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Altercation that led to second-degree murder charge described in court

Joan McDonnell told a murder trial jury that she remembered her neighbour and friend Bill Atkins grab Andre Wareham and wrestled him to the ground.
FILE -- Police escort Andre Wareham from the Superior Court of Justice on March 14, 2011. (Jeff Labine,

Joan McDonnell told a murder trial jury that she remembered her neighbour and friend Bill Atkins grab Andre Wareham and wrestled him to the ground.

McDonnell took the stand Wednesday at the Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay as the Crown continued to present its case in the second-degree murder trial against Andre Wareham. The court learned that McDonnell lived in the same apartment building as both the victim Atkins and now accused Wareham.

Wareham faces second-degree murder charges in connection to the death of Atkins.

She said the fight broke out after Atkins asked Wareham where he could get marijuana. Wareham told him he wouldn’t help him.

That’s when Atkins became mad and grabbed Wareham, she said.

“(Atkins) just grabbed a hold of (Wareham) and threw him against the wall,” McDonnell told the court.

“They were sort of wrestling. I told them to stop fighting. They weren’t hitting with fists just grabbing.”

McDonnell told the court that she was a friend of Atkins and his mother and that they would often spend time together.

Atkins even knew McDonnell’s son.

McDonnell said on Jan. 14, 2009 she was visiting the Atkins’ in their basement apartment along with Matt Vezina, a friend of the family.

Atkins and Vezina both drank a beer and later pawned a TV and used the money from that to buy more beer.

They brought beer back to the apartment and shared it with everyone.

Later on in the day, Vezina had gone to lie down.

McDonnell said it appeared he had too much to drink.

Atkins had wanted to go for more beer, but needed someone’s identification.

McDonnell volunteered to go with him, but they had to get her identification from her apartment.

They made their way to her apartment through the main entrance and up the third flight of stairs. On her way back down, Wareham came through the door.

McDonnell said that’s when Atkins asked him where he could get marijuana and how the fight started.

She said when the two were on the ground she ran to get Atkins' mother in order to break up the fight.

The two women woke up Vezina and raced back to the main hallway.

When they arrived they saw Atkins slumped face down partially up the stairs, she said.

Vezina, who testified before McDonnell on Tuesday, said they didn’t know how badly Atkins was hurt and thought he was just knocked out.

Vezina said he had to move Atkins from the stairwell so that McDonnell could get up to her apartment in order to use the phone.

He laid him in a sitting position against the opposite wall and tried to revive him. He said after a few minutes the paramedics arrived.

During cross-examination, Wareham’s lawyer, Steven Hinkson, said that when Atkins drank he would snap, get angry and sometimes violent.

Hinkson pointed out that Vezina used the word snap during his interview with police following the stabbing.

Vezina said he couldn’t recall a time when Atkins became violent but admitted that he could become angry.

“He would get angry but he wouldn’t get violent,” he said. “I haven’t seen him get angry at anybody really. Not off the top of my head.”

The court also heard from paramedics and police that were there at that time.

Jeff Monas, an advanced care paramedics with Superior North EMS, said he and his partner and a student responded to the call around 5:30 p.m.

When they arrived, Monas noted the amount of the blood on the walls.

“There was a good deal of blood on the scene,” Monas said. “There was blood all over the walls. No matter where I went there would be blood so I thought I better be careful. Immediately upon entering the hallway, I turned to the left and saw an individual slumped over. The first thing upon visualizing Mr. Atkins was he wasn’t breathing or conscience.”

Monas said he started CPR while his student wrapped Atkins’ wound.

A short period later, Monas’ partner returned and they were able to lift Atkins out of the apartment.

The paramedics spent about five minutes at the apartment.

Monas testified that Atkins appeared to have no vital signs and there wasn’t much bleeding once they arrived because his heart had stopped.

There was enough blood on the walls of the narrow hallway that both Monas and his partner had smears of blood on both their jackets.

Upon seeing the scene again, Monas admitted that he thought there was more blood than what was shown in the photo.

None of the charges against the accused have been proven in court.

The trial continues on Thursday.


Follow Jeff Labine on Twitter: @Labine_reporter