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A deeply disturbing and emotional 1st week at the Laura Babcock murder trial

October 28, 2017 11:02 AM
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A deeply disturbing and emotional 1st week at the Laura Babcock murder trial

Crown argues a love triangle may have led to Babcock being killed and burned in an animal incinerator

Deeply disturbing, uncomfortable, and highly emotional — and that was just Week 1 of the Laura Babcock murder trial.

Crown Jill Cameron and her team have already called more than a dozen witnesses and at least a dozen more are expected as they attempt to craft an airtight case against co-accused Dellen Millard, 32, of Toronto, and his onetime best friend, Mark Smich, 30 of Oakville, Ont.

The Crown alleges cold-blooded murder that may have been motivated by a love triangle.

Babcock, described by friends and family as intelligent and fun-loving, was 23 when she disappeared in the summer of 2012.

The Crown alleges Millard and Smich killed Babcock in early July, and then burned her body in an animal incinerator.

Dellen Millard, left, and Mark Smich, right, are accused of first-degree murder in the death of Babcock.

Both men have pleaded not guilty in the jury trial, which is taking place in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto and is expected to last 10 weeks.

Millard has elected to act as his own lawyer — putting him face to face with every person who enters the witness box.

Millard, who wears his hair collar length and parted down the middle, cross-examined the Crown's first witnesses, those who loved Babcock most, a boyfriend and her father.

"Are you nervous?" Millard asked Clayton Babcock, as he began his questioning.

"This can't be easy for you, being questioned by me, considering I'm the accused. Does this make it extra difficult?"

That first day of his daughter's murder trial also happened to be his 35th wedding anniversary with his wife, and Laura's mother, Linda.

Babcock, 60, remained composed as Millard asked if he ever abused or hit his daughter, or knew she worked as a prostitute.

Millard, acting as his own lawyer, questions Babcock's father, Clayton, in court on Monday. (Pam Davies/CBC)

The courtroom — which has remained full with standing room only — was uncomfortably silent as Millard asked Babcock whether he remembered the only other time the men had met.

Millard's unsettling style of questioning continued as he faced Babcock's former boyfriend, and close friend, Shawn Lerner.

Millard had once been romantically involved with Babcock and the tension between the two men wasn't lost on anyone.

"Shawn, you don't like me very much, do you?" Millard asked as he approached the podium.

At times, it was clear Millard is no lawyer. He was warned about "very repetitive" and at times inappropriate questioning by Justice Michael Code.

Co-accused Mark Smich, a would-be rapper, saw one of his homemade music videos played on a large screen several times for the jury during the trial.

Two of Smich's friends, who were in high school at the time, testified that Smich told them in the summer of 2012 while they were hanging out in his mother's garage that it was more than just a rap — it was real.

David Cronin, now 22, told jury members that Smich said he "killed a girl, burned a body, and disposed of it in a lake.… After that he sang us a rap song about it."

Cronin broke down in tears after the Crown played the rap video. He'd never seen it, but said they were the same lyrics he remembered from five years ago.

"It's just a lot to process," Cronin said as he wiped away tears with tissues.

Smich's lawyer Thomas Dungey attempted to discredit Cronin's testimony, as he did Smich's other friend Desi Liberatore, questioning their heavy drug use and memory.

The Crown has been laying the groundwork for what could be a possible motive for Babcock's alleged murder: a complicated love triangle.

It centres on Millard, and his girlfriend at the time, Christina Noudga, and Babcock.

Court has heard from several witnesses that Millard was also involved on and off again with Babcock.

On Friday, a friend of both Babcock and Noudga, Karoline Shirinian, told the jury about a "catty" text feud between the two women.

It took place on Feb. 12, 2012 — Babcock's 23rd birthday. Shirinian said she'd been having drinks with Noudga.

"We thought it would be funny if we sent her a catty text message for her birthday," Shirinian, 25, said.

Noudga wrote: "Happy birthday. A year ago today was the first time I slept with Dellen."

Shirinian told the jury Babcock replied: "That's fine, I slept with him a couple of weeks ago."

During her opening statements, Cameron read a text about Babcock, written by Millard to Noudga.

"First I am going to hurt her. Then I'll make her leave. I will remove her from our lives," he wrote.

None of Babcock's friends or family have heard from her since July 2012. No phone calls, no text messages, nothing.

During his testimony, Clayton Babcock said his daughter would be 28 now.

"I was looking at her picture the other day," he said, before excusing himself as he cried.

They shared a love of '70s rock, he said, and would watch reality shows together like Say Yes to the Dress.

But he, and several of Babcock's friends, testified she wasn't herself in those final months.

After she and her parents disagreed about house rules, Babcock moved around a lot, spending time between friends' places, and at one point, a hotel paid for by Lerner.

He testified that Babcock mentioned suicide once while they were dating, and she spent a night in hospital. He also "saw her with cuts," but did not know if they were self-inflicted or not.

Several witnesses also told the jury Babcock worked for a time as an escort.

Overwhelmingly, those who knew her best remembered Babcock as bright and loving. Almost everyone fondly recalled her fierce love for her little dog, a Maltese named Lacey.

The last time Babcock was home — June 30, 2012, which was also the last time Clayton and Linda Babcock spoke with their daughter — she left Lacey in her kennel.

The little white dog still lives at the family home in Etobicoke in Toronto's west end. Babcock said seeing his daughter's pet brings him some comfort.


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