COVID-19 on trial and a hard-fought conviction: Five Edmonton court cases that stood out in 2021

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A look at Edmonton and area court cases that stood out in 2021:

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Bradley Barton

2021 witnessed the end of a legal saga that lasted a decade and laid bare inequities in how Canadian courts treat Indigenous women and sexual assault complainants.

In February, a jury convicted Bradley Barton of manslaughter for his role in the death of 36-year-old Cindy Gladue, who bled to death in Barton’s north Edmonton hotel room in June 2011. A long-distance trucker, Barton claimed the vaginal injury that killed Gladue occurred unbeknownst to him during consensual sex. The Crown, on the other hand, argued Barton sexually assaulted Gladue, left her to die, then lied about his involvement.

Barton was acquitted of Gladue’s murder after a trial in 2015. The Crown appealed, resulting in a scathing Alberta court of appeal verdict on how Gladue was treated during the first trial. Among other things, Gladue was referred to throughout the trial as a “Native girl” and a “prostitute,” while the Crown presented as evidence a preserved piece of Gladue’s vaginal tissue.

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A courtroom sketch of Bradley Barton, taken on his first day of testimony in his manslaughter trial, Feb. 1, 2021. Credit: Jim Stokes
A courtroom sketch of Bradley Barton, taken on his first day of testimony in his manslaughter trial, Feb. 1, 2021. Credit: Jim Stokes

Barton appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed with the Alberta court’s criticisms but ordered a new trial on a charge of manslaughter instead of murder.

Barton was ultimately convicted and  sentenced to 12 1/2 years . Gladue’s friends, family and supporters across Canada greeted the conviction with relief, but it’s unlikely the last we hear of the case. Shortly after his conviction, both Barton and the Crown appealed . Barton argues Justice Stephen Hillier was wrong to let the jury see his internet search history , while the Crown argues Barton’s sentence is too short.

Landon Karas

In September, Landon Karas walked into a courtroom for the first time in over a decade and again made the case that he did not kill Doreen Bradley.

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Made the case indirectly, at least. He appeared before an Edmonton jury for a “ faint hope ” hearing — an uncommon type of legal maneuver that allows someone sentenced to life in prison to appeal to a jury for a chance at early parole.

Landon Karas was convicted of the 2002 first-degree murder of Bonnyville A&W owner Doreen Bradley, but continues to maintain his innocence. Karas appeared in court on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, for a “faint hope” application, asking a jury to allow him to apply for parole ahead of the mandatory 25-year threshold.
Landon Karas was convicted of the 2002 first-degree murder of Bonnyville A&W owner Doreen Bradley, but continues to maintain his innocence. Karas appeared in court on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, for a “faint hope” application, asking a jury to allow him to apply for parole ahead of the mandatory 25-year threshold. Photo by Supplied photo/Facebook

Usually, such applications focus on a convicted person proving they’ve turned their lives around in prison. That was in evidence at Karas’s hearing. But hanging over everything was a bigger question: is Karas the actual killer? After 19 years in jail for the 2002 murder, Karas still maintains his innocence. His conviction hinged largely on circumstantial and DNA evidence, which was still in its relative infancy.

What line of argument ultimately swayed the jury will remain a secret, but when all was said and done, jurors unanimously decided Karas deserves the chance to at least apply for parole. His status at the time of this writing is unknown.

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Peter Royal

One of the more unusual Edmonton court cases of the COVID-19 era has been the prosecution of defence lawyer Peter Royal for refusing to wear a mask in court. Royal — one of the most senior defence counsel in Edmonton and husband of Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau — was cited with contempt in July for declining to wear a mask on the orders of provincial court judge Marilena Carminati.

Judge Bruce Fraser ultimately found Royal guilty of contempt, taking particular issue with Royal’s challenge to Carminati: “what are you going to do about that?” An apologetic Royal was fined $2,000 in November .

GraceLife Church

For a few months in early 2021, Parkland County’s GraceLife Church was the frontline in Alberta’s COVID-19 culture wars . The church and its pastor, James Coates, repeatedly refused to abide by capacity limits on indoor worship services.

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Pastor James Coates walks out of the Remand Centre greeted by a group of supporters after being released from the facility late Monday afternoon in Edmonton, March 22, 2021.
Pastor James Coates walks out of the Remand Centre greeted by a group of supporters after being released from the facility late Monday afternoon in Edmonton, March 22, 2021. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia, file

Coates was eventually jailed for declining to sign a bail condition requiring him to abide by the rules. He was ultimately released, but not before his case attracted the attention of the likes of Tucker Carlson.

In June, Coates fell short in a bid to have Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions deemed unconstitutional . The ultimate decision in the case is on hold pending the outcome of similar proceedings in southern Alberta . Coates is next in court in March.

Const. Michael Partington

In 2019, Edmonton police Const. Michael Partington received a call from a fellow officer asking for help with an arrest. Partington arrived on scene and, in one swift movement, dropped his knee into the back of the prone, restrained suspect.

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Const. Curtis McCargar, left, and Const. Michael Partington arrest Elliot McLeod after a foot chase in 2019. Partington was convicted assault Aug. 26, 2021, for driving his knee into McLeod’s back while he was restrained beneath McCargar.
Const. Curtis McCargar, left, and Const. Michael Partington arrest Elliot McLeod after a foot chase in 2019. Partington was convicted assault Aug. 26, 2021, for driving his knee into McLeod’s back while he was restrained beneath McCargar.

Had a neighbour not heard the man’s screams and taken out their phone, that might have been the end of it. But in 2020, amidst uproar over the murder of George Floyd, footage of the arrest found its way onto social media. Partington was charged with assaulting the arrestee — an Indigenous man named Elliot McLeod — and suspended without pay.

During trial, it emerged that Partington’s colleague — Const. Curtis McCargar — initially stopped McLeod for riding a bike on a sidewalk without a bell. Judge Peter Ayotte ultimately disbelieved both officers’ stories and convicted Partington in August. In December, Ayotte handed Partington a $2,000 fine and an accompanying criminal record. His and McCargar’s actions will also be subject to an internal disciplinary hearing, which has not been scheduled.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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