At Montreal murder trial, lawyers scrutinize forensic evidence
Kwasi Benjamin's lawyers probe evidence handling
Special to Nunatsiaq News
Crown lawyers brought six witnesses to Kwasi Benjamin’s second-degree Montreal murder trial yesterday in an attempt to demonstrate that there’s no chance anyone could have tampered with their forensic evidence.
Benjamin, 32, is accused of killing Nellie Angutiguluk, a mother of three from Puvirnituq, whose body was found in May 2015 inside the apartment she shared with him in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges district.
Under questioning from Crown lawyer Dennis Galiatsatos, Jonathan Boulanger, who works in mortuary transportation, described in detail how the body of Angutiguluk was transported to the coroner on the morning of May 20, 2015.
“Standard protocol is different from police cases,” Boulanger told the court.
“We go to the police and they direct us to the investigators. After having observed the crime scene, we go get our equipment.”
In the case of Angutiguluk, Boulanger and his partner used a foldable gurney, since the corridors of the apartment building are quite narrow.
“When a body is in a bag, do you ever open the seal?” Galiatsatos asked.
“No, you open the seal, you go to prison—it is very clear,” Boulanger said.
He said he dropped off the body at 8 a.m. at the forensics lab in Montreal. Under cross-examination from defence lawyer Neil Demmerle, he was asked how it is carried.
The folding stretcher is carried by hand, Boulanger said. He did it with his partner.
He also explained that during crime investigations, it is the police who put the body in the bag before the transporters arrive and the police are the ones who seal it.
When asked how it is carried, he said it is by the four corners of the bag, unless it is very heavy—which he later explained would not have been the case with Angutiguluk, since she weighed only 135 pounds.
In re-direct, Galiatsatos asked if the belts are ever put on the neck or throat.
“No, it is the middle of the body that is covered,” Boulanger said.
Another witness, Philippe Landry, an employee at the coroner’s office for 30 years, who does mostly dispatch and evidence management, described his work in general and what he could remember doing on the morning of May 20, 2015 when he received Angutiguluk’s body at 8 a.m.
He said he does not ever break the seal of the bag, conduct any tests, or manipulate the limbs or body in any way.
Galiatsatos asked who has access to the area in the coroner’s building where bodies are left.
Landry said just the technologists, pathologists, and police involved in forensics on the case.
“They are secured by a key system,” Landry said. “In order to access it we need to have an identity card.”
“In your experience, has a body ever fallen off a cart?” Demmerle asked.
Landry said yes. When that happens, it is written in a computer database.
“We always transmit that information since it is relevant to the case,” Landry said.
Police officer Julie Geoffroy testified that she had been called on May 21, 2015 to bring four items from the exhibit room directly to pathologist Caroline Tanguay.
She said it was unusual to receive a request to hand evidence over to the pathologist directly—but there was something specific they wanted to check.
She brought an alarm clock, two plastic cords and a nylon cord that were already sealed in a bag to the lab.
When asked by Demmerle if the items were sealed when she took them from the exhibit room, Geoffroy said, “If they had not been sealed, I would not have taken them. That’s the way I work.”
Two lab technicians in DNA biology and toxicology also attested to the security of the physical evidence.
Marie Hélène Lavergne said she confirmed the exhibits matched the form she was given, put the biological samples in the fridge, and the other items on a counter.
In cross-examination, Demmerle asked if there are any protocols to protect evidence from getting misfiled.
“Each item has two identifiers, and they are identified by bar code, so I don’t see how they could be misfiled,” Lavergne said.
They would be processed the next day by Elizabeth Labelle, the lab technician who does DNA analysis.
Labelle testified Thursday that she received 10 exhibits on May 21, scanning them into two different computer systems.
When asked by the defence how she avoids contaminating DNA samples, she explained she wears gloves and a laboratory hood.
The last witness, Guylaine Molin, the toxicology lab technician in 2015, said she was involved in the reception of biological samples in the Angutiguluk case.
She received samples of ocular fluid, femoral and cardiac blood, gastric liquid and a piece of liver.
She put them in the fridge and noted the volume. She said that the only thing she opened was the container for the gastric fluid.
All of the witnesses said the forensics lab includes security arches and guards at the public entrance, and the room the evidence is kept in is inaccessible without an access card.
The trial continues at the Montreal courthouse building on Thursday, when experts will testify about lab results.