The British Columbia Supreme Court jury in the trial of an escaped inmate accused of first-degree murder has found James Lee Busch guilty in the death of a Vancouver Island man.
However, what the jury didn’t know was that his co-accused, Zachary Armitage, had already pleaded guilty midway through the trial to the first-degree murder of 60-year-old Martin Payne.
Busch and Armitage were charged with the first-degree murder of Payne following their July 2019 escape from Metchosin’s William Head prison. Halfway through the trial, the jury was told Armitage would no longer be a part of the proceedings as he was dealt with in a separate way.
The Crown argued that the two men were inseparable every step along the way and they planned a violent ambush against the 60-year-old, upon his return from work, in an effort to extort his money. Payne was an unsuspecting target that the inmates could ultimately silence, the Crown said.
It also suggested that the two men were equal and active participants – known in law as principal actors – in both planning and carrying out the attack on Payne.
Crown lawyer Chandra Fisher said the jury had multiple paths to meeting the requirements of first-degree murder, including the Crown’s evidence that the inmates’ had a plan with the intent to kill, they unlawfully confined Payne and how they aided one another.
The defense called the Crown’s case weak and speculative in its bid for Busch to be acquitted. Ryan Drury said blood spatter on pieces of clothing and other evidence meant there could be three possible conclusions: that Busch was never in the home; that he was at the home but had no involvement in the murder and he was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time”; and that his only role was assisting in cleaning up a crime scene that Armitage had solely committed.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy testified that Payne suffered chop wounds from behind and stab wounds from the front. The jury was shown photos of multiple wounds that could’ve been fatal, including chops that separated chunks of Payne’s skull and where a large knife stabbed through his neck, severing key arteries in its path. A hatchet and bowie knife, consistent with the chop and stab wounds respectively, were found beside each other in the home’s main bathroom.
The wounds and the court hearing there were at least three weapons used caused the Crown and defence to disagree on the number of assailants. Fisher said there could only plausibly be two attackers while Drury said it’s possible Armitage was the sole assaulter.
Judge David Crossin on Tuesday (Dec. 14) explained to the jury how the law allows them to deliberate on and potentially deliver a first-degree murder verdict. If a number of first-degree requirements can’t be satisfied, the jury is then able to find Busch guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
– With files from the Canadian Press
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