SYDNEY, N.S. – A judge has found a Nova Scotia man guilty of murdering a 19-year-old woman solely for thrills, in a case that turned partly on evidence from a dead witness.
Thomas Ted Barrett, 41, continued strangling Brett McKinnon because watching her die “excited” him, said Judge Robin Gogan.
McKinnon’s decayed remains were found in 2008 near a Glace Bay hiking trail, two years after she went missing.
It is the first of two murder trials for Barrett involving young female victims.
On Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Gogan convicted him of second-degree murder, saying she accepted evidence from Crown witnesses who said Barrett had told them he’d killed McKinnon with his bare hands.
Gogan described a frightening scene in the last minutes of the young woman’s life.
“Mr. Barrett became upset … He grabbed her and choked her by the throat. He thought he broke her neck,” said the judge.
“He continued to strangle her because the act of watching her die excited him.”
The Crown case relied partly on Sheryl Ann Flynn’s videotaped account of Barrett telling her in 2009 that he felt “a rush” of adrenaline as his hands tightened on McKinnon’s throat.
Gogan said during her decision that Flynn’s evidence, given before her overdose death, was weakened because she couldn’t be cross examined by defence counsel.
However, she also said similar testimony from other Crown witnesses was consistent with a “bizarre pattern of disclosure” by Barrett to acquaintances and girlfriends that built a case proving his guilt.
“It belies coincidence,” said Gogan.
The judge cited the evidence of a former friend of Barrett’s, Chris Andrews, who testified during the trial about a conversation with the accused after McKinnon’s body was found.
He had also told court that Barrett told him he strangled McKinnon, and he watched her pupils dilating.
Defence lawyer Brian Bailey had painted a picture of Flynn and other witnesses as drug addicts with criminal records, saying their credibility was suspect.
But the judge didn’t accept his arguments, saying she found the testimony to be credible when viewed as a whole.
Gogan also said she accepted the Crown’s theory that Barrett wrapped his victim in a carpet and took her to a location and disposed of her.
Barrett is also charged in the second-degree murder of Laura Jessome, 21, in 2012, whose remains were discovered May 25 in a hockey bag floating on the Mira River.
“I feel happy for the McKinnon family, it must be a big thing to get some relief after all these years,” said Laura Jessome’s mother, Edna Jessome, in an interview outside of court.
Jessome has attended all but two days of the trial and said she has formed close bonds with the McKinnon family, who declined comment after the verdict.
“Little Brett finally has justice served. That’s all we’re seeking.”
She said it will be difficult for her to sit through another trial in the case involving her daughter.
“It’s hard when you stop and realize … you have to go through this again.”
Barrett was surrounded by sheriffs when he stood for his verdict in the packed courtroom, but he showed no visible emotion.
McKinnon’s family members wept and some clapped lightly as the verdict was read.
The judge set down April 13 as the sentencing hearing date in Sydney.