Python owner ‘reck­less’ with bar­rier, Crown says

Clos­ing ar­gu­ments in case stem­ming from boys’ deaths fo­cused on un­cov­ered pipe

Toronto Star - - CANADA -

CAMP­BELL­TON, N.B.— Af­ter more than a week of tes­ti­mony, the trial of a man whose African rock python es­caped and killed two young New Brunswick boys came down to one ques­tion: Did his de­ci­sion not to cap a ven­ti­la­tion pipe con­sti­tute a crime?

Both the Crown and de­fence pre­sented their clos­ing ar­gu­ments Tues­day in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Camp­bell­ton.

The de­fence said Jean-Claude Savoie didn’t cover a ven­ti­la­tion pipe above his python’s en­clo­sure not be­cause he was care­less or reck­less, but be­cause he didn’t be­lieve the large snake could pos­si­bly fit through it.

Savoie pleaded not guilty to crim­i­nal neg­li­gence caus­ing death af­ter the python es­caped an en­clo­sure in his Camp­bell­ton apart­ment and killed 4-year-old Noah Barthe and his 6-year-old brother Con­nor in Au­gust 2013.

The python trav­elled through a ven­ti­la­tion duct and dropped into the liv­ing room where the boys slept. Savoie’s own son, sleep­ing in an­other room, was un­harmed.

A num­ber of wit­nesses have said it was com­mon to see the cover of the vent on the en­clo­sure’s floor.

De­fence lawyer Les­lie Matchim said Tues­day the snake did try to es­cape about a month or so be­fore the boys were killed, but got stuck part­way through the pipe, con­vinc­ing Savoie and oth­ers that it could not es­cape that way.

“They were wrong, but not from a lack of car­ing,” he said.

Savoie lived in the apart­ment with his 3-year-old son.

“Would he put his own safety and that of his son at risk?” Matchim asked.

The boys had spent Aug. 4, 2013, pet­ting an­i­mals and play­ing at a farm owned by Savoie’s father be­fore a sleepover in Savoie’s apart­ment.

Matchim said the trip to the farm with the chil­dren showed Savoie was a good father and guardian.

Matchim said the is­sue here is fore­see­abil­ity.

“Does omis­sion con­sti­tute crim­i­nal neg­li­gence?” he said.

He said Savoie didn’t cover the ven­ti­la­tion pipe be­cause he didn’t think there was any chance the snake could exit through it.

“There is no need to in­stall a bar­rier if you’ve come to that con­clu­sion in your mind,” he said.

Matchim said there’s no proof Savoie was be­ing reck­less.

“Ac­ci­dents hap­pen, but not ev­ery­one who causes an ac­ci­dent is guilty of crim­i­nal neg­li­gence caus­ing death,” he said.

He says if the jury finds rea­son­able doubt, they must find Savoie not guilty.

But Crown prose­cu­tor Pierre Rous­sel said snake ex­perts Bob John­son and Eu­gene Bes­sette both tes­ti­fied the first thing they would do af­ter an at­tempted es­cape would be to block the open­ing.

“Mr. Savoie failed to do that,” Rous­sel told the jury. “That shows wan­ton and reck­less dis­re­gard for the safety of oth­ers.”

Rous­sel said Savoie should have fore­seen that his fail­ure to act­could re­sult in the snake es­cap­ing.

“By fail­ing to take ac­tion that’s when he be­came neg­li­gent,” he said.

Ear­lier in the day, Bes­sette, a snake ex­pert from Florida tes­ti­fied it would have been “com­mon sense” to cover the ven­ti­la­tion pipe af­ter an es­cape at­tempt. Dur­ing cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by Rous­sel, Bes­sette told the court he was im­pressed by pho­tos of the snake’s en­clo­sure in Savoie’s apart­ment, call­ing the locked door “very suf­fi­cient” se­cu­rity.

Rous­sel asked what Bes­sette would have done if there was such an es­cape at­tempt at his snake farm.

“You would have cov­ered the open­ing?” Rous­sel asked. “You would cover the hole for the safety of the an­i­mal and the pub­lic?”

“That would be com­mon sense,” Bes­sette said.

The lawyer for Jean-Claude Savoie said his client was “wrong, but not from a lack of car­ing.”

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