A Kelowna gangster who is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend, in what appeared to be a drug deal gone awry, failed this week in a bid to win a new trial.
Joelon Verma, who once identified himself as a member of the criminal organization the Independent Soldiers, was convicted of first degree murder three years ago for the April 2010 killing of Brittney Irving. She was found in the woods with four bullet holes through her chest after a meeting with Verma.
Verma attempted to appeal the conviction for that crime for two reasons.
First, he claimed the trial judge erred in accepting a series of text messages sent from Irving in the days prior to her death—as well as comments she made to other people—as anything more than hearsay.
The second reason for appeal had to do with the judge’s instructions on post-offence conduct.
Verma said the judge erred by failing to instruct the jury that his post-offence conduct, such as leaving the scene, was relevant only to the question of whether he was the person who killed Irving.
He asserted that the judge should have explicitly instructed the jury that post-offence conduct was not relevant to the question of whether the homicide was planned and deliberate.
Both of those grounds were rejected by the appeal court.
“Defence counsel’s position that the jury could safely treat all of the messages as admissible for the truth of their contents was a tenable one, and the judge was entitled to accept it without further explicit analysis,” wrote Justice Harvey Groberman in the decision.
Regarding the issue of whether the murder was planned and deliberate, Groberman said it was not a significant matter of dispute.
“In the circumstances, and in the context of the charge as a whole, there was no danger of the jury misusing the post-offence conduct evidence by applying it to that issue. The charge to the jury was adequate,” he wrote.
The crime captivated the city as it involved two people both identified as members of the drug trade.
Verma was a self-professed gangster while Irving was a known drug addict who, her family said at the time, was working to get herself clean.
It was an upward battle, the court heard throughout the lengthy trial looking into her death.
In March 2010, she was living in a house in Kelowna, at which she maintained a marijuana grow operation.
During the last week of that month, the house was raided by police, and Irving was charged with cultivation of marijuana.
“After the raid, she was not able to return to live in the house. Her boyfriend, Verma, arranged temporary accommodation for her at the Day’s Inn in Kelowna. She lived there from March 29, 2010 until her disappearance on April 6, 2010,” Groberman laid out in his decision.
During the trial, the Crown contended that Irving was putting together a deal to sell a large quantity of marijuana in order to obtain funds to finance her legal defence.
“Verma pretended to be acting for a buyer who was interested in making a large purchase from Ms. Irving at a high price,” the appeal reads.
“Once she had gathered the required quantity of marijuana, however, he lured her to a remote area and killed her. The Crown suggested that his motive was theft of the marijuana.”
A key witness at the trial was Irving’s brother, Joze MacCulloch. He had moved in to his sister’s house shortly before it was raided. He remained with her during the time she lived at the Day’s Inn.
He testified that while they were living at the hotel, Irving was preparing to sell about 70 or 75 pounds of marijuana, with the goal of raising money to retain counsel to defend her on the cultivation charge.
Irving told her brother that Verma had a buyer, and she anticipated that the transaction would be a lucrative one.
She expected to make approximately $100 per pound on the sale, an amount much higher than her normal profits, which were $25 to $50 per pound.
The pot was to be picked up from her pickup truck, which he had planned to leave at a spot near the Big White Ski Resort.
She and Verma would then go shooting. While they were away, the purchasers would inspect and take the marijuana, leaving the payment in her truck.
Irving couldn’t seem to gather enough drugs to support the deal and that led to a heated phone conversation with Verma.
After the call, the jury heard that Irving told her brother, “Wow, Joey’s choked, I won’t have the full order.”
As the deal got closer to being completed times and amounts changed. Irving went to an agreed upon meeting place April 6 and told her brother she’d be back in an hour.
Her brother’s concern was piqued that evening when two people who were supposed to pick up the pot went to their shared hotel room in search of Irving.
They told her brother they wanted to know what happened to their drugs.
He, in turn, called Verma who claimed that he had waited for Irving that afternoon, but that she had not shown up.
The court heard contradicting evidence that the two had been seen together that day.
Jurors were also told that weeks later Irving’s body was found in a wooded area within 300 metres of the spot where Verma had asked a family member, on April 6, to help tow him from the snow.