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Verma Trial: Truck owner told to take the fall for Kelowna murder
Making a gesture of a gun with his finger, Joelon Verma threatened to kill Mike Roberts’ family if he didn’t agree “to take the fall” in the weeks after Brittney Irving’s disappearance, the court heard Thursday.
Roberts, who owned the truck Verma was apparently driving the day Irving vanished, confronted Verma after police talked to him about clothing Irving was wearing when her body was found on April 26, 2010.
“They say there was clothing on the body. Are they going to find my DNA?” Roberts recalls saying.
Verma, now on trial for Irving’s murder, told him “yes.”
“You have to take the fall for this....If you don’t I have no choice but to kill you, your wife, your children and your grandchildren,” said Verma as he pressed his hand into Roberts’ stomach with a gun gesture. “I’m sorry, that’s just how we do business.”
The conversation came after weeks of Verma checking on Roberts, now 65, via text message to confirm that he wouldn’t tell anyone that Verma borrowed Roberts’ truck the day Irving went missing.
“If anyone asks about that truck, you did not lend your truck to anyone,” Verma told Roberts not long after he lent his truck to Verma on April 6, 2010.
Roberts had offered his truck to Verma the day before after hearing Verma say he had to “do some business at Big White” and raise concerns about his truck being recognized.
The pair, who had met working out at the YMCA, met at Verma’s house on April 6 to switch vehicles.
Later in the day, Roberts brought Verma’s truck to Jason Labonte’s house, Roberts testified.
He also retrieved his truck from Labonte’s around suppertime that night.
“It had been washed,” said Roberts.
Verma told Roberts that he “owed” him a pair of shoes, after giving Roberts’ runners, which were in his truck, to someone who had helped him when he had been stuck in the mud that day.
A couple of days later, Verma mentioned that he owed Roberts a shirt. The shirt and shoes taken from Roberts’ vehicle match the ones found on Irving’s body when she was found, the court has heard.
A day after he lent out his truck, Roberts said he was directed to a news report about Irving’s disappearance and said: “I knew in my gut I had just become a loose end.”
“It wasn’t difficult to connect the dots,” he said. “I couldn’t prove anything.”
Roberts said he tried to keep his relationship with Verma the same “on the surface” but lived in fear for himself and his family.
When defence suggested he was lying about being fearful of Verma, Roberts said: “I’m a lot of things. What I’m not is a liar.”
Things came to a head at the end of May, 2010, when a police officer came to Roberts’ door, saying he was investigating a report of vandalism to logging equipment. Because the police officer referred to his truck by its legal description of green—when it appears to be brown—Roberts said he knew it was a “ploy.”
In messages to Verma later, Roberts said he told police he had not lent out his truck, just as Verma had instructed.
Roberts’ truck and Labonte’s guns were soon confiscated, prompting a meeting between Verma and Roberts at the YMCA.
“I can’t take the fall for this,” Verma told Roberts. “My people need me. You need to take the fall for this.”
Roberts said he wanted his wife “looked after” if he was to go to jail and Verma said he would arrange a house and an income for Roberts’ wife, he testified.
“I just went along with it and said ‘okay,’” said Roberts, who also told Verma he wanted legal advice.
Verma arranged for a meeting with a Penticton lawyer and before the meeting with the lawyer, Verma said he wanted to tell Roberts “how all this went down” so Roberts would be “convincing.”
Roberts had thought he was taking the blame for “driving the truck,” he said, but soon realized, “I’m taking the blame for her being killed.”
“It should have been as plain as the nose on my face.”
After the meeting at the lawyer’s, which Verma attended without Roberts, Roberts sat down with his wife.
“I’m not doing this, I can’t do this,” he said.
Soon after, he went to the police and told them Verma borrowed his truck.
Verma is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Irving. The trial continues.
By Cheryl Wierda, Capital News contributor