A bizarre twist in a first-degree murder trial saw a Crown witness take the stand, only to confess to the murder in question, saying the man accused had nothing to do with the crime.
Randy Desmond Riley, 27, is charged with killing Donald Chad Smith in 2010 with a sawed-off shotgun after Smith was called to a residence in his job as a pizza delivery man.
Last week, the Halifax Supreme Court murder trial came to a stand-still and lawyers entered into voir dire hearings after Crown witness Nathan Johnson said during testimony that it was he who committed the murder, not Riley.
Those hearings are under a publication ban and can’t be reported on.
Johnson returned to the stand Monday to continue his testimony in open court, but before he did judge James Chipman informed the jury for the first time that Johnson had already been convicted in the first-degree murder of Smith back in 2015.
Chipman added that this shouldn’t have any bearing on whether they think Riley is guilty of the same crime or not.
In a strange turn of events, the Crown then began to cross-examine its own witness—attempting to poke holes in his testimony.
On the night of the murder, Johnson told his girlfriend at the time—Kaitlin Fuller—that he was present for the crime but didn’t know it was going to happen and ran away to hide the gun after it was over.
In his conversation that night, he put the blame solely on Riley and another man who was present, Paul Smith.
“We were just chilling…and I just heard a bang, and it just happened, and I was like, ‘Look at what I’m caught up in. We have to leave,’ like I was trying to get out of Nova Scotia,” Johnson said he told Fuller.
“I was scared I was going to get caught for this.”
Johnson told the court he wanted to spread rumours that Smith and Riley had committed the murder so he could exonerate himself from the responsibility.
It wasn’t successful. He was charged in 2013 and convicted two years later. Johnson later tried to appeal the conviction, but that motion was denied last year.
“I was in shock,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on shooting him.”
Smith owed him some drug money, Johnson says. He had called Smith that night trying to get the money back by robbing him.
Johnson explained to the court this week that during his own trial five years ago he was still trying to get away with the crime and didn’t want to admit to the murder.
The only reason he has confessed now, he said, is because the court compelled him to be there to testify for the Crown lawyers prosecuting Riley.
“If I had a choice, I would get up right now and leave,” he said to the defence.
During redirect, the Crown suggested that Johnson was trying to take the fall for his friend.
“If I wasn’t forced to be here I would have just let it go where it was going,” he said about his decision to come clean. “I could [not] care less. I’m just trying to forget about this and move on.”
The Crown asked if it bothered him that Riley, his friend, was being charged with a murder he wasn’t responsible for.
“I don’t care about Randy. Fuck Randy…it was more of like a beneficial relationship, really,” he said. “We were friends, but you know how there’re friends you can just use?”
After court let out for the day, Crown lawyer Melanie Perry said they weren’t expecting Johnson’s testimony and they believe he’s trying to cover for Riley.
“It’s the Crown’s position that Nathan Johnson, at this stage, has nothing to lose,” she said during an interview.
The trial continues this week.