HALIFAX — A Halifax man who murdered an off-duty police officer faces sentencing Monday, even as he fights to have his conviction overturned in part because he says police interview tactics elicited a false confession.
Christopher Garnier, 30, was convicted of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body in December after a jury found that he punched and strangled Catherine Campbell, 36, and used a compost bin to dump her body.
The conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but a hearing to determine when Garnier will be able to apply for parole is set for Monday. Crown lawyer Carla Ball has confirmed that victim impact statements have been filed as part of the sentencing hearing.
Garnier and Campbell had met hours before the 2015 killing at a Halifax bar; Garnier has suggested that she died accidentally during rough sex.
Garnier is appealing his conviction on a number of grounds, including that Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Joshua Arnold erred in not allowing opinion evidence from a cognitive psychologist on whether a statement Garnier gave police was free and voluntary.
In a voir dire decision released after the trial, Arnold notes that Garnier asserted “his confession was false and that this false statement was the product of faulty police interrogation techniques.”
During a nine-hour recorded interview with police, Garnier said he punched Campbell and had his hands around her throat as she was choking, but he repeatedly said he could not remember other details from that night. He exercised his right to remain silent 64 times.
The defence had wanted to call Dr. Timothy Moore — chairman of the Psychology Department at York University’s Glendon College — to testify at the trial about how interrogation techniques and tactics affect memory, and his opinion about the truthfulness of Garnier’s statement.
Arnold ultimately ruled against allowing Moore to testify in that regard.
His written decision, dated April 12, 2018, quotes a report written by Moore, in which the psychologist explains a particular police interrogation technique that is effective in eliciting genuine confessions from someone who is guilty, but also has an inherent risk of extracting false confessions from innocent people.
“During the 6th hour of the interrogation, CG’s (Garnier’s) resolve to follow his lawyer’s advice to remain silent appeared to collapse and he began to answer the detective’s questions. In my opinion, his decision to speak was not intentional. Rather, he simply succumbed to the intense pressure to which he was subjected,” Moore wrote.
“Further, CG’s statements during the remaining portion of the interrogation were, in my view, of questionable reliability because of the manner in which they were elicited… I do not perceive CG’s statements to have been freely or willingly given. Moreover, in light of the means by which they were elicited they are, in my opinion, of dubious reliability in any case.”
In his decision, Arnold noted that Moore never interviewed or examined Garnier as part of his report, nor did he review the Crown disclosure.
“Some of what is contained in Dr. Moore’s report is advocacy dressed up as an expert opinion,” wrote Arnold.
“He opines about Mr. Garnier’s possible state of mind, without having interviewed him. He acknowledges that Mr. Garnier would not be unusually susceptible to interrogative influences, but then hypothesizes that he might have been susceptible for reasons that could apply to anyone.”
Garnier’s appeal claims that his rights were violated under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — which protects the life, liberty and security of a person — and that the verdict was not “reasonably supported by the evidence.”
A notice filed with the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal also claims Arnold’s final instructions to the jury were too complex.
The trial heard Garnier met the Truro police constable at the Halifax Alehouse in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2015.
The jury watched surveillance video showing Garnier and Campbell kissing and dancing before leaving the Alehouse around 3:30 a.m. The prosecution said the two went to an apartment on McCully Street, where Garnier was staying with a friend.
Crown attorney Christine Driscoll told the jury Garnier lost control during a sexual encounter with Campbell, stuffed her lifeless body into a compost bin, and dumped her remains in thick brush near Halifax’s Angus L. Macdonald Bridge.
Testifying in his own defence, Garnier told the jury that during sex play, Campbell encouraged him to choke and slap her: “If she ever resisted, I would have stopped,” he said through tears.
After Campbell died, Garnier said his vision became blurry, he heard loud noises and he couldn’t remember much else.
He said he couldn’t remember using a large compost bin to dispose of the woman’s body near the bridge, where it stayed undetected for nearly five days.
Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Hucker, a defence witness, told the jury that Garnier suffered from acute stress disorder following Campbell’s death, and that could explain his memory loss.
Parole ineligibility for second-degree murder must be set between 10 and 25 years.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press