The first police officer who arrived at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre after a 20-year-old inmate was found dead in his cell nearly five years ago treated the incident as a suicide after being told as much by the prison's deputy warden, a judge has been told.
Dylan Levi Judd was found dead in November 2014. His death was initially believed to have been self-inflicted asphyxiation, but Nathaniel Jessup, now 33, was charged with second-degree murder last year.
Jessup’s B.C. Supreme Court trial began Monday at the Kamloops Law Courts.
Prosecutors believe Jessup strangled Judd at some point after lights out in KRCC’s H-Unit at about 10 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2014. Defence lawyers are expected to argue Judd’s death was suicide.
On Wednesday, RCMP Cpl. Stephen Merrick testified he was one of two Mounties dispatched to KRCC after Judd was found dead on the morning of Nov. 10, 2014.
Merrick said he arrived at the prison and spoke to the deputy warden, Devin Pageau, the corrections officer who located Judd’s body after being alerted by Jessup.
“I was told that it was suicide and it was an inmate, Dylan Judd, who had been there [in jail] for about a month,” Merrick said, noting he then looked for injuries and took photos of the scene, typical for a sudden-death investigation.
Court has heard Judd was found with a red prison-issue sweater tied tightly around his neck.
Merrick said he took statements from Jessup and Pageau, seized the sweater and then handed the investigation over to the BC Coroners Service.
“The coroner and body removal arrived on scene,” he said.
Also taking the stand on Wednesday was Pageau, who said he found Judd’s death suspicious at the time, but did not believe Jessup was responsible until a year later. In his statement to police on the day Judd was found dead, Pageau told Merrick he was approached by Jessup, who hesitantly told him, “I think my roommate is dead.”
In Pageau’s subsequent statement to police, taken in October 2015, he said he walked onto the unit and could sense something was amiss, then spotted Jessup and grew suspicious.
“So I picked him out in the crowd,” Pageau told investigators 11 months after his previous statement.
“He was standing. I would say. 15 feet from the desk and just had this look about him. So when he looked at me, I said to him, ‘Hey you, what’s your deal? Like what’s your problem today?’ His eyes were big and he walked to the desk and he was like, ‘You need to come and see this.’”
Pageau was questioned on the discrepancy by defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen, who played surveillance video of the interaction for court.
In the video, Pageau can be seen standing at a desk on the unit, writing something in a notebook, appearing to have his head down. Jessup can be seen approaching him from his cell, with no one else around. The two appear to exchange words briefly before Pageau enters the cell and radios for a lockdown.
Under questioning from Jensen and despite the video, Pageau stood his ground, but conceded he may have been using “a figure of speech” when he said he picked Jessup “out of the crowd.”
“At the time you gave your statement [in 2015], you believed firmly that Mr. Jessup killed Mr. Judd, correct?” Jensen asked.
“Yes,” Pageau replied.
Court has heard Judd had been documented as having been suicidal multiple times, including an incident the year before his death.
In 2009, Judd underwent a mental-health evaluation at an Ontario hospital after threatening to kill himself by jumping into traffic, Putnam said. In 2013, Judd was arrested under Ontario’s Mental Health Act after police found him holding a knife to his throat, according to records entered as evidence at trial.
Prosecutors expect to close their nine-witness case early next week. Defence lawyers have not said whether they will call evidence, but the trial is expected to conclude next week.
Jessup was charged with an unrelated murder on the eve of his trial. On May 24, 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.