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Verma Trial: Accused killer stuck in bush near Kelowna murder scene
Two hours after Brittney Irving sent a text message to a marijuana broker, saying she would meet him in an hour, the man accused of killing her called his cousin to help pull him out of the bush not far from where Irving's body was eventually located.
Jason Labonte testified that Joelon Verma, who was driving another man's truck, contacted him on April 6, 2010 and said that he was stuck in the bush and needed help getting out.
Labonte called the truck owner—phone records show the call was placed at 3:12 p.m.—and the truck owner brought Verma's truck to Labonte's Rutland home.
The man offered to help come along to pull out Verma, but Labonte declined.
"He (Verma) told me to come up by myself," said Labonte.
Labonte, driving Verma's truck, met Verma in an area off McCulloch Forest Service Road where they had previously gone hiking. "I saw Joey standing at the back of the truck. He was stuck in the snow," said Labonte.
Labonte pulled the truck out and the men headed back to Kelowna in opposite directions.
Earlier in the day, Verma and Labonte spent time together watching TV at Labonte's house. At one point, Labonte walked down his hallway and noticed a different vehicle in his driveway and Verma talking to a woman, who he later recognized to be "Brittney."
"They were unloading some boxes and bags into my garage," testified Labonte.
Labonte didn't see what was in the bags, but said they smelled of marijuana.
Labonte, who previously kept marijuana at his house for a short time for Verma, was told the stuff "was not going to be there very long."
After putting the bags and box in his garage, Verma and the woman left Labonte's home separately. He couldn't say when it was, but it was before he had to pick his kids up from school, Labonte testified.
After that day, Labonte recalls seeing media reports about Irving being missing.
"I don't specifically recall talking [to Verma] about her disappearance," said Labonte. "I remember asking if that was the same girl he had known and he said it was the same name."
Verma later told Labonte he had been approached by police about Irving and that police may be calling Labonte because Verma told officers he had been at Labonte's house on April 6.
Labonte was first interviewed by police on April 21, 2010, but initially didn't tell officers he pulled Verma out of the bush on April 6, the last day Irving was seen alive.
"I just didn't want him to get in trouble for something he may or may not have done," said Labonte.
However, he spoke to police a couple days later and told them then about meeting Verma along McCulloch Forest Service Road.
He then drove with officers to show them where he met Verma. When police returned to the location on April 26, they found Irving's body not far from where Verma was said to have been stuck in the snow.
A month later, police were still looking into Irving's death and Labonte, who is a hunter, surrendered his firearms to the RCMP.
Blackberry messages from May 25, 2010 show Labonte and Verma discussing the police being at Labonte's home.
"Not very happy 'bout what I got dragged into," wrote Labonte.
"Bet not," wrote Verma. "I got dragged into it too. But it's all good, bro. Gotta do what they gotta do."
Some point after the messages, the cousins met at a car dealership.
"I told him I was worried about him....scared for him," said Labonte. "He said not to worry about it."
They hugged before parting, with Verma saying: "If he's going down, everybody's going down," Labonte recalled.
Soon after, messages between the cousins were less friendly.
"I need to know what you've said to these guys," Verma wrote in a Blackberry message. "I'm hearing things. I need to know what lawyer you will need."
Later in the conversation, Verma messaged that he was told by "an official at the gym to shut the f--- up."
"Bro, I didn't do anything," Labonte replied.
"I know you didn't do anything," wrote Verma. "It's what you said."
"I told you to keep your f---ing mouth shut."
Verma was arrested in connection with Irving's death on June 25, 2010 and discussed his cousin talking to police with an undercover police officer who was placed in his cell, the court heard Tuesday.
The court also heard from the man who sold Irving GHB on the day she disappeared, saying she was planning to go to rehab and was using the GHB "to come off OxyContin."
Earlier in the trial, the court heard from broker David Osborne, who testified Irving texted him around 1:15 p.m. on April 6 to say she would meet him in an hour. She never responded to texts he later sent her, wondering where she was.
The trial continues.
Cheryl Wierda, Capital News contributor