No witness, no biting case
Charge dismissed after MacPherson jailed 5 months

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 01/96) - A Supreme Court judge has dismissed an assault charge against a Yellowknife man after a Crown lawyer failed to produce the case's key witness.

Craig Randall MacPherson, 31, spent nearly five months in jail awaiting trial.

"It seems to me her non-attendance here today can only be a deliberate desire to avoid giving evidence," said Justice John Vertes during the brief trial Tuesday afternoon.

"I would have expected ... fairly extraordinary efforts would have by taken by the Crown (to produce the witness), especially because the accused has been sitting in custody for over four months while awaiting trial," he said.

MacPherson said in a brief interview following the trial that he should have never been kept in custody that long.

"I should have been out two months ago. This is ridiculous," he said. "Vertes obviously made the right call. I'm glad to be out," he said.

Defence lawyer Noel Sinclair told court the witness - who is also the complainant - approached him days prior to the trial to discuss the case.

"It was plain to me that the complainant did not want the trial to go ahead," he said. "It's getting to the point where Mr. MacPherson's constitutional rights to a speedy trial ... are being infringed upon."

Crown lawyer Scott Cooper, who recently took over the case, asked Vertes to issue an arrest warrant for the witness and adjourn the trial to later in the week or early December, but Vertes refused.

"The Crown could have and should have taken steps over the last month ... to ensure the (witness's) appearance," he said.

Last June RCMP charged MacPherson with causing bodily harm by striking, choking and biting as well as uttering death threats after his girlfriend complained he struck her and bit her on the cheek.

In an August hearing, a Supreme Court judge ordered him jailed until his trial. He waived his right to a bail hearing in June and had been in jail since his arrest.

A Crown lawyer later reduced MacPherson's charges to the single count of causing bodily harm, and yesterday Cooper stayed that charge and replaced it with the less serious charge of assault.