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Ontario's first murder case jury in pandemic starts its deliberations

A courtroom sketch of Jimmy Wise.
A courtroom sketch of Jimmy Wise.

What the judge called the first jury trial held in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing the finish line.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips issued his instructions Wednesday to the jury that will decide the fate of James Henry “Jimmy” Wise, 77, a retired mechanic charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ray Collison.

Fourteen jurors were selected for the case as an “insurance policy” against some of them getting sick during the trial.

Phillips told court Wednesday that juror No. 3 did not come to court because she reported being congested with a runny nose. He dismissed that juror and later dismissed one more — using a draw — to reduce the jury to its mandated size of 12 people.

Wise’s defence lawyer, Ian Carter, has told the jury there’s not enough hard evidence to connect his client to the murder of Collison, a Chesterville handyman with mental health and addictions issues who disappeared in August 2009.

Collison’s body wasn’t found until April 2014, when his skull spilled out of a drainage culvert near the town of Morewood. An autopsy revealed he had been shot up to five times, including once in back of the head. A .22-calibre bullet was retrieved from the front of his skull.

Carter said the Crown’s case was just a story, a theory, unsupported by evidence: a murder weapon, fingerprints, DNA evidence, eyewitnesses or a confession.

Crown attorney Jason Pilon has told the jurors it’s the prosecution’s theory that Wise shot Collison in his backyard garage, put the body in his truck and dragged it into the culvert with an engine belt, which was recovered with the remains.

Pilon told jurors Collison was shot five times — an “overkill,” he said, that reflected Wise’s grudge against him.

Court has heard that Wise didn’t like Collison’s drinking, swearing and borrowing money and had warned him to stay away from his home.

Pilon urged the jury to fit together the puzzle pieces of the case — a bullet hole found in Wise’s garage, a blood stain in the back of his truck, lies Wise told about Collison’s disappearance — to find Wise guilty as charged.

In his instructions, Phillips told the jury they would be deciding a case that had only circumstantial evidence. In considering that evidence, he said, jurors must consider other plausible explanations for the circumstances described.

“In order to find Mr. Wise guilty, you must be satisfied that his guilt is the only rational or reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the whole of the evidence,” Phillips said.

The jury began its deliberations late Wednesday afternoon.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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