FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Close to two years after the death of Travis Waite, Judge Rita Bowry rendered her decision in a Fort St. John courtroom on Friday afternoon.
Cody McDonell has been acquitted of a manslaughter charge in connection with the death of 29-year-old Travis Waite on May 18, 2015.
Manslaughter charges had been approved against McDonnell on June 15, 2015. He plead not guilty to the charges in a pretrial hearing on November 18, 2015.
Waite died from injuries sustained in the alleged altercation that happened on May 18, 2015 at a local residence. Waite passed away on May 30, 2015 in Vancouver after being flown there for treatment after he was originally rushed to Fort St. John Hospital.
Before reading her decision, Bowry acknowledged these cases are very difficult for the courts.
“To those of you who attended the trial, I say: these cases are extremely difficult for any court to deal with. I am more than mindful of the pain and suffering this situation has and continues to bare upon the family of Travis Waite.
Travis Waite’s death is tragic. Family, friends and acquaintances continue to grieve over his death.
I must follow the law and in doing so, bring closure to the events of May the 18th, 2015 for those involved.”
Bowry then outlined the events from that day that were presented during the trial.
“The core of the manslaughter charge is that Cody McDonell caused the death of Travis Waite by an unlawful act which was objectively dangerous, the one punch administered by Cody McDonell, to Travis Waite.
The issues that need determination are whether Cody McDonell caused Travis Waite’s death as a result of the punch, and if he did, whether Cody McDonell acted in self defence.”
She explained that there is no issue of the date (when) and the place where the event in which the charge was based from and the identification of Cody McDonell as being the person who had physical contact with Travis Waite and that McDonell was the individual that assaulted Travis Waite.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Matthew Orde conducted the autopsy on Waite after his death. He listed the cause of death as a ‘blunt force head injury’. The most significant injury contributing to death was a blow to the back of the head, according to Orde.
“He said it was likely that the head was moving and struck an object or surface, a single blow to the back of the head. The injury proved fatal from the time of affliction, onwards. Travis Waite’s injury to the back of his head could have been from falling from a standing height, he said anything in that ballpark would be reasonable enough to account for those injuries.
He had a significant injury to the back of his head. It is that injury that proved fatal in the end.”
Bowry then moved onto credibility analysis.
“I found Gordon Leer, Quinton Cowan and Cody McDonell to be credible and reliable however, I am mindful that they were drinking and doing drugs and neither of them was paying particular attention to who was coming and going. There respective accounts of what took place was internally consistent apart from how many times Cody McDonell went to the front door. They were not contradicted or shaken in cross examination which was carried out quite skillfully.”
She also confirmed that she believed McDonell was punched by Waite and then McDonell acted in self-defence.
“Naturally, Cody McDonell is in the best position to testify to what happened. Since he has admitted that he punched Travis Waite once, like most witnesses, he too had been drinking and doing drugs which can alter ones memory especially almost two years later. Having said that, Cody McDonell’s testimony was relatively firm and he was sure of himself. Cody McDonell was not shaken in his cross examination.
The Crown asked that I take into account his demeanour as he testified. He was firm in his description of the events and his tears and emotion, I found to be genuine. Upon reviewing the transcripts and audio of the 911 call and McDonell’s testimony, he was consistent with the 911 call and explaining that Travis Waite had possibly fallen down a couple of stairs and hit his head on the concrete. He told Gordon Leer that Travis Waite was still standing when he left the front porch.
Gordon Leer confirmed that is what he was told.
It was a highly stressful situation. Cody McDonell sees Travis Waite unconscious and injured. He tires his best to revive him, brings him into the house and tries to keep him conscious.
It is unlikely that Cody McDonell fabricated his observations at the time he made the 911 call and the explanation he provided to Gordon Leer. From the tone of his voice, his concern was clearly toward Travis Waite’s wellbeing, not any injury he may or may not have sustained.”
As previously stated, Bowry stated in her ruling that she agreed that Waite had struck McDonell first and McDonell was defending himself. She did also however say that the force McDonell exhibited was not necessary or reasonable in the circumstances.
The Crown had established a few key points of manslaughter according to Bowry. Those included an unlawful act and that the unlawful act was objectively dangerous by McDonell.
The remaining issue was causation. Whether or not unlawful act caused or significantly contributed to Waite’s death and whether or not there was an intervening act to break the chain of causation.
“Was it the punch that was actually fatal? On the whole of the evidence, the Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the punch administered by Cody McDonell caused Travis Waite’s death.”
She then continued to tell McDonell that he was also not blameless for the incident.
“Sir, you have been acquitted of this offence because I was left with doubt as to whether your punch caused his death. Even though the Crown was not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt your guilt in this matter, you are not blameless.”