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Crown quashes preliminary inquiry in Duggan murder trial

Crown to proceed with Duggan murder trial without preliminary inquiry. Attempted murder charge of RCMP officers withdrawn.
Crown to proceed with Duggan murder trial without preliminary inquiry. Attempted murder charge of RCMP officers withdrawn. - FILE GRAPHIC

Attempted murder charge of RCMP officers not to proceed

TRURO

NOVA SCOTIA

CANADA

A two-week preliminary inquiry planned for September for murder suspect Ernie Ross (Junior) Duggan has been quashed and the Crown has elected to move straight to trial.

“The Crown is proceeding on the basis of preferred indictment,” senior Crown attorney Peter Craig said Tuesday in provincial court in Truro.

Duggan, 50, of Bayhead is accused of first-degree murder in the death last Sept. 17 of his neighbour, 58-year-old Susan Butlin.

Duggan had also been charged with the attempted murder of several RCMP officers related to an incident after Butlin’s death in the Lockerbie Memorial Cemetery in Tatamagouche. However, that charge was dropped during Tuesday’s hearing.

A two-week preliminary inquiry had been scheduled to begin Sept. 10.

Duggan’s co-defense counsel David Mahoney said the Crown’s “11th-hour” decision was completely unanticipated given that the preliminary inquiry dates had been set 10 months ago. Mahoney said he had not even received a copy of the preferred indictment until earlier in the day.

“And certainly there are some surprises in there. I haven’t even had a chance to tell my client about the nature of what the surprises are,” he told the court Tuesday afternoon. “Certainly this was not contemplated, the preferred indictment.”

The Crown attorney’s office does have the right to skip a preliminary inquiry and proceed through direct indictment, but that decision can only be made by the attorney general of the province. Craig said the document, which was signed by Martin Herschorn, director of Public Prosecutions for Nova Scotia, was filed with the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Craig declined, as is his right, to offer comment to the court for the reason for the preferred indictment.

Outside the court room he said his office “exercised its prerogative” in this case out of a number of concerns, “one of which is delay.”

“We felt the public interest would be preserved by proceeding in this fashion,” Craig said. “And there was some prospect that it could get delayed beyond the currently scheduled dates for the preliminary inquiry, that it wouldn’t be completed.”

Mahoney said outside the court that he and co-counsel Stephanie Hillson had intended to call up to 39 witnesses for the preliminary inquiry. But he said there had also been ongoing discussions with the Crown to reduce that number and he was “absolutely” confident the inquiry could have concluded within its scheduled time frame.

“So we’re somewhat perplexed. There were a number of issues we wished to explore at the preliminary inquiry,” he said. “And Mr. Duggan himself has waited for 10 months since this was set down, for a preliminary inquiry.”

Mahoney acknowledged that proceeding straight to trial eliminates the defense team’s advantage of testing the Crown’s evidence by cross examining witnesses prior to the trial.

“One of the great benefits of the preliminary inquiry is the discovery aspect,” Mahoney said. “We’ve lost the ability to do that. But, again, that is something that the attorney general can do.”

Mahoney said one of the things he had hoped to accomplish during the prelim was to have the attempted murder charge quashed.

“So that certainly is what we were hoping to challenge at the preliminary inquiry at any event and we’re glad to see that that charge is now gone.”

Duggan is next scheduled to appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Truro on Sept. 18 so both sides can discuss setting trial dates.

As well as dropping the attempted murder charge, the Crown filed several new charges against Duggan. They include: intentionally discharging a firearm while being reckless as to the life of another person; possessing a weapon for purpose dangerous to public peace, occupying a motor vehicle while knowing it contained a firearm and possessing a firearm without a license.

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