Osoyoos husband-wife manslaughter case ends in 'not guilty' decision

Evidence 'vague, uncertain'

UPDATE: 11:15 a.m.

Defence lawyers for Roderick Flavell poked more than enough holes in the Crown's case against him for manslaughter to earn a not guilty verdict Friday in Penticton.

Justice David Crossin called it a "largely circumstantial case," resting on text messages sent by the accused the night of the incident and conversations had with police and family friends subsequently that the Crown argued were roundabout admissions of guilt.

Flavell's defence team acknowledged there had been a "major row" between the two partners but argued the fight was not the ultimate cause of Tina Seminara's death.

Flavell emailed a non-emergency RCMP account at 9:34 p.m. on April 8, 2020 with subject line "death" and instructions on how to care for his dog, adding "this happened all of a sudden."

He then texted his neighbour at 9:57 p.m. "call 911 Tina breathing but needs help," a text that was not received until the following morning.

Flavell then showed up at the local RCMP detachment at 11 p.m., having thrown away his phone, wondering whether anyone had been to see his wife yet. Police noted dark stains on his clothes they believed were blood.

First responders were dispatched and found Seminara unresponsive lying on the living room floor, with broken glass nearby, an upturned coffee table and dark stains on the walls.

Sgt. Jason Bayda noted in an interview with Flavell that he had injuries to his wrists which appeared self-inflicted. Bayda asked during the interview: "You've never hit anyone before, ever though," and Flavell responded "Yeah, no," which Crown took as an admission that physical violence had taken place, but Justice Crossin found that a stretch.

Testimony from a family friend indicated that she asked Flavell if the incident was an accident, and he said no, and that he "threw it to miss her," referring to a broken glass found on the floor.

She testified that Flavell said he usually walks away but "this time he didn't."

Justice Crossin noted that Crown failed to prove any kind of link from the glass to any of Seminara's injuries. And the Crown's alternative theory, that Flavell physically assaulted Seminara directly, raised more questions for the judge.

He cited concerns about the disparity in descriptions of Seminara’s state at the scene by first responders — apparent trauma to her face, massive swelling — and by doctors at the hospital shortly thereafter, of very little swelling and no evidence of trauma to the skull.

No doctor who examined her while alive or the specialist who conducted her autopsy could find compelling enough evidence to state with certainty that the massive brain injury that caused her death was from a beating.

"The almost complete dissipation of the initial descriptors of apparent trauma creates a good deal of hesitation in coming to any conclusion on the evidence concerning both the nature of any possible blunt force trauma or its impact, if any, upon Ms. Seminara," Crossin said.

The autopsy doctor could not discount seizure as a possible cause of the brain injury, a theory the defence had put forward.

Justice Crossin acknowledged Flavell's statements and conduct after the incident were "suspicious," but noted there was no forensic analysis of the apparent bloodstains on his shirt and in the home where Seminara was found described by police.

"Indeed, the evidence is clear. There is no evidence of any bleeding at the scene at all, at least from the body of Ms. Seminara, other than from the cut on her leg that was covered by her jeans," Crossin said.

"Possibilities layered upon likelihoods layered over suspicions do not translate into a solid evidentiary foundation."

Ultimately, Justice Crossin decided the Crown had not met their burden of proving "beyond a reasonable doubt" that there was an assault that night that led directly to Seminara's death.

"In my view, the evidence is simply too vague and uncertain to rest finding in support of the charge of manslaughter," Crossin said.

"It would be unsafe to rest a conviction on this evidence," he added, before telling Flavell he was free to go.

Find more of Castanet's coverage of this trial here.

UPDATE: 10 a.m.

Roderick Flavell has been found not guilty of manslaughter in the death of his wife, Tina Seminara.

More details to come.

ORIGINAL: 9 a.m.

A decision in the manslaughter case of Roderick Flavell, an Osoyoos man accused of assaulting his wife and causing her death, is due today in B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton.

Flavell, in his early 60s, pleaded not guilty. His lawyers argued over a two-week trial that there is too much reasonable doubt to conclude the injuries to his wife Tina Seminara, 61, caused her eventual death in hospital.

An autopsy found she died of a massive brain injury, after being found unresponsive in the couple's home in April 2020.

Testimony from police and EMTs who responded that night to the couple's Cypress Hills home described broken glass, upturned furniture, dark stains on the carpet and sectional couch, and swelling on Seminara's face as well as a severe leg injury.

Doctors who examined Seminara at hospital later described some minor swelling, far less than described by first responders, and no cuts to her face, and lack of evident trauma to her skull.

An autopsy later only said that the blunt force trauma "may" have been the cause of her brain injury. The examiner said seizures could cause such an injury too, but could not confirm that as the cause post-mortem.

Flavell sent a message to a neighbour the night of the incident, saying "call 911. Tina breathing, but may need help," also an email to the local RCMP detachment with the subject line "death," and later arrived at the station himself asking if anyone had gone to check on his wife.

The defence acknowledged the "cryptic" messages Flavell sent that evening and did not deny a fight, but said the Crown had failed to provide any proof of a weapon used, or anything beyond testimony that the brain damage "may" have been caused by blunt force trauma.

Justice Crossin will read his decision in court this morning. Castanet will update this story.

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