Eight days of testimony and legal arguments in the obstruction of justice trial of a former Richmond RCMP officer in the 2008 crash that killed a South Delta man ended this week, but it will be another month before the outcome is clear.
After both sides submitted their final arguments Wednesday morning in New Westminster, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janice Dillion reserved judgment until March 23.
The proceedings garnered widespread media attention and the gallery was full of reporters, family, friends and supporters for both sides.
Cpl. Benjamin “Monty” Robinson, known also as the lead Richmond RCMP officer involved in the Taser death of a Polish immigrant at the airport, is charged with attempting to obstruct justice in the Oct. 25, 2008 crash that killed Orion Hutchinson.
Shortly after 10 p.m. that night Robinson was on his way home from a Halloween party with his two children, seven and 12 at the time. It was a short drive home and even though he had consumed four or five beers at the party, Robinson testified he had no concerns about his ability to drive or that he was over the legal limit.
Hutchinson, 21, was out on his motorcycle that night and at about 10:15 p.m. the two vehicles collided at the corner of 6th Avenue and Gilchrist Drive in Tsawwassen.
Robinson told the court he has no recollection of how the crash occurred.
Hutchinson was thrown from his motorcycle and was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.
Judith Hutchinson, Orion’s mother, wept in the gallery on the first day of the trial as the court heard from a Crown witness who was on the scene of the crash moments after it occurred.
Dale Hazel had been watching a Canucks game at a friend’s house that night and was getting ready to leave when they heard a loud bang. The two men went outside to see what had happened.
Hazel said Robinson approached him and his friend, told them to dial 911 and tried to give him his driver’s licence as he left the scene with his two children. Hazel said he refused to take it but another person did.
“He was quite anxious to get away from the scene, in my opinion,” Hazel testified.
Several witnesses described a chaotic scene with debris scattered all over the road and frantic bystanders attempting to help the injured motorcyclist.
Robinson testified that after the crash he got out of his Jeep, saw Hutchinson on the ground and starting yelling for someone to call for help.
Throughout his testimony, Robinson maintained that others were already attending to Hutchinson and his main concern was the welfare of his children. He said he was concerned that seeing the aftermath of the crash could be traumatizing for them.
“There is a rational reason for him leaving the scene,” defence lawyer David Crossin said in his closing submissions. “His children, rightly or wrongly, were his first priority.”
Hutchinson’s family said this week that although Robinson is charged with obstruction of justice, the real crime is that he left the scene without trying to help the injured motorcyclist.
“We’ve known all this for three-and-a-half years. This has been our ongoing nightmare... I’ve lost my only son. My daughter has lost her only brother... and we’ve always maintained, ever since the very beginning, that the true crime here is the utter lack of responsibility and basic humanity shown by the accused at the scene,” Judith Hutchinson told reporters outside the courthouse.
“And the fact that he is in a position of public trust... makes it all the more heinous.”
Robinson testified that he took his kids home, a short distance away, got them settled upstairs and, before returning to the scene, drank two shots of vodka.
The Crown argued this was an attempt to thwart any possible impaired driving investigation and breath tests. During the trial, prosecutor Kris Pechet painted a picture of a man who knew exactly what he was doing in the moments following the crash.
Pechet told the court Robinson, described as a veteran member of the force, took a Breathalyzer training course three years earlier that included possible defences for impaired driving, including drinking after a crash.
Crossin argued that Robinson, classified as a “severe” alcoholic at the time by addictions expert Dr. Paul Sobey, drank the vodka without thinking.
Sobey testified that during his evaluation of Robinson earlier this year, the officer described a number of layers of crisis in his life - including a non-fatal shooting of a suspect when he was stationed in Chase early in his career and the now infamous Tasering death at Vancouver International Airport in 2007 - and the resulting increase in his drinking.
Sobey said the use of alcohol after a stressful event was consistent with the type of behaviour he sees in men who have an alcohol problem.
“Why? I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I went for what had given me comfort,” Robinson told the court when questioned by his lawyer about drinking the vodka.
“Mr. Robinson doesn’t drink for the same reasons we do,” Crossin said in his closing statements. “It’s not what anyone would do, but it’s exactly what he would do.”
The Mountie, who was off-duty at the time of the crash, said he immediately returned to the scene where Delta police Const. Sarah Swallow found him standing by his Jeep.
She testified that at first she thought he was a bystander and went over to tell him to move when he identified himself as the driver.
After speaking to him briefly at the Jeep, Swallow said she moved the conversation to her police car. She said Robinson sat in the back of the car with the door open and his feet on the ground.
Swallow said she noticed Robinson was pale and seemed to have a “very dry mouth.” She said his eyes were slightly unfocused.
“I smelled alcohol about his person,” she said.
Swallow said when she asked Robinson if he had been drinking that night, he told her he had two beers at a party earlier and two shots of vodka at home to calm his nerves after the crash.
During his testimony, Robinson said that in thinking back, he realized he had more than two beers at the party but did not have time to clarify that with Swallow and then on advice from his lawyer, he did not provide any more information about how much he drank.
Swallow testified she suspected Robinson was impaired at the time of the crash and advised him he was under arrest for impaired driving causing death.
Early in the proceedings, Swallow’s testimony was the subject of a voir dire, a trial within a trial to determine the admissibility of evidence. Crossin applied to have her evidence ruled inadmissible because, he said, Robinson was illegally detained at the time he made the statements to Swallow.
However, Justice Dillon ruled the officer’s evidence was admissible. She said she accepted Swallow’s testimony that she did not close the door of her car until after she arrested Robinson and was ready to take him to Delta police headquarters.
There he was given two breath tests at 11:56 p.m. and 12:16 a.m. with readings of .12 and .10, respectively.
The Crown is arguing that, given his police training and knowledge, Robinson’s actions following the crash were deliberate and designed to evade possible impaired driving charges.
The defence told the court that Robinson “didn’t put his mind to it at all” and was simply moved to drink the vodka by his alcoholism.
With all the testimony complete and the legal arguments made, the fate of the trial is now left up to the judge.
For the Hutchinson family, however, no outcome will make their loss any less difficult.
“Regardless of the outcome, nothing can make our loss less painful,” Judith Hutchinson said at the outset of the trial. “We reverently hope that the outcome of the trial ensures that this individual is not permitted to continue in a position of public trust because given his track record we feel that would be an utter and complete travesty.”