This story contains details readers may find distressing.
Both Crown and defence made their closing arguments Monday in the high-profile first-degree murder trial involving two suspects who escaped from William Head Penitentiary at low tide in July of 2019. Prosecutors are suggesting the pair planned the violent ambush on 60-year-old Martin Payne, but defence argues the evidence is weak.
After almost four weeks at trial, Crown counsel tied all of the evidence together for the 12-person jury Monday, finally weaving the evidence into a storyline.
Their theory is that escaped prisoners Zachary Armitage and James Lee Busch planned their prison break, and murder of Payne, for the money they knew he had in his savings account, to further their escape. Prosecutors even went so far as to call them “inseparable”.
“Every single time they are seen, they are together. From the time of their escape, through to their arrest, they’re together,” said Crown prosecutor Chandra Fisher to the 12-person jury.
From William Head, the duo brought an address book, lighter, and even a first aid kit. But prosecutors say their plan quickly began to fall apart.
Based on witness testimony, Fisher argued Busch and Armitage got lost in the woods, were refused entry into someone else’s home, then successfully stole a truck but crashed it. Even still, Fisher argues, the two stayed together.
Crown painted a picture of a pair who were running out of options and needed a hideout. Fisher said Payne’s isolated Metchosin home “must have seemed like the perfect place to wait.”
When Payne left for work one morning, prosecutors say the pair of escaped prisoners moved in.
Armitage used Payne’s landline to make multiple calls. The first two phone calls he made were to friends asking for money, help, and a ride.
Both requests were denied.
Later in the day, Armitage made a call to a water taxi company to see if it serviced Vancouver Island to the Mainland. It was yet another dead end.
Prosecutors say at this point, Busch and Armitage became desperate, but after seeing Payne’s financial papers on the floor, they believe the duo hatched a plan to violently ambush Payne to torture him for his savings.
Prosecutors say the duo gathered walkie-talkies to communicate, two pairs of gloves, sawed off two axe handles to act as bludgeons for an initial attack, duct tape to restrain Payne, as well as a hatchet and Bowie knife.
“When you arm yourself with those weapons, it’s clear you’re willing to kill somebody because why else would you use those?” Fisher said to the jurors.
Fisher alleges Payne fought for his life against an attack from both front and behind, targeting the most vulnerable parts of the body: his head, and neck. His wounds, a pathologist testified, were consistent with the hatchet and Bowie knife found at the crime scene.
They believe, the two men had trouble keeping 200-pound Payne confined, so they killed him.
This is, among other areas, where Busch’s defence lawyer Ryan Drury took issue.
Drury told the jury that the crown’s evidence is “thin, weak, and speculative”, and argued prosecution’s case is built entirely on circumstantial evidence and thereby asks the jury to speculate.
Instead, Drury offered not an alibi for Busch, but several alternative scenarios using the evidence provided by Crown that could lead to a not-guilty verdict. Including the possible scenario of Payne coming home and surprising the men, and therefore his murder may have not been premeditated.
He also threw co-accused Armitage under the bus, who is “being dealt with in a separate way” according to the trial judge.
“The evidence against him is overwhelming,” said Drury.
Drury suggested Armitage intended to continue his escape to Ontario and therefore needed money, whereas Busch did not.
Defence intends to wrap its closing statements Tuesday morning, then the jury will begin to deliberate. On the line is a first-degree murder charge. The only question now is if the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.