Janet Hutchings admits she wasn’t scared first when a masked gunman walked into the bar where she was working.
It was Oct. 5, 2015, a Saturday night, and she was doing the 5 p.m. to close shift behind the bar at the Captain’s Quarters hotel in St. John’s. There were two couples in the bar along with another man, and just a few minutes left before the VLTs shut off for the night.
Making a couple drinks for one of the couples, Larry Wellman and Linda McBay, Hutchings had her back turned when the gunman entered and told her to “Put the money in the f—king bag right now.” She assumed it was some kind of joke.
She turned and looked at his face, and found it was covered except for his eyes and mouth. Then she saw what he had in his hand: a sawed-off shotgun, pointed at her.
Telling the man she didn’t have much money in the cash, Hutchings used a key to open the bottom drawer of the cash register, removing the row of $20 bills and hiding them before putting the tray of money in front of the man.
“This is what I have, take what I have,” she told him.
It wasn’t good enough — the man wanted more. He cocked his gun and pointed it at her, and told her he wanted money from the VLTs.
At that point, Wellman stepped in.
“What are you doing pointing a gun at a lady?” he asked. With that, the gunman turned his attention from Hutchings to Wellman.
Hutchings acknowledged she was anxious when she gave those details before the jury in the murder trial of Brandon Phillips, 29, in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Thursday morning. Clutching a tissue in one hand, Hutchings kept her composure as she answered questions from Crown prosecutor Shauna MacDonald about the night Wellman, 63, was shot and killed.
The audio of a surveillance video, which MacDonald and co-prosecutor Mark Heerema have played multiple times for the court, reveals the gunman saying, “Buddy? Get the f—k.” As he turns towards Wellman, the video shows Hutchings putting the money tray back in the cash register and locking it.
Hutchings said she didn’t have a clear line of vision to Wellman, but saw the gunman raise his hands and make a movement.
“Then Larry came tumbling back in,” Hutchings said. “(The gunman) had to have hit him. Larry wasn’t a small man.”
Wellman composed himself and went back out to the pool table room, Hutchings testified.
“I could hear Larry speaking with (the gunman) and (the gunman) yelling, she said. “I could hear Linda and I could hear him yelling, screaming ‘This is none of your business, I just want my money.’ Linda was hollering ‘Get away.’ I could hear Larry but he wasn’t yelling, he sounded very calm.”
The video shows McBay attempting to pull her husband away from the gunman, who has the shotgun pointed. “Save your husband,” he’s heard saying. “Save his life.”
Hutchings said McBay gave her a cellphone. Hutchings took it and ran to the basement steps to call 911.
“I heard a bang. A shot. The gun went off,” she told the jury. “I heard Linda yelling, ‘Where is everybody? I need help.’ That’s when I knew he had died.”
Hutchings said she then went back upstairs and into the pool table room, where she saw Wellman, lying on the floor and bleeding. At this point in her testimony, Hutchings’ voice broke down. Holding her tissue to her eyes, she turned away from the jury as she composed herself.
The video shows the gunman going behind the bar while Janet is out of the room and rummaging around in the area behind the cash. “Where’s my f—king money?” he’s heard shouting. He gives up and leaves empty handed.
Hutchings said although the man had talked about a bag, she never saw him holding one.
In cross-examining Hutchings, defense lawyer Mark Gruchy first focused on her description of the mask the gunman was wearing. She told police on the night of the shooting it was a black ski mask. A navy blue toque with eye holes cut into it was recovered by police on the street behind the hotel the next day, and later found to contain both Phillips’ DNA and a single particle of gunshot residue.
Gruchy also asked Hutchings about the gunman’s demeanour, which she had described as nervous.
“Was the impression you had that what he was focused on, all he wanted was money?” Gruchy asked.
“That’s all he was asking me for, yes,” Hutchings replied.
The Crown has rested its case against Phillips, after calling 16 witnesses to the stand. The trial will resume again Monday, at which time Gruchy and co-defense counsel Jeff Brace will announce whether or not they will be calling any witnesses. They expect to wrap up their side next week.