Was Dylan Levi Judd murdered or did he kill himself?
That’s the question a B.C. Supreme Court judge will be forced to answer in the coming weeks, at the conclusion of a murder trial that began on Monday at the Kamloops Law Courts.
Judd, 20, was found dead in his cell at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre on the morning of Nov. 10, 2014. His death was initially believed by investigators to have been the result of suicide. That changed in the years that followed and Nathaniel Jessup, now 33, was arrested last year and charged with second-degree murder in connection with Judd’s death.
Jessup’s trial, in front of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Donegan, is expected to conclude at the end of next week.
Prosecutors believe Jessup strangled Judd, his KRCC cellmate, in the hours after nightly lockup on Nov. 9, 2014. Jessup alerted a corrections officer the following morning that Judd had not awoken.
“A guard found Mr. Judd on the bottom bunk bed, with his right foot sticking out at the bottom of a blanket,” Crown prosecutor Monica Fras said.
“The blanket covered the majority of Mr. Judd’s body right up past his eyebrows. The guard removed the blanket and discovered Mr. Judd was dead and that Mr. Judd had a KRCC-issued sweater tied around his neck.”
Fras pointed out Jessup had “exclusive opportunity” to kill Judd.
Defence lawyer Marshall Putnam, however, told court Judd had been documented as having been suicidal multiple times, including an incident as recently as the year before his death.
In 2009, Judd underwent a mental-health evaluation at an Ontario hospital after he "made suicidal comments" threatening to kill himself by jumping into traffic, Putnam said, and Judd was arrested under Ontario’s Mental Health Act in 2013 after police found him holding a knife to his throat. He had nicked himself and was bleeding, court heard. Both Ontario incidents were detailed in police reports entered as evidence at trial.
Judd’s mother sat in the front row of the courtroom on Tuesday, dabbing tears from her eyes as prosecutors played video surveillance from KRCC from the night before her son’s death.
Corrections officer Dean Coles, who was in charge of the unit on which Judd and Jessup lived on the night of the incident, said the evening was unremarkable.
“It was a good night,” he said. “It was calm. With my experience, if there is something that is not right, the inmates are either extremely quiet and not talking or all in their cells. That’s where they felt the safest.”
Court was shown surveillance video of Coles making his hourly prisoner checks throughout the night. He did not report an issue in the cell shared by Judd and Jessup.
Coles said it is standard practice for KRCC guards to take a 30-minute coffee break immediately after lights out at 10 p.m. He was not on the unit during that time.
Prosecutors — the team includes Fras and Neil Wiberg — expect to close their 10-witness case early next week. Defence lawyers have not said whether they will call evidence. Jessup is being defended by Putnam, Jeremy Jensen and Jay Michi.
Jessup was charged with an unrelated murder on the eve of his trial. Last Friday, police announced he had been charged with second-degree murder and offering an indignity to a human body in connection with the August 2015 death of 58-year-old Katherine McAdam in Creston.
Jessup was arrested for Judd’s murder at the conclusion of a three-and-a-half-year sentence he served for a string of choking incidents involving children, as well as attacks on prison officials.
Jessup has been in custody since September 2015.