John Ferguson immediately recognized one of two men walking towards him on the evening of July 9, 2019.
The major crimes detective, now a staff sergeant with the West Shore RCMP, was off-duty that evening and walking his 150-pound Great Dane on the beach below the gazebo on Victoria's Songhees walkway.
“We finished at the beach area… We ran up the stairs. And just as I came around the corner, Mr. Busch and Mr. Armitage were walking towards me,” Ferguson testified Wednesday at James Busch’s murder trial at the Vancouver Law Courts.
“Mr. Busch said, ‘Great dog’ and Mr. Armitage said, ‘Yeah, great dog.’ To which I replied: ‘He’s a big baby.’ ”
Busch has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Martin Payne of Metchosin. His co-accused Zachary Armitage is now “being dealt with in a separate way,” the jury has been told. He is no longer present at the trial.
Earlier on the day in question, at the beginning of his shift, Ferguson had reviewed a report from the RCMP Real Time Information Centre about two men who had escaped from William Head penitentiary. The report included photos of the escaped inmates.
“I immediately recognized Mr. Busch,” Ferguson testified. “Mr. Armitage had his hood up, but I believed these were the two who had escaped William Head.”
Not wanting to arouse suspicion, Ferguson kept walking. Once the two men had rounded the corner, he called 911, telling the dispatcher he was an off-duty police officer and believed he had just seen the two escaped inmates.
“I gave them a little time before I turned around to follow,” he testified. “My concern was if they saw me on the phone, they might flee or split up and it would be harder for us to locate them.”
After the two men were a little distance away, Ferguson began to follow them. When he reached an area with a small island and a large rock, he asked a young couple if they had seen two men.
“They said two men had just passed by them,” Ferguson testified.
Ferguson continued on. He tried calling 911, because his phone had become disconnected.
“I let them know the two fellows were still on the trail on the boardwalk and were heading west towards Victoria.”
Ferguson saw the two men as they approached a marina. Victoria police moved in and arrested the two without incident.
Ferguson told prosecutor Chandra Fisher he recognized Busch because he has very distinctive features.
“A very strong nose, high cheekbones. He actually looks very similar to a friend of mine who is Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan,” said Ferguson, adding that when he first saw the photographs of the escaped inmates that morning, he thought of his friend.
Sean Johnson, provincial government mail operations manager and Payne’s supervisor, was also on the stand Wednesday.
When Payne failed to show up for work on July 9 and 10, he thought maybe Payne had called in sick and couldn’t get through on the phone. Johnson left messages for Payne on his landline and his cellphone, saying he was concerned.
On July 11, he started to worry that something had happened and Payne was in hospital.
“I had a really weird feeling and my gut is never wrong,” Johnson testified. “I called the RCMP and told them what was going on.”
Forensic identification specialist Cpl. Stephanie Lin testified that she found 10 fingerprints at Payne’s home. A fingerprint found on a glass in Payne’s kitchen was a match to Armitage, she testified. There was no match to Busch.