Long-delayed Kelowna murder trial will pick back up mid-July, with further testimony from several witnesses

Spouse of victim to re-testify

An accused murderer will require the common-law spouse of her alleged victim to return to court to testify again, after the accused fired her lawyers mid-trial last November causing significant delays.

Gabriella Sears has remained behind bars ever since she was arrested back on the morning of June 17, 2021 and charged with the killing of 49-year-old Darren Middleton. Her second-degree murder trial began last fall, but on what was meant to be the 18th day of trial, she announced she was firing her lawyers Jordan Watt and Tom Forss, accusing them of “gaslighting” her and colluding with the Crown.

The firing came a few months after Watt and Forss successfully argued for Sears' two confessions to police to be excluded as evidence at trial, due to the RCMP's conduct infringing on her Charter rights.

The delay caused by the firing of her lawyers had a domino effect, as it meant the trial wouldn't be completed before the sitting judge, Justice Carol Ross, turned 75. By law, a judge must retire by age 75, so Justice Miriam Gropper has now taken over the case.

Recalling some witnesses

Because of the change in judge, Sears was left with the choice to pick up the trial from where it left off last November, or start the trial entirely from scratch.

During a court appearance Tuesday, Sears' new lawyer Frances Mahon told Justice Gropper they would be admitting last fall's testimony from police and expert witnesses, but they'll be requiring so-called “civilian witnesses” to return to court to testify again.

These witnesses will include Middleton's common-law wife, Brenda Adams, who discovered her husband's body on the bathroom floor of Sears' Sycamore Road home in the early morning hours of June 17, 2021.

Adams previously testified back in October that she and Middleton had known Sears for several months prior to Middleton's death, and she sometimes did odd jobs for the couple. Adams said they had known Sears as “Dereck,” but days before Middleton’s death, Sears told them she now identified as a woman and went by Gabby or Gabriella.

Sears recently applied to have her name officially changed to Gabriella on her court filing, citing Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”

Prior testimony

Adams previously testified Middleton never returned home after he went to pick up a load of turf from his employer, who lived nearby, on the evening of June 16, 2021. After spending hours calling and texting friends about his whereabouts, and driving around looking for him, Adams saw Sears walking down nearby Moyer Road dancing with her eyes closed and her arms in the air, like she was listening to music.

Adams eventually went to Sears' house just after 1 a.m., where she found Middleton's body. She said Middleton appeared to be wearing someone else's clothes, and his penis had been cut off.

In addition to second-degree murder, Sears is also charged with the indecent interference of Middleton's remains.

While Sears' counsel has said she plans to have Adams and several other witnesses re-testify, Crown prosecutor David Grabavac is hoping to limit the new testimony to just further cross-examination, rather than starting entirely from scratch.

Earlier this month, Grabavac questioned the need for recalling the witnesses at all.

“The civilian witnesses were thoroughly cross-examined by Mr. Watt and Mr. Forss, two of the best defence lawyers in British Columbia. I'm not sure why we need to recall them,” Grabavac said in court back on May 2.

Four weeks of continued trial time has been scheduled to begin on July 15. Grabavac is hopeful the four weeks will be enough to complete the trial, as scheduling issues could push the trial much further into late 2024 if more time is needed.

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