Christopher Garnier choked back tears as he testified Monday at his murder trial, telling the jury that off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell encouraged him to choke and slap her before she died.
Garnier’s lawyer, Joel Pink, opened the defencecase by telling the 14-member Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury that Campbell, 36, died accidentally during “rough sex” that she had
initiated. He then called his client to the stand.
Garnier, 30, said he had broken up with his common-law girlfriend Brittany Francis on Sept. 10, 2015 and went to stay at a friend’s apartment on McCully Street in Halifax’s north end. They smoked cannabis, drank alcohol and later went downtown to take his mind off the break-up and to celebrate Garnier getting a new job.
Garnier said he met Campbell
at the Halifax Alehouse in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2015. He said they danced and kissed before leaving the bar around 3:30 a.m. and going back to his friend’s flat.
There, Campbell asked Garnier if he was “into domination,” he said.
“I didn’t really say anything,” said Garnier, who testified he had never participated in domination before and was caught off guard by the suggestion.
He said he told her he didn’t want to have sex and she said: “That doesn’t mean we can’t play.”
“She asked me to choke her,” he said. “She told me it was OK and not to worry.”
He said he put pressure on her neck with one hand, but she asked him to squeeze harder, so he started using his other hand as well. He had both hands on her neck for 30 seconds, he said.
“I don’t think I was using very much force,” said Garnier, who appeared emotional throughout his testimony as he spoke directly to the jury. “If she ever resisted, I would have stopped.”
They then moved to a pullout couch in the den, he said.
Pink asked Garnier, who was dressed in a dark sweater and dark pants, to step down from the witness stand and describe what happened next, using a table to imitate the mattress on the pullout.
He stood directly in front of the jury and walked backwards towards a rectangular table behind him, saying that he was leading Campbell to the bed and that she was walking backwards towards it.
He laid down on the table, saying Campbell’s head was at the foot end of the mattress. He leaned on his right side to describe how he was situated on Campbell, his right arm on her throat and his left arm fondling her.
He said she asked him to slap her.
“I did it three times, fast,” said Garnier, adding that he wasn’t looking at her face while he was slapping her because, “I was uncomfortable and embarrassed about what I was doing.”
He said she then grabbed his arm and pushed it on her neck, and that he felt his arm getting wet, and saw blood.
Garnier said he went to get a towel and when he returned, she wasn’t moving. He said he shook her shoulders and saw her open her eyes and gasp.
“I could hear air come out of her lungs,” said Garnier, who spoke with a low voice throughout his testimony and was asked to speak up numerous times.
Garnier said he then vomited.
The image of Campbell lying motionless on the pullout couch was imprinted in his mind, said Garnier.
He said that at the time, he stepped back and repeated to himself, “She’s dead.” His vision became blurry and he felt sick to his stomach.
Garnier has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder of the Truro police constable and interfering with a dead body.
He told the jury he doesn’t remember putting Campbell in a wheeled compost bin to dispose of her body near Halifax’s Macdonald Bridge, where it was found five days later.
He said in the days following, he couldn’t remember details about what happened.
Garnier said when police first showed him surveillance footage from that morning of a manrolling a compost bin away from the McCully Street flat, “It was like watching somebody else in my body.”
Garnier said he recalled looking up and seeing the pillars of the ramp leading up to the bridge, and then being in the apartment on a couch when his friend Mitch Devoe returned later that same day.
He said he does not recall walking through the city’s north end with a compost bin, or what happened to the mattress from the pullout couch. The jury has heard that the mattress has never been found.
He said he drove through the north end and by the bridge roughly 12 times, trying to piece together what happened. He was arrested in the early hours of Sept. 16, 2015, after driving by the area where her body was found off Valour Way.
During cross-examination, Crown attorney Christine Driscoll noted that Garnier told police during an interrogation that he hit Campbell with his fist and choked her.
Garnier said he didn’t tell them about Campbell asking him to choke her because he “didn’t remember everything that happened” and was “trying to process what happened.”
“They would think I was just trying to blame it on her,” said Garnier.
“Well you’re blaming her today, aren’t you,” Driscoll said.
Garnier said he was telling the officers what they wanted to hear, and believed them when they repeatedly told him things like it
was an accident and a mistake.
“At that point, it was the only thing getting me out of that room,” Garnier said.
He conceded that he did not perform CPR on Campbell, despite his training as a firefighter, and that he did not call 911.
Driscoll also noted that Garnier was thinking straight enough that morning to place Campbell in the most thick brush in the area, where it stayed for days undetected.
“I wasn’t trying to conceal,” Garnier said. “I don’t know what I was doing.”
Garnier also read aloud the letter he wrote to Campbell’s family during the interrogation, crying as he said he was sorry for what happened and that he meant everything he wrote.
“I would do anything to change what happened. If I could talk to her family I would say that I am sorry,” he said through tears, briefly glancing in the direction of Campbell’s family sitting in the courtroom gallery.
Driscoll will continue with her cross-examination of Garnier on Tuesday.