DNA evidence presented in 3rd week of high-profile B.C. prison escape murder trial – BC | Globalnews.ca – Global News


Evidence in the form of blood and DNA was presented to jurors Friday in a high-profile murder case involving two suspects who escaped from a Vancouver Island prison.

Zachary Armitage and James Lee Busch are charged with first-degree murder in the death of 60-year-old Martin Payne on July 8, 2019. Payne was killed one day after the pair escaped the minimum-security William Head Institution, located about eight kilometres from Payne’s home in Metchosin.

The five-week trial, however, only concerns Busch. As of this week, Armitage’s file is being dealt with separately, according to B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin.

Read more: Trial ends for 1 of 2 suspects in high-profile B.C. prison escape murder trial

Payne was found dead in his bathroom on July 12, 2019, a pool of blood by his head, and duct tape binding his arm and leg. A hatchet, Bowie knife, shoes and a waffle shirt were recovered from the scene.

DNA on all of those objects matched the victim’s with almost 100 per cent, Christine Crossman, an RCMP forensic biologist and expert in DNA analysis, told a 12-member jury on Friday.

Other DNA profiles were found as well — one unknown man’s DNA was on the waffle shirt and some chewing gum, as well as a cigarette butt found in Payne’s pickup truck. Another man’s DNA was found on a pair of shoes and a pair of underwear in Payne’s home, Crossman testified.

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When Busch’s defense lawyers cross-examined the witness, jurors heard how DNA evidence can be transferred to objects without physical contact. The defense has not yet begun its arguments.

The murder trial at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver began more than two weeks ago. Both suspects entered not-guilty pleas on Nov. 14.

The Crown’s theory is that Payne was killed in his home after returning from his job as a mail carrier in Victoria the day after the prison breakout, which Armitage and Busch accomplished by walking along the shoreline at low tide. They were arrested on July 9, 2019, after they approached a man walking a dog who happened to be an off-duty police officer.

Read more: B.C. homicide victim’s daughters remember ‘caring, compassionate’ dad as trial continues

To date, jurors have heard that a fingerprint was recovered from the tape dispenser found in Payne’s bathroom. The print matched Armitage’s in a federal database and the Crown has argued that the tape dispenser was used to bind Payne’s arm and leg.

Armitage’s prints were also recovered from a notepad found next to Payne’s computer in his master bedroom, jurors heard. On the notepad was written, “What is your pin for your cards.”

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Earlier in the trial, a digital forensics expert testified that someone logged into Payne’s computer just after 7 a.m. on the day of the murder and used a Chrome browser that had never been opened before.

The user began searching for terms related to a prison escape, the expert said on Nov. 16.

Between 6:57 a.m. and 1 p.m., searches for Victoria news, free pornography, the William Head Institution, two men escaping a Victoria-area prison, “private water taxi,” and “Zachary Armitage” were logged.

The computer went to sleep at 2:06 p.m. and was never used again, according to the digital forensics expert.

Read more: Searches for free porn, prison escape news logged on B.C. homicide victim’s computer, jury hears

Under cross-examination by Busch’s lawyer, the expert agreed that while Armitage’s name appeared in Payne’s computer search history, the name “James Lee Busch” did not.

The court has also heard that about 10 minutes after the search for “private water taxi” was logged from Payne’s Metchosin home, someone called the Gulf Island Water Taxi inquiring about ferry service to the Lower Mainland — a service the company does not provide.

Less than three hours after that, Armitage called former-inmate James George seeking money and a ride, George testified on Nov. 17. The pair had become friends behind bars, but George said he told Armitage on the phone that he “didn’t want anything to do” with him and later changed his phone number.

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A Crown witness who worked at the William Head Institution and helped search for the fugitives after their escape has testified that he doesn’t know whether Armitage and Busch had weapons with them when they left.

Under cross-examination by Armitage’s lawyer, that witness agreed that inmates had to earn some trust in order to end up at the minimum-security facility, where they live in clusters of duplexes to which they are not confined during the day.

Security measures include alarms that are activated on the duplex doors every night at 10 p.m., checks and counts performed throughout the day to ensure all inmates are accounted for, and cameras on the institution’s property, the witness testified.

The Crown expects to wrap up its arguments next Tuesday.

Read more: Inmate sought money and a ride after B.C. prison breakout, murder trial hears

Payne’s daughters, Jessica and Calla Payne, have attended each day of the trial. They describe their father as a fun-loving “goofball” who was “caring and compassionate,” and beloved by friends, family, co-workers and community.

“We could call him when we were teenagers at any hour of the night … no questions asked,” Jessica previously told Global News.

“He was the best dad we could have hoped for and everyone that met him had a positive impression of him.”

— with files from The Canadian Press’ Brenna Owen