How police got murder suspect Christopher Garnier to talk
The interrogation video, played to the jury last week at Garnier's second-degree murder trial, offers insight into the tactics employed by police when questioning a suspect.
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HALIFAX — Christopher Garnier had exercised his right to remain silent 64 times.
For hours after police arrested him for the murder of Catherine Campbell, Garnier had said little that might have implicated him in the death of the off-duty police officer.
"I don't know what to do. I have to listen to my lawyer," Garnier said through tears. "I don't want to say anything."
The interrogation video, played to the jury last week at Garnier's second-degree murder trial, offers insight into the tactics employed by police when questioning a suspect. It took two officers nearly six hours before Garnier began to talk about what happened.
The officers — a brawny man in a suit and a pony-tailed woman in plain clothes — appealed to Garnier's morals, telling him that he was a "good guy" who made a mistake, before shifting to a harsher approach.
Finally, Cpl. Jody Allison said to Garnier with an accusatory tone: "Don't tell me she was still alive when you put her in the compost bin."
Garnier sobbed as he replied: "No... She wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing."
The 30-year-old man eventually told police that he watched Campbell bleed from her nose and that he "could hear her take her last breaths" on a pullout couch inside a Halifax apartment in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2015. He described putting his hands around her neck, and removing them when he heard two gasps.
Garnier had met Campbell in a downtown bar. The Crown alleges he punched and strangled the 36-year-old Truro, N.S., police constable in a McCully Street apartment and used a compost bin to dispose of her body near Halifax's Macdonald Bridge. The defence has put forth a hypothetical scenario suggesting Campbell died during a consensual sexual encounter after encouraging Garnier to choke her.
The trial continues Monday.
Playing the tape for jurors last week, Allison told them that he tried to "build a relationship" with Garnier.
He was arrested by police early on Sept. 16, 2015, around the same time Campbell's body was found face down in thick brush. He was interviewed by police later that day for nine hours and 24 minutes.
Garnier can be seen walking into a small interview room at 1:02 p.m., after sleeping for several hours and eating a few bites of a burger and fries from McDonald's, the jury heard last week.
Dressed in a T-shirt and pants, he sits down on a computer chair in the back right corner of the room, placing his hands on his lap, one on top of the other.
"Things went sideways on you, but you're a good guy," Allison tells Garnier in a comforting voice. "I don't think it was your intention for it to end up like it did."
Allison mentions Garnier's background as a firefighter and in occupational health and safety. He tells him he's a hard worker, and notes Campbell was a volunteer firefighter: "Same thing as you — good people."
In the taped interview, he shows Garnier evidence collected by police, including video of a man rolling a compost bin away from the back of the McCully Street flat. Allison passes Garnier a photo of Campbell, her blonde hair down in front of her shoulders.
"She's not with us anymore," said Allison, referring to images spread out chaotically on a table between them throughout the interview.
"You're downtown dancing. She has her legs wrapped around you, and a few hours later, this. How did it get from that point? How did it go from something where you just thought you were going to hook up, to that?"
Allison asks if he realized what he's putting his girlfriend through. The jury has heard Garnier and his girlfriend broke up on Sept. 10, 2015, and made up the next day, hours after the alleged murder.
He shows Garnier a video of his girlfriend — who police had spoken to following Garnier's arrest — crying and telling someone she needed support.
The video of his girlfriend was stopped, but Garnier asks Allison to play more.
"I just wanted to hear her voice,'' said Garnier, sobbing.
The officer says: "Don't let this be the judge of your life. You made a mistake."
"I worked so hard to try and make my parents proud and to provide for (my girlfriend) so I can start a family,'' Garnier replied.
After a few hours, Allison's tone changes.
"There's no doubt in my mind that you're responsible for her death," he said accusingly.
He talks about how Campbell's death has affected others — Campbell's loved ones and his own family, saying "Her mom and dad are destroyed. They're done. Your parents are destroyed."
"There is an explanation. There is a reason this happened," he says to Garnier in a harsh tone. "Her family deserves an explanation."
Garnier asks to use the washroom just after 5 p.m., and when he returns, Det. Const. Michelle Dooks-Fahie takes over the interview, speaking to Garnier in a soft voice.
"Show us that you didn't mean for this to happen," said Dooks-Fahie, sitting close to Garnier and sometimes putting her hand on his shoulder, or holding his hand. "Show me you're not a bad person, Chris. Show people this happened in an instant."
"I'm sorry. I can't," Garnier says.
Allison re-enters the room.
He tells Garnier he was speaking with investigators and knows what Garnier had in the car when he was arrested, including his passport and toiletries. He tells the two officers: "I was going to go somewhere. I don't know where."
"I don't know what I was thinking. I don't want to lie to you," Garnier cries.
And then, something shifts. Asked if Campbell was alive when she went into the compost bin, Garnier replies "No."
"Did she suffer, Chris?" Allison said.
"I don't think," replied Garnier.
"How do you know she didn't suffer? Was it over quick?" the interrogator asked.
"I think so. She wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing." Garnier says, stuffing his hands into his face and sobbing.
He then opens up about his recollections of the night, but repeatedly tells officers that his memories are fuzzy.
Garnier said he remembers being with her in the Halifax Alehouse, a wood-panelled pub just below Citadel Hill where the two had met, but didn't remember who approached who, or going back with her to the McCully Street apartment.
He then recalls standing at the foot of the pullout couch as Campbell bled from her nose, her head at the foot of the bed. He said he may have hit her.
"I didn't know how to say it. I've been trying to remember what happened," said an inconsolable Garnier.
For a few hours, he talks out details he says he's able to remember, and ones he can't.
"I wouldn't have hit her a bunch of times," Garnier said when asked how many times she was punched, noting his hands were not sore.
"I feel like at this point I'm telling you what you want to hear.... If I knew, I'd tell you. I have no reason to hold anything else back at this point."
He eventually tells the officers that his hands were on her neck, and that he removed them when he heard gasps. He was asked to describe how his hands were on Campbell's throat, and held his hands out in front of him, his fingers fanned out and his thumbs touching.
"To get that off your chest, it must feel better," Allison said reassuringly.
At about 9:30 p.m., Allison tells him there is a pen and a piece of paper on the table, and the officers leave the room.
Left alone, Garnier takes a long drink of water and hugs his arms into his stomach, gazing towards the floor before picking up the pen.
"If I could give my own life to get hers back, I would,'' he wrote in blue pen on lined paper in a letter addressed to Campbell's loved ones.
"I don't expect you to forgive me for what happened, so I won't ask for your forgiveness... I only hope this will give you some closure.''
Garnier sits back in the chair and takes a bite of a sandwich wrap. He rubs his eyes.
The officers return to the room and Allison reads the letter aloud, as Garnier sits with a bottle of water clutched in his hands. They ask him a few more questions before informing him that the interview was over.
Garnier leaves the room at 10:26 p.m.
Last week, defence lawyer Joel Pink noted Garnier exercised his right to remain silent 64 times during the interview. Under cross-examination, Allison did not dispute that number.
Garnier has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body.
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