HALIFAX — A jury has found Christopher Garnier guilty of punching and strangling Nova Scotia police officer Catherine Campbell, rejecting his claim that the off-duty officer died accidentally during rough sex.
The 12-member Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury delivered its verdicts Thursday after 4.5 hours of deliberations, declaring the 30-year-old Halifax man guilty of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body.
Garnier looked down and held his face in his hands after the verdicts were read. Members of his family sobbed uncontrollably. Campbell's family showed little emotion until they emerged from the courtroom, where they cried and hugged.
A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence. A hearing to determine Garnier's parole eligibility is scheduled for May 7, 2018.
Court heard Garnier met the 36-year-old Truro police constable at a Halifax bar in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2015. The jury watched surveillance video showing Garnier and Campbell kissing and dancing before leaving the Halifax Alehouse around 3:30 a.m. The prosecution said the two went to an apartment on McCully Street, where Garnier was staying with a friend.
Crown attorney Christine Driscoll told the jury Garnier lost control during a sexual encounter with Campbell, stuffed her lifeless body into a compost bin, and dumped her remains in thick brush in the area of Halifax's Angus L. Macdonald Bridge.
"The truth is that Ms. Campbell did nothing wrong," Driscoll said in her closing arguments Monday. "Her life was over and she was treated like trash,''
During a nine-hour recorded interview with police, Garnier said he hit Campbell with his fist and had his hands around her throat as she was choking, but he repeatedly said he could not remember other details from that night.
Testifying in his own defence, Garnier told the jury through tears that during sex play, Campbell encouraged him to choke and slap her.
"If she ever resisted, I would have stopped," he said.
At one point during his testimony, defence lawyer Joel Pink asked Garnier to step down from the witness stand and describe what he claimed happened on the pullout couch inside the apartment.
Using a long table as a prop, Garnier lay down on his side and told the jury his right forearm was across Campbell's neck when she asked him to slap her. He said he wasn't looking at her at the time, but he felt his arm getting wet and saw blood. Garnier said when he returned from retrieving a towel, Campbell wasn't moving.
Garnier told police he heard Campbell gasp for air before she stopped breathing.
After Campbell died, Garnier said his vision became blurry, he heard loud noises and he couldn't remember much else.
Under cross-examination, Driscoll asked Garnier why he did not call 911 or attempt CPR, despite his training as a firefighter.
He did not offer an explanation.
Driscoll pointed to inconsistencies in his version of events, noting he never mentioned rough sex to the police during his interview.
Garnier later told the jury he didn't want the officers to think "I was just trying to blame it on her.''
"Well you're blaming her today, aren't you?'' Driscoll said.
Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, testified that Campbell died of strangulation and suffered head injuries, including black eyes and a fractured nose.
After the verdict was read aloud, Campbell's mother, Susan Campbell, said she was happy with the outcome.
"For almost two-and-a-half years, we've sought justice for Catherine, and today we feel we have justice for Catherine," she said outside of court, standing next to Campbell's father, Dwight Campbell, and her aunt Amanda Wong.
Pink said his client was in shock.
"But that's something to be expected," he said, adding that it's too early to say whether he'll file for an appeal.
Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Hucker told the jury that Garnier suffered from acute stress disorder following Campbell's death, and that could explain his memory loss.
Garnier said he couldn't remember using a large compost bin to dispose of the woman's body near the bridge, where it stayed undetected for nearly five days.
The jury saw surveillance video from a business adjacent to the McCully Street apartment that showed a man rolling a compost bin towards and away from the flat.
Garnier said when police first showed him that footage, "It was like watching somebody else in my body.''
He was arrested on Sept. 16, 2015, just hours after police found Campbell's body face down on a steep embankment off a busy Halifax street.
During the four-week trial, the jury heard that blood spatter evidence was found inside the apartment and that Campbell's DNA was found on Garnier's T-shirt, necklace and the clasp of his watch. A garbage bag with Garnier's T-shirt and Campbell's keys was located in a dumpster across the street.
Police officers testified that Garnier was twice spotted driving by the area where Campbell's body was found — the second time just hours after police found her remains, forcing investigators to hide as the suspect drove towards it.
He did not stop at the scene, and instead drove to Clayton Park, where he was arrested. A tarp, gloves, rope and gasoline were found in the car he was driving, police said.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version wrongly stated Garnier's parole eligibility hearing would be held May 8.