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Lawyers begin closing arguments at Halifax murder trial

Nadia Gonzales was found stabbed to death June 16, 2017, in a stairwell at this apartment building at 33 Hastings Dr. in Dartmouth.
Nadia Gonzales was found stabbed to death June 16, 2017, in a stairwell at this apartment building at 33 Hastings Dr. in Dartmouth. - Tim Krochak

The stabbing death of Nadia Gonzales was the result of “some unfortunate, common themes and dangers associated with the sale of illegal drugs,” a Crown attorney told a Halifax jury Tuesday.

“Jealousy, greed, a broken business relationship and being perceived as a rat or a snitch - this all led to Ms. Gonzales’ tragic death,” Rob Kennedy said in his closing arguments at the trial of two people charged with first-degree murder.

Calvin Maynard Sparks, 26, of Dartmouth and Samanda Rose Ritch, 22, of Halifax are also accused of attempting to murder a man who was with Gonzales on the night of the killing at a Dartmouth apartment building.

The trial got underway Nov. 4 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

A jury of eight men and four women is hearing the case, with Justice Christa Brothers presiding.

Gonzales, a 35-year-old mother of two from Hammonds Plains, died in an apartment building at 33 Hastings Dr. on the evening of June 16, 2017. Her body was discovered in a hockey bag on a landing in the building’s west stairwell.

Police arrested Sparks and Ritch the next morning at separate addresses on Federal Avenue in  Halifax.

The Crown alleges Sparks and Ritch armed themselves with knives and attacked Gonzales and a man named John Patterson in the hallway outside apartment 16 on the fourth floor of the Hastings Drive building.

Patterson testified that he and Gonzales went to the apartment that night to deliver crack cocaine to tenant Wayne (Batman) Bruce. Patterson was stabbed six times before making his way outside and collapsing on the front lawn of an elementary school across the street.

Kennedy and colleague Steve Degen closed the Crown’s case last week after calling testimony from 39 people and tendering close to 60 exhibits.

Defence lawyers Malcolm Jeffcock, who represents Sparks, and Peter Planetta did not call any evidence.

In his remarks Tuesday, Kennedy urged the jury to think of this case as a large puzzle.

“Each witness, each exhibit, is a piece to a larger picture,” the prosecutor said. “Some pieces are larger than others, but each is important nonetheless in their own way.

“It will be up to you to determine whether the Crown has presented a complete puzzle to you. I submit ... that on the whole of the evidence, we have proven that Mr. Sparks and Ms. Ritch are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The province’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, told the court Gonzales was stabbed 30 to 40 times and bled to death.

An undercover police officer who was placed in cells at the Halifax police station on the night of June 17, 2017, testified that the young woman shared details of the killing with her.

The undercover officer said Ritch told her that her ex had stabbed a girl about 30 times and put her in a duffel bag.

According to the officer, Ritch stated that she didn’t stab the girl but helped put her in the bag and that the girl had scratched her in the face.

Ritch also allegedly told the undercover operative that her ex had stabbed her in the left ring finger during the incident.

The officer said Ritch also disclosed that the victim had left her phone in a vehicle and that they had found text messages to the cops on it. “She was snitching hard-core,” Ritch allegedly said.

Ritch said the plan was to hide the duffel bag in a storage unit downstairs in the apartment building, the officer testified, and that the cops didn’t know a hole had been dug in an alley.

A DNA expert told the jury that Sparks’ blood DNA was found on clothing and one of the shoes worn by Gonzales, on the hockey bag in which her body was placed, and in the stairwell where the bag was discovered.

Sparks’ DNA was also on a knife found under shrubs on a nearby property, on a fence and on grass near where the knife was located, on a T-shirt and the shoes Ritch was wearing when she was arrested, on Gonzales’ Taser that was found at Ritch’s house, and on the steering wheel and inside passenger door of a Honda Accord that was impounded from a Halifax parking lot more than 24 hours after the killing.

Ritch’s DNA was present in fingernail clippings taken from Gonzales’ right hand, the DNA scientist said.

Kennedy dismissed attempts by the defence to suggest someone else, including three men arrested near the scene more than two hours after the killing but released the next morning without being charged, was responsible for the slaying.

“In the Crown’s submission, you should reject it as implausible,” he said of that narrative.

“Calvin Sparks wanted to kill Nadia Gonzales and had a plan to do so. Their relationship was souring. He was jealous of her financial success with the drug trade and believed she was an informant. He also couldn’t tolerate her calling him a rat.”

Kennedy said that when a man named Joseph Fowler wouldn’t help kill Gonzales, Sparks brought Ritch “into the mix.”

“Ms. Ritch, by her own words, puts herself in the fray. … She must have been down on the floor with Ms. Gonzales, given all of the evidence and her own utterances.”

But Planetta, in his closing arguments, said the Crown has failed to prove that his client was aware of a plan to kill Gonzales – if there was one – or that she actually took part in the attack on either victim.

“If there’s a reasonable alternate explanation to what happened … you have to acquit,” he told the jury. “If there’s a reasonable explanation out there that fits with this evidence, it’s your duty to find her not guilty.

“So what is an alternative reasonable explanation? She didn’t know what was going to happen. She didn’t know Nadia Gonzales was going to be attacked. She didn’t take part in it. She was there, (but) mere presence is not enough.

“After the homicide was complete, she helped. She engaged in the activities that she explained to undercover Sherri. She did distasteful things. She helped put Ms. Gonzales in the bag. She might have cleaned the car, got rid of some items of clothing.”

That would make Ritch guilty of being an accessory after the fact to murder, but not guilty as charged, Planetta said.

Jeffcock will address the jury Wednesday, followed by the judge’s final instructions to the jury, which she said will be lengthy.

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