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Kelowna murder, mutilation trial continues to chug along in court

Gabriella Sears is charged with second degree murder and interfering with human remains after the body of her friend and co-worker Darren Middleton was found on her bathroom floor
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A Sycamore Road home in Kelowna cordoned off as police conduct an investigation after a man was found dead at the residence on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find upsetting.

A woman who has been accused of murdering her friend and employer appeared in Kelowna court on April 17, for a case management hearing.

Gabriella Sears is a transgender woman who was arrested under the name Dereck Sears.

She is currently in custody for charges of second-degree murder and interference with human remains after allegedly bludgeoning and then mutilating the genitals of Darren Middleton.

Sears appeared by video from the Okanagan Correctional Centre where she was being held.

She was arrested on June 17, 2021, after the body of Middleton was found at a home on Sycamore Road in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood.

Throughout the court proceedings, the crime scene has been described as “horrifying,” as Middleton’s body had been beaten and mutilated with an Xacto knife, according to forensic evidence.

“The penis was partially severed and the testicles were missing,” said Crown Prosecutor David Grabavac.

It was Middleton’s partner who found his bloody body lying on Sears’ bathroom floor, after he failed to return home after work that night.

The murder trial has been fraught with delays as Sears unexpectedly fired her defence lawyers mid-trial.

ustice Carol Ross then ordered that Sears undergo a month-long psychiatric assessment.

After it was determined that Sears was fit to stand trial, a new lawyer, Mark Swartz, was assigned to the case. Shortly after taking over the case, a management hearing was scheduled where Swartz told the court that he would no longer be representing Sears due to conflict.

Now, a new defence lawyer, Frances Mahon, is representing Sears.

In addition to the lawyer turnover, Justice Ross is in the process of retiring and will not be able to continue presiding over the trial. Instead, Justice Miriam Gropper has been assigned and will be taking over the case moving forward.

On April 17, Justice Ross returned to the court for the Sears murder trial for what will likely be the last time.

Sears had requested from Justice Ross, that the reasons for judgment relating to a decision that was made at the conclusion of the pre-trial or voir dire back in October 2023, be read to the court.

The voir dire, which can be thought of as a mini-trial used to determine the admissibility of evidence before it is presented to the court, was used to determine whether Sears’ confessions to Kelowna police could be used in the trial.

During the voir dire, her defence lawyer argued that these were involuntary and “spontaneous submissions” that were prompted by the violation of Sears’ Charter Rights by RCMP.

READ MORE: 2 murder confessions cannot be used as evidence in Kelowna trial: Justice

After Judge Ross heard the events that transpired at the Kelowna detachment surrounding Sears’ confessions, she ruled that Sears’ admissions of guilt could not be used as evidence in the trial.

In her reasons for judgment, Justice Ross stated that the police had violated Sears’ Charter Rights under Section 8, rendering the confessions of guilt inadmissible.

After Sears was arrested she told officers on multiple occasions that she had been sexually assaulted and wanted to go to a hospital to have a rape assessment and to receive treatment for her injuries. Sears also told the officers that she killed Middleton in self-defence and a response to the rape. These statements were recorded by RCMP but the allegations have not been proven in court.

Justice Ross said that the strip search and genital swabbing that Sears was subject to was “not conducted in a reasonable manner.”

Ross also said that the Kelowna RCMP were poorly trained in conducting sensitive assessments such as strip searches and swabbing, adding that the officers involved in the case thought that they were following protocol.

“All people, including those who are alleged to have committed a violent crime, have rights,” said Ross.

The next court date has been set for May 2.

READ MORE: Kelowna woman charged with murder says she acted after sexual assault



Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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