New Brunswick man found not guilty in hit-and-run death of Brady Francis
HALIFAX -- The man accused in the hit-and-run death of a young New Brunswick man more than two years ago has been found not guilty.
The verdict was delivered Tuesday in Moncton, N.B. Friends and family members of the victim waited outside the courthouse for hours in the cold because no one was allowed inside due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The mother of Brady Francis teared up as she announced to the crowd that Maurice Johnson had been acquitted in the death of her son.
Supporters of Francis also shed tears as they expressed sadness and disappointed over the verdict.
“Very surreal at this point in time and very disappointing, very, very disappointing,” said Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Aaron Sock.
Maurice Johnson, of Saint-Charles, N.B., had been charged with failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving bodily harm or death. He had pleaded not guilty and requested a trial in French by judge alone.
The charge stemmed from a collision that claimed the life of 22-year-old Brady Francis, of the Elsipogtog First Nation, the night of Feb. 24, 2018.
During Johnson’s trial, friends of Francis testified that they found his body on the side of Saint-Charles Road South in Saint-Charles, N.B. soon after leaving a party he had attended. Francis died at the scene.
The court heard that Francis had called his parents to pick him up from the party that night. He was standing on the side of the road, waiting for his ride, when he was struck by a vehicle.
At the time of the incident, investigators said a vehicle had fled the scene before police arrived.
Officers seized a truck the day after the collision and, in March 2018, released photos of the vehicle, asking anyone who may have seen the truck in the hours leading up to the crash to contact them.
Police confirmed that the truck belonged to Johnson, and he was arrested in March 2018, but later released without charges.
Johnson was eventually charged in the case in June 2018.
However, in court documents Tuesday, Judge Denise LeBlanc stated that the prosecution had failed to prove Johnson's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Johnson’s defence lawyer says much of the judge’s verdict in what he called a “circumstantial case” stemmed from issues with forensics and lack of physical evidence.
“She was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Crown had evidence on each and every element, including the requisite intent,” said Gilles Lemieux.
He says his client is relieved at the court’s decision.
“A few years now he’s been living under the cloud and under a tremendous amount of pressure, so he is relieved that he can finally go on with his life,” said Lemieux.
But the decision isn’t sitting well with the victim’s loved ones, who rallied outside the courthouse Tuesday.
They say it’s a sad day for First Nations people, but they aren’t finished fighting for justice for Francis.
“It’s very traumatic. We were hoping for justice for a change, for once, but there never seems to be a break,” said Sock.
“We never can seem to get justice for First Nations people.”
They say they hope the decision will be appealed.