Ottawa Citizen
Saturday 6 January 2001

Dell's lawyers succeed again in striking evidence

Judge rules man was 'threatened' during police interview

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen


Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / Lawyers for Cherrylle Dell, above, have convinced a judge to exclude a videotaped interview with Brent Crawford that implicates her in the death of her husband Scott Dell.


Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / Lawyers for Cherrylle Dell have convinced a judge to exclude a videotaped interview with Brent Crawford, above, that implicates her in the death of her husband Scott Dell.


Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / Lawyers for Cherrylle Dell have convinced a judge to exclude a videotaped interview with Brent Crawford that implicates her in the death of her husband Scott Dell, above.

Cherrylle Dell's defence lawyers have succeeded again in convincing a judge to exclude evidence that implicates the 46-year-old Killaloe woman in the killing of her husband.

Ontario Superior Court Justice James Chadwick ruled yesterday that a crucial videotaped interview was not reliable enough to be considered as evidence. The tape records Mrs. Dell's acquaintance, Brent Crawford, telling police that Mrs. Dell was behind not one, but two, murders.

Mr. Crawford was not then under oath, and in fact, refused to swear an oath, the judge noted.

Judge Chadwick was also doubtful about whether Mr. Crawford's statement was really voluntary. When police questioned the 19-year-old Killaloe man in July 1999, they manipulated and tacitly threatened him, the judge ruled.

"They stroked his ego, made him feel like a big-shot, a big-shot criminal and a folk hero, for probably the only time in his life," Judge Chadwick noted. "They certainly took advantage of his low self-esteem."

The ruling left Mrs. Dell's lawyers relieved and pleased as the trial, which began Nov. 20, nears its conclusion. Mrs. Dell is accused of killing her estranged husband, Scott, in December 1995 by duping him into drinking wine laced with antifreeze.

When the trial began, the court spent days pondering a March 1997 police videotape, in which Mrs. Dell's ex-lover, Nancy Fillmore, told police that Mrs. Dell fatally poisoned her husband.

Justice Chadwick ruled out that videotape because it was insufficiently reliable. The spurned Ms. Fillmore had several motives to lie, he noted.

Ms. Fillmore could not testify in person because she died in an August 1997 fire. Mr. Crawford is charged with first-degree murder, accused of setting the fire. Mrs. Dell is also accused of the first-degree murder of her ex-lover, by putting Mr. Crawford up to setting the fire. They face separate trials.

The Crown wanted to bring in as much evidence as possible regarding the death of Ms. Fillmore to the current trial, hoping to show that Ms. Fillmore died because Mrs. Dell wanted to silence the key witness against her in the death of Mr. Dell.

Defence lawyer Robert Selkirk said the judge's ruling will simplify and focus the trial. "We can now get back to what we're really here about, which is the death of Scott Dell," he said.

Contrary to his denials on the witness stand last month, Mr. Crawford had told police that he set fire to Ms. Fillmore's apartment because Mrs. Dell asked him to.

But Judge Chadwick said he had seven concerns about the voluntariness of the statement. The "main concern," he said, was that police told Mr. Crawford that if he did not confirm their theory regarding Ms. Fillmore's death and give them facts, then his fellow prisoners might suspect that he also committed sexual offences against Ms. Fillmore. That would imperil his safety in prison.

"This was a veiled threat," Judge Chadwick said.

The trial resumes Jan. 15. Mr. Barnes has just a few witnesses left to call, and Mr. Selkirk said yesterday that the defence will call witnesses. He also said he expects Justice Chadwick will have heard all of the evidence by Jan. 23 or 24.

Among the remaining witnesses is an expert on suicide. Mr. Dell was originally thought to have killed himself, after Mrs. Dell told authorities that he had been depressed because cancer continued to ravage his body -- but a post-mortem showed this wasn't true.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.