Man accused of 2017 killing near Coquihalla seeks stay of proceedings

Accused killer seeks stay

One of the men accused of murdering a 20-year-old man on a logging road off the Coquihalla Highway in 2017 is looking to have his second-degree murder charge stayed, arguing that delays getting to trial have breached his Charter rights.

Jared Jorgenson, 30, was one of three men arrested in January 2018, close to nine months after the body of 20-year-old Michael Bonin was found on Peers Creek forest service road, just east of Hope.

While he was originally charged with first-degree murder, along with 29-year-old Ryan Watt and 23-year-old Joshua Fleurant, Jorgenson's charge was later changed to second-degree murder.

The three men's 12-week jury trial was originally set to begin last June, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the trial, and it was rescheduled to May 2021.

Finding adequate time for the lengthy trial, between all three of the accused's lawyers, has proved challenging.

On Thursday, Jorgenson's lawyer began his two-day application to have Jorgenson's murder charge stayed, as it will have been 43 months since the charge was laid to when the trial is expected to end.

Section 11 of the Canadian Charter guarantees an accused the right to be tried “within a reasonable time,” and a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision laid out a maximum time limit of 30 months for Supreme Court cases, from when a charge is laid until the end of trial. That limit is 18 months for provincial court matters.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said there was a "culture of complacency towards delay that has pervaded the criminal justice system in recent years."

Delays that are attributable to the defence, or waived by the defence, do not count towards this 30-month ceiling.

Jorgenson's lawyer says none of the delays that have led to the expected 43-month timeline has been due to Jorgenson. He says some of the delays have been a result of co-accused's lawyers not being available. 

Watt and Fleurant are not involved in the current application.

Jorgenson's lawyer noted that his client had agreed to the first June 2020 trial ending a few weeks past the 30-month limit, but he said that waiving of the delay was only applicable to those trial dates, and not the May 2021 trial. 

If the 30-month limit is exceeded, it is up to the Crown to show the delays were due to “exceptional circumstances.” B.C. judges have ruled that in general, delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic falls under an exceptional circumstance.

The case has seen several voir dires leading up to the trial, where Justice Allen Betton has ruled on the admissibility of evidence in the case.

Jorgenson has remained out of custody since he was was released on $35,000 bail in June 2018. Watt and Fleurant remain behind bars.

The application is scheduled to wrap up on Friday. It's unclear when Justice Betton will deliver a decision on the matter.

While the BC Supreme Court has fully reopened with strict COVID-19 protocols, after several months of closure last spring, few jury trials have been run since reopening. One recent jury trial, held in Nelson this fall, was moved to a local theatre to allow for adequate distancing of those involved.

On Friday, eight cases of COVID-19 were reported among sheriffs at the B.C. provincial courthouse in Surrey, forcing another 25 people to isolate.

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