One of the last notions jurors heard before they retired yesterday to consider the fate of murder suspect Kelly Ellard was a reminder from the judge that another teenaged girl has a greater proclivity for violence.
In fact, the judge said, the jury could even consider the 18-year-old one of Reena Virk's killers.
The instruction may have sounded like a bolt from the blue to anyone who just walked in off the street. It was as if a brand new mini-trial began on the last day of Ms. Ellard's second-degree-murder trial, and a new defendant was now accused of killing Reena.
But the change in the trial's direction underscored the success of Ms. Ellard's defence team in planting in jurors' heads the notion of another killer -- a girl who has been accused of a string of violent crimes, from hitting her sisters' children to uttering threats to trashing her mother's house.
Throughout the three-week trial, lawyers for Ms. Ellard, 17, have dropped information here and there about the girl, who has been convicted of beating Reena, about her character, lengthy criminal past and antipathy for Reena. Yesterday, they persuaded the judge to mention the girl's violent nature in the charge to the jury.
The girl fits neatly into the defence team's theory that Ms. Ellard participated in the first attack on Reena on the south side of Victoria's Craigflower bridge. But after that, they say, their client went home to bed and within a week was framed for murder.
The real killer, according to Ms. Ellard's lawyers, was probably a young offender who can be identified only as M.P.G.
Madam Justice Nancy Morrison of the British Columbia Supreme Court agreed to instruct the jury on M.P.G.'s violent past in her charge, but also mentioned that she had an alibi and witnesses who dispute the defence theory.
"You may take this evidence into consideration, whether [M.P.G.]was more likely to have committed murder," Judge Morrison told the 12-member jury before it began deliberations yesterday morning.
During the trial, the lawyers noted that M.P.G. was one of two teens who lured Reena to the bridge the night of Nov. 14, 1997, when she was killed. M.P.G. was angry at 14-year-old Reena because she thought Reena had slept with her boyfriend. During the attack on Reena, she landed so many punches that she complained she had broken her hand.
Crown attorneys said that after the first beating, Ms. Ellard and another teenager, Warren Glowatski, followed Reena to the north side of the bridge, beat her again and drowned her in the Gorge.
But Crown attorney Derrill Prevett had no luck persuading Judge Morrison to urge jurors to disregard the theory of M.P.G. as the killer. M.P.G. was not on trial, Mr. Prevett said, and far more witnesses put M.P.G. on the south side of the bridge.
In the end, Judge Morrison took the middle road. She referred to M.P.G.'s questionable character, her motive to kill Reena and her violent criminal record.
But she also cautioned that many young witnesses at the trial said the girl never crossed the bridge with Mr. Glowatski.
The defence also succeeded in having a police videotape of Ms. Ellard that depicted her as uncaring and untruthful ruled inadmissible.
The videotape was shot on Nov. 21, 1997, the day Ms. Ellard and seven other teens were arrested in connection with Reena's beating and death. Reena's body was found the next day.
Defence lawyers balked at allowing Ms. Ellard's statement, saying she did not have a lawyer present.
Another defeat for the prosecutors was the failure of their star witness, Mr. Glowatski, to testify. The 18-year-old is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.
At least once a day, Mr. Glowatski's name came up in connection with Reena's death. Some of the girls still write to him in prison and accept his collect telephone calls.
Mr. Glowatski was brought to the courthouse twice, but refused to testify. He was the only person who could have put Ms. Ellard at the murder scene. At his trial last year, he described Ms. Ellard as the main instigator of the second beating and drowning -- another allegation the jury didn't hear.
Last week, Mr. Prevett asked the court to cite Mr. Glowatski for contempt, but that too was done with the jury out of the room.
Without Mr. Glowatski's testimony, the jury must weigh the strength of 26 Crown witnesses, mostly teenagers who either took part in the beating of Reena, watched it, or heard about it. Under cross-examination, many of them were revealed as habitual liars trying to protect Mr. Glowatski.