Crown counsel closed the case against Cheyenne Learn before he himself was called to the witness stand by his lawyer as the trial resumed on Wednesday in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
In front of Justice Dev Dley, defence counsel Brent Bagnall called his client to the stand, who testified about the nature of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and the timeline of events leading up to the shooting of Tammy Ellis.
Learn is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of Ellis, who died in a shooting in Cranbrook on Dec. 17, 2007. Learn was convicted in 2009, but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2013 and he was awarded a new trial.
Learn spent most of the morning and afternoon establishing a chronology of his life leading up to the incident and his relationship status with his ex-girlfriend, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, but is referred to as B.L.
He testified his memory of the shooting is spotty due to his alcohol consumption leading up to the incident.
Learn, who said he intermittently used cocaine with B.L. over the course of the relationship, had testified he struggled with intimacy as an aftereffect of the drug use.
He was arguing with Ellis right before the shooting and had trouble hearing her even though she was right in front of him. He said she swore at him and called him an incomplete man for failing to satisfy B.L.
“The next thing I know, I’m in the house and the gun went off,” Learn said. He said his vision was a grey haze it was “a brief moment of this happening, it was quick [and] I don’t remember leaving the house.”
He said he has no recollection of forcing the back door open or saying anything to the three people inside or loading the gun, pointing the gun or pulling the trigger.
His next memory is him laying on the ground by his bike and the gun. He tossed the weapon to the side of the road and blacked out again, ending up in a recycle bin by Dairy Queen.
In terms of the sawed-off shotgun, it was in it’s original form when he said he sold it to someone in Vernon many years ago. He had previously re-acquired it in it’s current modified state with the intent of restoring it, testifying that he had not done any modifications to it himself.
He testified he didn’t know what happened the night before, but made the decision to turn himself into the RCMP. He headed over to his brother’s place to clean up, where he heard that Ellis had died.
As he was getting into his brother’s van to go to the detachment, the RCMP rolled up and Cpl. Phil Sullivan arrested him.
He also testified about his relationship with B.L., how they met and their lifestyle involving alcohol and marijuana use.
Learn met his ex-girlfriend when he went to a festival in Creston in 2005, casually dating for five or six months before she moved in with him.
They lived in a camper in the summer of 2006 out in the Gold Creek area, as Learn worked doing odd-jobs and scrap salvaging, while B.L. worked at a local care facility.
She injured herself in a fall in the autumn, with employment insurance running out in the spring of 2007.
They moved into town for the winter, before heading out to the Fort Steele area in the 2007 summer with a camper trailer.
Learn testified that he was committed to the relationship and that B.L. seemed to reciprocate that commitment. The two began planning on moving to Kelowna because of better job prospects and B.L. began to deal cocaine as a way to make money for that end.
Despite a brief separation, B.L. reconciled with Learn after she had a stash of cocaine was ripped off. Learn testified she wanted a handgun for protection, but he only had rifles which were legally registered.
The Friday night before the shooting, B.L. and Ellis came over to his trailer, which was in the Wattsville neighbourhood in Cranbrook, to pick up cocaine for a trip to Kimberley late in the evening. Learn said he smelled alcohol on her breath, and didn’t give her the drugs because he didn’t want her driving.
That caused Ellis to threaten that she’d call ‘the big boys’ because he wouldn’t give up the drugs, but they left and she apologized the next day, Learn testified.
Learn spoke to B.L on Sunday evening, when she was at a residence and “she didn’t sound right, was crying and mumbling about a lump in her throat from smoking crack cocaine.”
He had never heard her in that state and was concerned about a possible overdose, and checked on her the next day—the same day as the shooting incident.
After running errands, Learn arrived with flowers for B.L. and went back to the trailer, where began cleaning his trailer, drinking three coolers while he was working. He walked down to a liquor store and bought more alcohol, including a two-litre bottle of seven per-cent cider, a 375 mL bottle of rum and a novelty tequila shooter.
B.L. came by with a fast food dinner at 8:30 p.m. and he was a third of the way through the two litre bottle and the two talked about sharing a joint and spending time together later. She left and he continued drinking, mixing in the rum with the cider and working on carving a walking stick.
Learn testified the alcohol had affected his memory of the events of the night. He was worried about B.L.’s cocaine trafficking and drug use, and decided to head over to the house where she was staying with the intent of sabotaging her vehicle with the gun.
“At the time I was intoxicated, it [the idea] seemed fine,” Learn said.
He doesn’t remember leaving the trailer or arriving at the residence, using his bicycle for transportation. His next memory is B.L. arriving in the house in her Jeep, who had a brief conversation with Learn before going inside.
He testified he got back on the bike and was about to leave when Ellis exited the house and began arguing with him.
Crown counsel will cross-examine Learn on Thursday and both sides are hoping to wrap up the trial on Friday.