Jury to decide whether Kelowna drug dealer Joe Verma killed Brittney Irving in cold blood

Brittney Irving

Jury to decide whether Brittney Irving (L) was killed by Joe Verma (R). RCMP handout.

KELOWNA DAILY COURIER

Twelve jurors were behind closed doors Tuesday night to consider whether Joe Verma murdered Brittney Irving in cold blood.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Allison Beames spent the morning reviewing the five-week trial and posing five questions the men and women must all answer yes to before they can convict the Kelowna drug dealer of first-degree murder as charged. The first question will probably take them the longest — did Verma kill her?

The case against the 32-year-old is a circumstantial one with no direct evidence against him, the judge said. The jury must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the gunman who ended Irving’s short life more than three years ago.

The prosecution argues Verma convinced Irving he was willing to buy at least 50 pounds of high-grade marijuana from her for more than $100,000. He knew she was hungry for cash to pay a lawyer after police busted her grow-op a week earlier.

People close to Irving, 24, testified she was making numerous deals to acquire pounds of marijuana in the days prior to her disappearance. On April 6, 2010, Verma asked her via text message whether she had “that 50-cent CD” — a cryptic reference to the quantity he requested, the Crown said.

Verma lied that he was at his cousin Jason Labonte’s house all that day and later told him to “shut up” about it to police, said prosecutor Iain Currie. In fact, Verma arranged with Irving to go shooting in the woods after she delivered the weed. When the truck he borrowed got stuck in the mud there, he asked Labonte to help pull him out.

Verma’s friend Mike Roberts testified he loaned his truck to Verma that morning because Verma didn’t want to be seen driving his own truck. Roberts identified a pair of gym shoes and a hunting jacket found on Irving’s body as his belongings, which he stored in his truck.

Verma told him he’d replace them. He later ordered Roberts to take the blame for Irving’s death and promised to set up his wife financially while he was in jail, Roberts said.

Labonte and Roberts are both under police protection and entered the courtroom through a door reserved for the judge and court staff.

The defence says the jury must consider Irving’s criminal lifestyle and the bad company she kept. It’s impossible to be sure what the text messages between her and Verma mean, and many witnesses who gave evidence have criminal records.

Labonte and Roberts both lied to police and gave testimony that defied common sense, said lawyer Jordan Watt. There’s no forensic evidence linking Verma to the body, Irving’s SUV or to Roberts’s truck. And the lack of animal activity on the body, which police found near Big White three weeks after she disappeared, suggests she was killed long after April 6.

The jurors must acquit if they find Verma did not kill Irving. If they agree he did, they must be unanimous that he did it on that day in or near Kelowna. If satisfied, they must then consider whether he killed her with a firearm. A pathologist testified the four gunshot wounds in her torso were fatal.

The fourth question concerns whether the gunman intended to kill her. The two wounds in Irving’s back suggests she was upright. The two in her front had sharp, upward trajectories, the judge said.

The jury must say yes to all questions before reaching the fifth — was the killing planned and deliberate? To find Verma guilty of first-degree murder, he must have devised the plot and not fired the gun on impulse. If the jurors can’t agree, Verma is guilty of second-degree murder, Beames said.

The deliberations began shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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Read more Okaangan news at kelownadailycourier.ca

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