THUNDER BAY – The Crown argues evidence supports the inference that Patrick O’Keese was with Brayden Moonias the night he was murdered in 2017, but the defense says that evidence is all circumstantial and based on speculation, resulting in reasonable doubt.
Closing submissions were presented by counsel on the eighth and final day of the second-degree murder trial against O’Keese for his alleged role in the death of 18-year-old Moonias, whose body was found on a beach the morning of Aug. 6, 2017 near the Marina Park overpass.
On Thursday, Crown attorney Jane-Ann McGill submitted into evidence an agreed statement of facts, outlining the discovery of Moonias’ body the morning of Aug. 6, as well as video surveillance footage showing O’Keese and Moonias together in the early evening of Aug. 5 at an apartment building and O’Keese purchasing beer from the Beer Store on Cumberland Street.
The defense did not call any witnesses or submit any evidence during the trial.
McGill informed Justice Tracey Nieckarz that the Crown is seeking a conviction on the charge of second-degree murder but if she feels premeditation has not been proven, the Crown would seek a conviction on the charge of manslaughter.
McGill said the evidence in the case is circumstantial but Moonias’ death is a homicide based on findings of the forensic pathologist who said several factors resulted in his death, including blunt impact trauma to the head and neck, mechanical airway obstruction, and ethanol and cocaine toxicity.
“He did not suffer all of these injuries as a result of an accident or series of accidents,” McGill said. “Some of the injuries, like the fracture to the orbital bone would be difficult to receive as a fall.”
Dirt and debris found in Moonias airways, lungs, and stomach was also likely the result of someone either pushing his face into the sand or forcing the materials into this mouth, McGill said, adding that inhalation could have resulted in some materials being drawn into his airways, but the amount found in his body makes that scenario unlikely.
McGill also reiterated earlier testimony from Skylar Linklater and Brandon Yesno who resided at a Machar Avenue apartment to seeing O’Keese and Moonias leaving together in the late afternoon of Aug. 5 with plans to go drinking, as well as video surveillance that places them together in the early evening.
O’Keese was then observed back at that residence around 11 p.m. that night, where he was described as frantic and edgy, as well as having blood on his clothing and face.
“When interviewed by police, Mr. O’Keese lied about being with Moonias that afternoon and evening which was an attempt to distance himself from the murder,” McGill said.
Forensic evidence also linked O’Keese to Moonias, McGill argued, citing his DNA being found under one of Moonias’ fingernails.
The Crown’s case also relied upon evidence from another assault scene in Marina Park where a victim was attacked and had his eyes stabbed out.
The victim had testified earlier in the trial, but his evidence was subject to a Voir Dire, with the Crown arguing his evidence should be considered admissible as it helps place O’Keese in the Marina Park area that night, while the defense argued the evidence had no direct connection to the Moonias case.
Ultimately, Justice Nieckarz ruled the evidence was admissible.
The victim testified of being kicked in the chest while sleeping on a bench in Freedom Park near the Marina. His eyes were then stabbed with what he believed to be a pen. The victim did not see the attacker but was later told it was a man he had seen several weeks earlier he had known as Patrick.
The victim said he believed the attack happened in the morning, though admitted to having trouble remembering the incident and also told police it happened around dinner time the day before.
Clothing seized from O’Keese was found to have blood stains and a DNA anaylsis identified two profiles, one belonging to O’Keese and a second profile in which the victim could not be excluded as the source.
O’Keese was also charged with aggravated assault from the night of Aug. 5, which will be heard as a separate charge before the courts.
McGill laid out the Crown’s theory that Moonias and O’Keese were at the beach near the Marina Park overpass where they consumed a significant amount of alcohol, became involved in a physical dispute resulting in Moonias’ death. Upon leaving the scene, O’Keese then encountered the victim on the bench, assaulted him by stabbing his eyes, and returned to the Machar Avenue residence where he discarded his blood-stained t-shirt and hid.
“The elimination of an eye witness, destruction of evidence, hiding, lying to the police are clear evidence of a consciousness of guilt for his actions that night,” McGill said.
Crown connecting O’Keese to murder is Illogical and speculative says defense
Defense counsel Kevin Matthews disagreed with theory of the Crown, saying it is illogical and not supported by the evidence.
“Ultimately, we have no idea what happened to Mr. Moonias,” Matthews said. “There is certainly reasonable inference that Mr. O’Keese had no reasonable involvement.”
Matthews added that there are multiple other reasonable inferences in terms of what could have happened the night of Aug. 5, such as O’Keese’s DNA being found under Moonias’ fingernail the result of innocent transfer when handing him a cigarette captured on camera, O’Keese’s behaviour the night of Aug. 5 at the Machar Avenue residence the result of him missing his curfew at the John Howard Society, or that O’Keese never met Moonias on the corner of River and Cumberland Street that evening and did not go to Marina Park.
In terms of O’Keese telling police when providing a witness statement that he had not seen Moonias the afternoon of Aug. 5 or left with him from the Machar Avenue residence, Matthews said there could have been a number of explanations for the disparity between the statement and witness testimony.
“Were memory issues at play when he provided that statement, intoxication, anger, a tooth ache?” Matthews said. “Perhaps Mr. O’Keese had an inclination not to talk to police, especially when he was on a release order. And given the atmosphere in the city between Indigenous people and police, perhaps he was concerned.”
Matthews also questioned if Moonias’ death could be ruled a homicide beyond a reasonable doubt, arguing his injuries could have been the result of repeatedly falling, passing out on the beach, and then inhaling the sand and debris into his lungs.
“The complicated cause of death we are left with leave us more questions than answers, the most important of which is if this is even a homicide,” he said.
With respect to assault victim found in Freedom Park, Matthews pointed out inconsistencies in his evidence, including the time the attack took place, as well other people talking about the incident and informing part of his memory.
Matthews also argued that what happened to the victim in Freedom Park was not linked to the Moonias case with any evidence.
“It is certainly within reason that what happened to (the victim) was a random act, not a calculated assault that had anything to do with Mr. Moonias,” he said. “Other than potential proximity, we continue to submit that these incidents cannot be connected.”
Matthews said speculating that O’Keese was involved in Moonias’ death is just that, a speculation and therefore raises a reasonable doubt.
“We take the position that gaps in the circumstantial evidence cannot be bridged,” he said.
O’Keese was also charged with two counts of breaching a recognizance order by being out past curfew and not refraining from purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol.
The matter will return at the end of November to set a date for judgement.