldn't I?"
Beatch insisted that Karpes was convinced the shooter was Douglas because he wanted the man in jail, but that he didn't really see him.
"You can't close your eyes and see the shooter, can you?" Beatch asked Karpes.
"I don't have to close my eyes," he responded. "He is sitting right there."
In court Wednesday, Beirne asked for an adjournment until Thursday as senior Crown had ordered police to follow up on a "new line of inquiry," with respect to the case. Beirne didn't say what the police were looking for so late in the investigation, and he added that he didn't even know if it would be something that could be presented in court.
Beatch opposed the adjournment and called it "bushwacking," adding that even if something new were presented "the only fair thing to do would be to declare a mistrial."
Karpes was called to the stand first thing on Thursday, the court was cleared briefly, after which the main charge was stayed and the case concluded.