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Jury hears closing arguments in Nadia Gonzales case

Stabbing case ‘occupies an underbelly of society,’ Crown says

3 min read
caption The door to courtroom 304 in the Halifax Law Courts, where Sparks and Ritch are being tried.
Kristin Gardiner

It will soon be up to a jury to decide if the two people accused of murdering Nadia Gonzales are guilty.

Justice Christa Brothers began to give instructions to the jury Wednesday, after a day and a half of closing arguments from the prosecution and defence.

Calvin Joel (CJ) Maynard Sparks, 26, and Samanda Rose Ritch, 22, have been on trial for weeks in a Halifax courtroom. They are both charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

In closing arguments on Tuesday, Crown attorney Rob Kennedy told the jury to “think of this case as a large puzzle,” with each witness and exhibit as a piece. Some pieces are larger than others, he said, but each piece is important in its own way.

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The Crown contends that Sparks and Ritch killed Nadia Gonzales, 35, on June 16, 2017.

Police found Gonzales dead at 33 Hastings Dr., an apartment building in Dartmouth. She had been stabbed over 30 times. Her body was in a black duffle bag in the building stairwell.

John Patterson, 72, was also stabbed that night and survived. He was found injured outside near the building.

“This case, in many respects, occupies an underbelly of society – the drug trade,” said Kennedy. According to testimony from Patterson, Gonzales was a known dealer of crack cocaine.

Kennedy said in the drug trade, “being a ‘rat’ or a ‘snitch’ is a serious thing. It can be a death sentence.”

According to Kennedy, Sparks and Gonzales sold cocaine together. In the days leading up to Gonzales’ death, Kennedy said, “Their relationship was souring. He was jealous of her financial success in the drug trade and believed that she was an informant. He also couldn’t tolerate her calling him a rat.”

For these reasons, Kennedy said, “Ms. Ritch and Mr. Sparks are guilty in relation to the planned and premeditated death of Ms. Gonzales, as well as the attempted murder of Mr. Patterson.”

Defence’s closing remarks

The two defence lawyers focused on witness testimony in their closing arguments.

“This trial has featured a cast of characters who are extremely unsavoury individuals,” said Peter Planetta, Ritch’s attorney, on Tuesday. “All of the key witnesses, civilian witnesses at the heart of the Crown’s case, I would submit, have only a fleeting familiarity with the truth.”

Malcolm Jeffcock, Spark’s attorney, who gave his closing arguments Wednesday, said that the witnesses with drug addictions who testified did so “in a manner that protects other people. Not only other people, but their source of their connection to crack cocaine.”

Both Planetta and Jeffcock reminded the jury that two Crown witnesses, Wayne Bruce and Joseph Fowler, lied on the stand.

Planetta also argued that if there was a plan to murder Gonzales, it’s possible Ritch knew nothing of it before Gonzales’ death.

During the trial, an undercover officer who spoke to Ritch hours after her arrest testified that Ritch told her about a hole that was dug in an alley, and about messages to the police found on the woman’s phone. The officer was unable to say if the phone was found before or after Gonzales’ death.

According to Planetta, it’s possible Ritch learned about the hole and the phone after the fact. The Crown also failed to prove, Planetta said, that Ritch participated in Gonzales’ death.

In the trial during cross-examination by Planetta, Patterson could not confirm that he saw Ritch stabbing Gonzales. All he could say for certain was that “she was there.”

As Planetta argued Tuesday, “mere presence isn’t enough” to convict Ritch of first-degree murder.

Jeffcock had a similar argument regarding whether or not Sparks was involved. Sparks’ DNA was found at the scene, including the apartment hallway and the hockey bag Gonzales was found in. Jeffcock mentioned the injuries on Sparks’ hand, and said he would have been bleeding profusely.

“Nothing from the scene of the crime, and by that I include the DNA itself, not the location of blood nor the distribution of blood, proves who committed this crime,” Jeffcock said.

He suggested the possibility of a third person being responsible for killing Gonzales. DNA analysis discovered that Gonzales’ fingernails contained DNA from Ritch and an unknown man.

“Who’s that? What efforts were made to try to determine who that person was?” said Jeffcock. He said that Ritch’s DNA on the fingernails appears to be the basis of the case against her.

Brothers will continue with her instructions to the jury in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Thursday. Once she’s done, the jury will begin its deliberations.

The penalty for first-degree murder in Canada is an automatic life sentence.

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About the author

Kristin Gardiner

Kristin is a Prince Edward Islander currently working in Halifax. Her journalistic interests lie in copy editing and longform features.

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