Laura Babcock’s accused killer is portraying himself as a thoughtless jerk: DiManno
Dellen Millard continues to depict himself in court as an utterly unpleasant person who didn’t give a fig about the people he wounded and deceived, writes Rosie DiManno.
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It was a question intended to belittle and embarrass.
“How do you spell the word hangar?”
Honest to God, this reporter, for one, was silently urging the witness to shoot back with a hyphenated obscenity: ---- Y-O-U.
Crown attorney Jill Cameron was promptly on her feet, objecting. Justice Michael Code agreed.
“I can’t see the relevance,” he said.
For a good hour, by that point, Dellen Millard had been eliciting evidence that Marlena Meneses — head over heels in love with his best friend, Mark Smich, back in the late spring of 2012 — had been a dull-witted teenage high school dropout with scarcely two brain cells to rub together.
And a mooch, both she and Smich living off his generosity, smoking his weed, drinking his booze, semi-residing at his Etobicoke home.
For a bit of pin money, Meneses would do odd jobs, including cleaning out the toilet at the H-A-N-G-A-R owned by his family’s aviation business.
Meneses, 18 at the time, had moved out of her own home after quarrelling with her stepfather. She and Smich had been involved for about a year.
“You kind of liked me at the beginning?” Millard asked.
Yes, she did.
“As time moved on, you didn’t like me as much?”
Meneses: “That’s correct.”
These were all facts which Meneses, a key witness for the prosecution, had made clear under direct examination last Friday. On Tuesday, when the trial now into its fifth week resumed, it was Millard’s chance to cross-examine.
Millard and Smich have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the disappearance and presumed death of Laura Babcock shortly after Canada Day, 2012. The 23-year-old’s remains have never been found. The prosecution maintains that Babcock was killed July 3-4, her body burned in an incinerator at the hangar on July 23.
While Meneses was not sure of the exact date — and hadn’t been asked — she’d testified about seeing the incinerator, the Eliminator as it was dubbed, in action late one night after Millard drove the three of them to the hangar, claiming he needed to “test” the machine. Ordered to stay in the car, she’d stepped out to investigate after hearing a sharp cracking sound.
“I passed by it and I saw smoke coming out of it and it had a crackling noise.”
The jury has seen a brief video of the Eliminator purportedly doing its business around midnight that evening, bits of orange-hot embers wafting into the air.
On Tuesday, Millard — he’s representing himself at trial — spent a great deal of time exploring the dynamics among the trio of friends, depicting Meneses in particular as a leech he’d tolerated, out of an excess of charity.
He reminded Meneses of all the times he’d played trivia games with her, a kind of torment.
“It made you feel dumb?”
Indeed it had.
“It hurt your feelings.”
If so, and Meneses agreed to feelings of inferiority, way over her head with this wealthy and charismatic scion, she is no longer that cowering naïf of five years ago. On several occasions she raised her voice and snapped back at Millard.
“You used to smoke a lot of weed, right?’’
“Wherever we were going, you came with us?”
“I smacked your butt once, didn’t I?”
Meneses: “Yes, and actually it was more than once.”
“You gave me a dirty look, so I knew you didn’t like it. It was unwanted contact.”
As in his cross-examination of other witnesses — mutual friends from that era who knew about the bad blood which had apparently developed between Millard and Babcock — the defendant continued to portray himself as an utterly unpleasant person who didn’t give a fig about the people he wounded and deceived.
The Crown’s theory is that Millard decided to eliminate Babcock after she’d bragged to his current girlfriend that they were still having sex, triggering bitterness and counter-accusations of infidelity. Millard seems intent on portraying himself as someone who didn’t care about the melodrama swirling around his relationships and thus would have no motive for killing Babcock.
“Do you pay rent now?” Millard asked, mildly.
Meneses had told court she is living with her mother and has recently been promoted to assistant manager at her workplace. “I have a job and I pay for everything by myself.”
“Do you still smoke cigarettes?” Millard continued.
Meneses wondered aloud if she was required to answer these pointless questions.
Unperturbed, Millard continued outlining his generosity; the care he took of Meneses and her likewise broke boyfriend.
“I woke you guys up in the morning . . . ”
“I took you to Tim Horton’s . . . ”
“And Harvey’s for lunch . . . ”
“And shawarma for dinner . . . ”
“BBQ from Costco . . . ”
“There was even a time when I left my card with you guys to order pizza.”
“Who paid for your phone?”
Meneses acknowledged all of it. The words almost whiplashed out of her: “At the same time, we were doing work for you, so you felt obligated to pay. I worked for that.”
Zigzagging, Millard recalled an occasion where Meneses — who’d taken a mechanics course — was able to remove a broken tail light from a Cadillac after he had fumbled the procedure.
“You felt good to do a job that I wasn’t able to do.”
Meneses: “It felt amazing.”
Millard, as the avuncular pal: “Despite disliking me, the teasing, you learned a lot from me, didn’t you?”
Meneses, dryly: “Oh, I learned a lot from all of this.”
While Smich, tapping away at his laptop next to his defence lawyer, never once glanced up at the witness, Millard methodically depicted his co-defendant’s relationship with Meneses as casually cruel. “It was a controlling and abusing relationship, wasn’t it? He didn’t like to call you his girlfriend. He called you a bitch, or The Bitch.”
And he, Millard, had never intervened to modify Smich’s behaviour, had he? “Maybe you should have,” Meneses responded, quietly.
Meneses admitted that she’d told one small lie on the stand Tuesday and immediately took it back — at first denying that she’d fired a handgun which belonged to Millard, then conceding she had. “Yes, I fired that gun.” So, a lie? “I know, I’m sorry.”
She’d similarly been untruthful in her first interview with police. But not, as the Crown was able to get on the record in redirect, in her eight subsequent interviews.
In the latter part of Tuesday, Crown attorney Ken Lockhart called to the stand Andrew Michalski, who’d been close friends with Millard since Grade 11 and knew Babcock as well.
Michalski said he was interested in dating Babcock back in 2012, after she and Millard had their “hookup.” He’d asked Millard for permission. “He gave me his blessing.” Nothing came of it, however.
Jurors have already heard that Millard, in April, had asked Michalski to keep him updated on Babcock, to know her whereabouts.
While he was working at a job in Winnipeg later that summer, Michalski came across a Facebook posting about Babcock being missing. He and Millard briefly exchanged text messages about it.
“I asked him what was up.”
But Michalski insisted they never had a direct conversation about it afterward.
“I never had a conversation . . . nothing.”
They’d all been friends and now the young woman had vanished. Surely there would have been some concern for her?
Apparently not, in this self-absorbed coterie of the heartless.
Michalski: “Just because we didn’t think highly of her at that time.”
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.