What has been described as the most complex investigation in the history of the Kamloops RCMP detachment has slowed to a crawl in court.
Lawyers are now planning to meet with a judge behind closed doors to sort out the next steps in the prosecution of five men charged in connection with a gang-related 2018 murder.
Prosecutors have not yet received approval to send Nathan Townsend, Jayden Eustache, Darien Rohel, John Daviss and Sean Scurt directly to trial, leaving lawyers facing the prospect of a three-month preliminary inquiry on a file that will have been on the books for a year this September.
The five accused are charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Troy Gold, a 35-year-old Kamloops man who was reported missing in October 2018. Within weeks of his disappearance, Gold’s remains were found in the Lac du Bois area north of Kamloops.
Townsend, Eustache, Rohel, Daviss and Scurt were arrested and charged in September 2019. They all remain in custody.
Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky has previously told KTW the investigation that led to the arrests of Townsend, Eustache, Rohel, Daviss and Scurt was the most complex in the history of the city’s detachment.
In January, Crown prosecutor Sarah Firestone told a judge the case against the men would proceed by direct indictment — a legal move typically reserved for the most serious and complicated criminal cases, which denies the accused the right to a preliminary inquiry and instead sends them directly to trial in B.C. Supreme Court.
Direct indictments are used when prosecutors rely heavily on complex evidence, often involving wire taps. The manoeuvre requires the approval of the provincial attorney general’s office.
Nearly six months after Firestone told court direct indictment would be used, it has not been approved.
Firestone said she spoke to B.C.’s assistant deputy attorney general about the issue last week.
“The Crown is continuing to seek a direct indictment,” she said in court on Monday. “But I have no news on that front. That being said, we are trying to move things toward scheduling a preliminary inquiry.”
Firestone offered some estimates for how long a preliminary inquiry might take, ranging from five weeks to more than 11weeks, depending on the evidence defence lawyers want to see. Preliminary inquiries are hearings in provincial court at which prosecutors typically present a bare-bones version of their case, after which a judge decides whether to send the matter to trial in B.C. Supreme Court.
Firestone was asked by defence lawyer Jim Heller, representing Scurt, if she could shed any additional light on the potential of a direct indictment.
“It’s not in my hands, so no, I cannot,” she replied.
Kamloops provincial court Judge Stephen Harrison, who last month urged lawyers to pick up the pace in the proceedings against the five accused, said Monday it’s prudent to prepare for a preliminary inquiry.
“We’re no longer waiting for news on a direct indictment,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”
Each of the five accused are represented by separate defence lawyers who were planning a Zoom call for sometime this week to discuss scheduling for preliminary inquiry and potential admissions of evidence. December was mentioned in court as one possibility for the start of a preliminary inquiry.
It’s expected a subsequent trial would eat up at least another three months of court time, but the scheduling process for that cannot begin until direct indictment is approved or a preliminary inquiry is completed.
Jordan guidelines, named for a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that put strict time limits on prosecutions, give the Crown 30 months to complete prosecutions of the five accused. The clock starts ticking when charges are laid, placing the finish line in March 2022.
Harrison said he and the lawyers will have to meet off-the-record via videoconference to discuss the potential scheduling problems. Such meetings, behind closed doors and not open to the public, were made possible by the provincial government after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They are an effort to speed files along and prevent an even greater backlog in B.C.’s courts.
The five accused are slated to return to court on Aug. 6 for an update. The off-record meeting is expected to take place before then, likely at some point this week.