Some evidence about death of Cape Breton teen who fell under bus inadmissible

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SYDNEY, N.S. — Portions of a statement that a teen witness gave to police will not be admitted as evidence in the trial of a Cape Breton boy charged with criminal negligence causing the death of an 18-year-old classmate, a provincial court judge ruled Monday.

The 15-year-old defendant, who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is accused of pushing Christopher Chafe under the wheels of a moving school bus outside Sydney Academy last winter. Court heard the rear wheels of the bus rolled over Chafe’s head and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Provincial court Judge Peter Ross ruled as inadmissible those portions of the witness’s recorded statement that dealt with what he said the accused saw that day, and whether the witness could have been blocking the view of the accused.

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Ross said such evidence amounts to speculation about what someone else saw or thought that day, which is typically considered hearsay.

However, Ross did admit as evidence key portions of the teen’s statement that dealt his recollection of what Chafe and the accused said just before the victim fell under the bus around 2 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2015.

In his police statement, the teen said that just before the accused used two hands to shove Chafe over a snowbank, Chafe was joking around with a group of students on the sidewalk in front of the high school.

 “The boys were just hanging around pushing each other in the snowbanks, just for fun,” the witness told Const. Mike Somerton during a voluntary interview at the Cape Breton Regional Police station in Sydney only a few hours after the grisly event.

 “Chris Chafe, he jokingly said: ‘What would happen if you push me in front of the bus?’ And no one took it seriously. He (the accused) pushed him a little too hard … and he slid right under the bus.”

The teen told police twice that the accused did not say a word before the push. That, too, was admitted as evidence by the judge.

The recorded statement became a point of contention last week when the witness offered testimony in court that either contradicted or failed to confirm his earlier statement.  When asked in court about what he saw that day, the boy repeatedly said he couldn’t recall or he didn’t know.

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As a result, Ross ruled his statement inadmissible on the grounds that it conflicted with what he was saying in the witness box. The judge noted that the 10-minute statement, on its own, amounted to hearsay because it was made outside the court and was not tested by cross-examination.

However, defence lawyer Matt MacNeil argued Monday that certain hearsay evidence can be allowed as evidence if it meets certain tests, including whether it is reliable and necessary to the trial.

Somerton, a 27-year veteran of the police force, testified that the witness had no trouble answering his questions even though the teen had witnessed a “horrific” scene.

When Crown attorney Mark Gouthro asked Somerton if the teen may have been in shock, the officer said: “No, he was fine.”

In his decision, Ross said the videotaped statement shows the teen is “composed” and has no trouble answering the officer’s questions.

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“He had no apparent reason to shape the truth or to withhold the truth,” the judge told the court, adding that the officer’s questions were open-ended and lacked any overt pressure.

The trial will resume Wednesday.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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