N.S. double murder case adjourned after defendant asks for new lawyer
A trial has been adjourned for a Nova Scotia man facing two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his common-law wife and her daughter.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 27, 2015 2:52PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 28, 2015 7:32AM ADT
HALIFAX -- The trial of a Nova Scotia man facing two counts of first-degree murder came to an abrupt halt before it began Tuesday, after Gerald Ashley Rushton told the court he had dismissed his defence lawyer.
The twist in proceedings came a day after a jury was selected and after Rushton, 49, had pleaded not guilty to killing his common-law wife and her daughter.
The bodies of Elizabeth MacPherson, 53, and Brittany MacPherson, 24, were found on Dec. 27, 2013, inside a home near Bible Hill, N.S.
Five weeks had been set aside for Rushton's trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, but his sudden dismissal of defence lawyer Terry Sheppard prompted Judge Michael Wood to adjourn the case until Nov. 26. in order to give the defendant time to consider getting a new lawyer.
The move came just before the first witnesses were to testify before the seven man and seven woman jury.
"Given the seriousness of the charges against him (Rushton) I considered it not fair to expect that he would be in a position to proceed on his own representing himself today," Wood explained to the jury, which had not been present when Rushton made his adjournment request.
He told the jury that he would use his discretion under Section 632 of the Criminal Code to excuse them from their duties because the trial hadn't started and no evidence had been heard.
"I could have suggested that you all stay together as a group for however many months it takes to get rescheduled and come back again. That's not practical or fair in the circumstances."
Wood also told the court that he hoped it could be determined on the next court date whether he would continue to preside over the trial.
Outside court, Sheppard said Rushton only informed him of his dismissal earlier Tuesday.
Sheppard wouldn't say whether he had previously discussed the possibility with Rushton and added that he came to court ready to proceed with the trial.
"It is a burden on the system on the system for sure," said Sheppard. "But people must keep in mind that these are very difficult decisions and difficult cases."
Crown attorney Alison Brown said she only found out about Rushton's decision minutes before court proceedings began Tuesday.
Brown expressed disappointment, but said her case wouldn't be affected. She couldn't comment on how long it would take to get back to trial.
"It certainly depends on whether Justice Wood is seized with this matter, whether another justice now can preside over the jury trial and the court scheduling," said Brown.