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Not guilty—what the jury heard in Jimmy Melvin Jr.’s murder trial 

After four weeks in court, Friday’s verdict brought more sensation than resolution.

click to enlarge Jimmy Melvin Jr. leaving a courtroom last year. - ERIC WYNNE
  • Jimmy Melvin Jr. leaving a courtroom last year.
  • ERIC WYNNE

"Who've you got to testify against me—that's reliable?" Jimmy Melvin Jr. asked, according to police. "You don't got no weapon. I know that."

It was 2015 and Melvin was in police booking, again. The infamous Spryfield gangster and convicted felon had been picked up as he pulled into a convenience store on the Bedford Highway, a pair of "prison packs"— tobacco and marijuana packaged for stuffing up the rectum on one's way to jail—in the car.

As the police would describe in court, plainclothes cops surrounded the vehicle, joined by members of a specialized tactical team. A cop punched in Melvin's driver's side window, took his car keys and grabbed his wrists.

click to enlarge jimmy_melvin_coast_cover_june_8_2017.jpg

Melvin Jr., the most colourful member of Nova Scotia's notorious crime family, doesn't always go into custody quietly. In 2006, when police tried to bring him in as a person of interest in the shooting death of Wayne Marriott, there was a six-hour standoff. (Melvin was never charged with Wayne Marriott's death.) The standoff happened a few days after police had picked him up in Digby with a fake ID. Melvin convinced police he was someone else with information on Jimmy Melvin’s whereabouts, and authorities went on a manhunt while the real Jimmy went free.

This time, police took him to the ground and cuffed him, charged him with murder and read him his rights.

"You think this is going to stick on me?" Melvin asked.

It didn't. Last Friday, a 12-person jury in Nova Scotia Supreme Court acquitted Melvin of the February 2009 murder of another notorious criminal, Terry Marriott Jr. facing extradition back to Canada, one woman stormed out after the not-guilty verdict, and Melvin gave his lawyer a hug. Then Melvin went back to custody. He had already been convicted on drug charges for the prison packs, and he's still preparing to face charges that he attempted to kill Marriott months earlier, in December 2008.

For Jimmy Melvin Jr., it was time to think about the next court date. For the public, it was a sensational end to a sometimes-confusing four-week trial—and a reminder that the feud between these two families appears to be far from over.

Asking what happened the day Marriott was killed means mining hazy memories. We know he'd been out at Ralph's, the Dartmouth strip club, with friends when he got roughed up—badly—in a 1:40am brawl with another infamous criminal, Stephen Skinner (who is currently in Venezuela, facing extradition back to Canada, on a different murder charge).

John Lively was at the club when things got messy. He was among Marriott's friends who scooped him up and got into his truck to continue partying elsewhere. Marriott sat in the car, beat-up and bruising—"a little conscious," Lively said on the stand, "but not fully."

Night spilled into morning. A rotating cast of characters bounced from one house to the next, drinking and doing coke. By mid-afternoon, Marriott was on the couch at Lively's house, napping underneath a pink blanket covered in Disney princesses. Lively called a buddy for a ride to Regan Henneberry's, who they'd been partying with earlier (Henneberry faces charges along with Melvin of attempting to kill Marriott in 2008). Henneberry was being raided by police. Lively said he wanted to prevent his bike, which was at Henneberry's, from getting confiscated, so he left his place to claim it. Police think that's when somebody shot Marriott six times as he slept.

Lively came home and thinks he still heard Marriott snoring, but either way, he could testify that Marriott was definitely lying on the couch. He says he went straight to sleep and woke up when a man named Derek MacPhee barged into the house—telling him to call 911, because Terry Marriott was dead.

click to enlarge This photo exhibit from the trial shows the murder scene at John Lively's house, with bloody couch at right.
  • This photo exhibit from the trial shows the murder scene at John Lively's house, with bloody couch at right.

Derek MacPhee was both Melvin's alleged accomplice and Marriott's partner in crime. He and Marriott sold cocaine together, and MacPhee has also committed a spate of arsons, thefts and assaults. MacPhee was a paid police informant who has admitted to previously lying under oath. He was also the Crown's star witness in the murder trial. In closing statements, Crown attorney Rick Woodburn acknowledged that MacPhee is "unsavoury." Melvin's lawyer Patrick MacEwen had stronger words to describe MacPhee, like  "despicable," an "opportunist" and a "very bad person" who has "lied in every part of his life."

Urging people to consider MacPhee's story, Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said "There are only two people who really know what happened...and that's Mr. MacPhee and Mr. Melvin." Melvin reserved his right not to testify and declined an interview through his attorney. He also refused to comment to the press, saying only "Not guilty" when asked for comment. While we don't know Melvin's story, here is what MacPhee said happened on February 20, 2009:  

He's just done crack for the first time in his life and he's trying to cut down a tree in the backyard when Marriott calls in the morning, shortly after he was beat up, saying he's coming by to pick up some coke. He's got a good deal, selling to a fisherman from St. Pierre and Miquelon, where prices are higher, so he comes by "around 6:30 or 7:30" to pick it up.

Later that morning, he talks to Melvin about Marriott. Melvin comes over. Slams his gun on the table. The way MacPhee puts it, Melvin wants to kill Marriott, and this is the perfect time, because Marriott had already been beaten up—they could just blame the whole thing on Skinner, who'd beat up Marriott hours ago.

MacPhee says he chauffeured Melvin around on an ATV, at one point hiding him in the closet of a friend's house, and kept tabs on Marriott's whereabouts, even hosting him and his friends when they come over, until he knew Marriott was asleep at Lively's. Then he picked up Melvin on his ATV, drove him back to Lively's, waited while his friend went in to shoot Marriott, then helped him escape to another friend's before getting rid of his own gun and changing his clothes.

Why would he do it? In closing statements, Melvin's lawyer said if MacPhee liked Marriott so much he could have just ignored Melvin, or given him bad information, but instead claims to have gone on this "murderous odyssey...it just doesn't make sense." On the stand, MacPhee said he was caught between two loyalties. Melvin was "very convincing." He didn't want Marriott to die, but he also believed Melvin was going to find a way to kill him—it was an "ongoing, persistent" thing MacPhee felt powerless to stop.  

Jimmy Melvin is still charged with attempted murder for an alleged 2008 attempt to kill Marriott, less than three months before Marriott was fatally shot. MacPhee says that time, Jimmy was planning on coming over to kill Marriott in his house. So MacPhee called the cops and had them come by under the guise of checking his ankle bracelet. He couldn't pull a similar trick again. If he did, he said, Melvin would know he was a rat.

click to enlarge Police introduced a size 12 shoe as evidence, along with the casting (foreground) of a footprint from the murder scene. Jimmy Melvin Jr. wears size 12; Derek MacPhee is 10.5 or 11.
  • Police introduced a size 12 shoe as evidence, along with the casting (foreground) of a footprint from the murder scene. Jimmy Melvin Jr. wears size 12; Derek MacPhee is 10.5 or 11.

For the jury, one likely problem with MacPhee's story was how to corroborate it. Friends confirmed they saw Marriott at MacPhee's and at Lively's, but nobody other than MacPhee says they saw Melvin at either home that day. Gunshot residue was found on the hands of MacPhee and Lively after the shooting, along with Marriott's DNA in MacPhee's pockets. But no such evidence about Melvin was brought to the jury.  

The closest thing the jury heard about was a series of size-12 footprints in the snow that matched the size of Melvin's shoes in prison—but MacPhee's shoe size isn't that far off, at 10.5 or 11. A series of call logs show MacPhee had likely spoken with both Melvin and Marriott on the phone, but was that enough for the jury to believe Melvin was at the crime scene that afternoon?

Melvin's lawyer also suggested MacPhee murdered Marriott alone. In cross-examination, Patrick MacEwen said that MacPhee was frustrated that Marriott had been giving out cocaine to freeloaders. MacPhee said no. Marriott was "generous," but they never had money problems: "He's good with numbers and he doesn't mess up." MacEwen also made a bolder accusation: That MacPhee and Marriott's widow Nadine had been sleeping together before Marriott's murder, giving MacPhee a motive to kill Marriott and blame Melvin. MacPhee said that was untrue, but that the two did develop a relationship after Marriott died.

Outside court, Nadine Marriott said "that's not true"—she and MacPhee never had a relationship. Regardless, she told me, "This is a murder trial," not a hearing of local gossip. 

In exchange for his testimony, MacPhee and his girlfriend have received a total of $3,000 a month from the Halifax Regional Police. (HRP declined to clarify if that compensation is over with the end of the trial or is still ongoing.) And he arguably had another motive to cooperate with their investigation: He agreed to testify against Melvin in exchange for immunity from some serious charges, including charges stemming from his alleged role in a violent 2015 home invasion.

The disturbing story of that crime makes it clear how much pressure MacPhee was under.

Police said a family, including a 13-year-old, was tied up while the culprits stole from the house. MacPhee said on the stand that he never entered the house—but his friends weren't a smart bunch, and he didn't want them to screw up. He says he helped them pick a target, stole a car, drove them out and waited with their getaway vehicle as his friends went in with knives and mace.

The other two men accused have pled not guilty to charges related to that night.

MacPhee said his associates hid in the trunk of his car as he and his girlfriend drove away. When his car was pulled over by the cops with them still inside, he testified, "I knew I was fucked." So he reached out to an officer who had been asking for information on Melvin: "Do you want to know that story?"  

click to enlarge The princess blanket, which covered Terry Marriott Jr. when he was killed, had its day in court.
  • The princess blanket, which covered Terry Marriott Jr. when he was killed, had its day in court.

During Crown attorney Christine Driscoll's opening statement, she told the jury that Melvin and Marriott had "a beef." Each were members of two well-known crime families in Halifax that have long been suspected of a bloody rivalry.   

A small snapshot: In December of 2008, Melvin was shot in the abdomen, only two days after he allegedly attempted to kill Terry Marriott. A couple weeks earlier, an alleged associate of the Melvins had been shot in the wrist by another member of the Marriott clan. And that November Melvin Jr.'s father, Jimmy Edwin Melvin, also narrowly missed a spray of gunfire.

"There is no rats in the Melvin family," Melvin Jr. yelled to reporters, when he arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting. "Death before dishonour."  

The jury didn't hear about the two families' history. But they did hear bits and pieces of a meeting that, Driscoll suggested, was an attempt to heal the rift.  

MacPhee brought Marriott into Melvin's room for a hospital visit a couple weeks after he was shot. MacPhee says it started awkwardly, but by the end of the visit the two were hugging it out.

Marriott and MacPhee snorted a celebratory line of coke together on the window ledge of the waiting room. In that moment, MacPhee said, he thought they'd all turned the page on this Melvin-Marriott saga: "Hugs and kisses...see you when I get out...we'll go deal with some assholes."

MacPhee wanted his two friends to make money together and threaten their shared enemies. After all, he said, the two Juniors weren't that different.

"Everything would be perfect," he said in his testimony. "They both hated the same people."

Melvin would go on to turn his pain into fame. He hired a publicist and created a now-defunct website to celebrate the criminal life, reallivestreetshit.com.

Marriott wound up with six bullets in his head and chest, leaving behind two kids, with his business partner rifling through the pockets of his corpse. MacPhee testified that he found some cocaine and $15, including a five-dollar bill. He rolled it up and snorted more blow with Lively, and the two men waited for the police investigation to begin.

Katie Toth is a freelance journalist in Halifax.

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