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I am regularly asked for updates on the Laura Babcock murder trial. It is still set for this fall and looks highly unlikely to be postponed as it was already bumped from February of this year
There are pre-trial motions scheduled for August 28th. While the pre-trial motions in this and all other cases are typically subject to a publication ban, the public can attend and they are often very interesting.
And that’s really all I can tell you at this point.
Jan. 29 Update: This post has been updated to remove an inaccuracy in the original version about the reasons for the Babcock trial delay. Information on the Wayne Millard preliminary hearing was also updated to take into account the fact that the hearing has taken place.
After spending months in court in Hamilton attending pre-trial motions for their upcoming trial for the murder of Tim Bosma, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich put in a brief appearance yesterday at superior court in Toronto, where they are eventually slated to be tried for the murder of Laura Babcock.
Millard, who had no counsel present, told the court he will defend himself.
The Babcock trial, which was originally
set pencilled in for September of 2016, has now been postponed to early 2017 due largely to difficulty finding a time slot in the various attorneys’ schedules.
Millard and Smich are both pleading not guilty to the first degree murders of Tim Bosma in 2013 and Laura Babcock in 2012. In addition, Millard is pleading not guilty to the 2012 murder of his father, Wayne Millard. A preliminary hearing for the patricide case was held in early January right after the holidays and just before jury selection began in the Bosma trial on January 18, 2016. The judge will deliver her decision on whether the case will proceed to trial on March 4.
Millard also noted he is having trouble getting access to the disclosure material he needs for the Babcock case.
Justice John McMahon strongly advised Millard more than once to get a lawyer. Although he made clear that the decision was ultimately Millard’s, he said: “I haven’t seen a lot of first degree murder charges” where self-represented defendants succeed.
“I do think it’s in your best interests to get a lawyer.”
This is the only one of the three trials where Millard has decided to go it alone. He will be represented by Toronto lawyer Ravin Pillay at the Bosma trial. Hamilton lawyer Peter Boushy acted as his counsel at the preliminary hearing for his father’s murder.
“I have an issue at the Hamilton jail with getting access to the disclosure on Laura Babcock material,” Millard said, adding that he is unable to view the CDs and DVDs provided by the prosecution.
When asked by the judge if she wanted to raise any issues, Assistant Crown Attorney Jill Cameron said she had no objections and wasn’t familiar with procedures and policies at the Barton Street jail officially known as the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre.
As the judge looked at the forms filled out by the accused, Millard, who was wearing a blue and white striped shirt and ill-fitting jeans, said from the prisoner’s box, “Forgive the handwriting your honour.”
The judge replied that it was clearer than his. Then for the record, he stated, “The court orders Dellen Millard full and unfettered access to the CDs and DVDs in the Laura Babcock matter.”
While Millard sat in the prisoner’s box, his co-accused Mark Smich was placed in an empty jury seat. He wore a bright blue v-neck sweater over a collared shirt and denim pants without the traditional jean stitching. When questioned on a minor housekeeping matter, he responded, “I have no problem with that.”
Smich is represented by Toronto lawyer Tom Dungey in both the Bosma and Babcock cases.
Millard arrived late for court after a brief overnight stay at the Toronto South Detention Centre aka the super jail. It has been plagued with problems since its opening in 2014 and prisoner transportation is frequently delayed causing a domino effect of court delays. Justice McMahon also made a statement on the record about how the Toronto South issues were negatively affecting court functions.
Smich is in custody at the Toronto East Detention Centre.
Dellen Millard and Mark Smich appeared in Toronto court today to case to address administrative matters related to a direct indictment issued in the Laura Babcock murder case in late August.
Both Millard and Smich are pleading not guilty to the murder of Babcock, which occurred on or around July 3 and 4, 2012. Further details cannot yet be revealed due to a temporary publication ban. They were charged in April 2014.
When a direct indictment is issued by the attorney general, it means there is no preliminary hearing and the case goes straight to trial.
Millard and Smich also faced a direct indictment in the Tim Bosma murder case, which will go to trial in January 2016. At the time it was granted in the summer of 2014, Millard’s lawyer Ravin Pillay, told the Globe and Mail, he felt the move was against his client’s interests and “encumber(ed) the ability to make a full answer in defence” because without a preliminary hearing, he would not have an opportunity to test the prosecution’s case.
Not all criminal defence lawyers agree with that assessment. As much as a preliminary hearing gives the defence a dry run, it can also give the Crown a look at the accused’s trial strategy. Millard’s ex-girlfriend Christina Noudga, who is charged as an accessory after the fact in the Bosma murder, has chosen, for example, to go direct to trial skipping her preliminary hearing.
Millard, Smich and Noudga are all pleading not guilty in the Bosma case. In addition Millard is pleading not guilty to the 2012 murder of his father Wayne Millard. None of the allegations in any of the cases have been proven in court.
Direct indictments are fairly unusual in Ontario and tend to be used in high-profile cases.
There is no trial date yet scheduled for the Laura Babcock case. It will likely be late 2016 or early 2017.
The Crown is seeking a direct indictment in the Laura Babcock murder case, raising further questions about the original investigation into her disappearance by Toronto police.
If the direct indictment is granted, it should be announced over the next few weeks and the case against the accused, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, will proceed directly to trial without a preliminary hearing.
A direct indictment was granted last July for the related murder trial of Tim Bosma, where Millard and Smich are also charged. At the time, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur commented: “I’m not going to speak about the case, but when this procedure is supported, it’s because there is good evidence that the person being accused will become convicted.”
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Attorney General, said the ministry does not comment on whether requests for direct indictments have been made in a specific case.
Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty on all counts and none of the allegations against them have been proven in court.
The Babcock case is very different from the Bosma murder in terms of what the public knows about the evidence. Police have said that Tim Bosma’s remains, burned beyond recognition, were found on Millard’s farm near Ayr, Ontario, and that Bosma’s truck was found in a trailer parked in the driveway of Millard’s mother, Madeleine Burns, in Kleinburg, north of Toronto. The Hamilton Spectator has reported that the victim was incinerated in a livestock incinerator found on Millard’s animal-less farm and purchased through Millardair.
In contrast, none of the evidence in the Laura Babcock case has been made public. There is also no body although the Hamilton Spectator reported that its sources believe Babcock was incinerated shortly after her disappearance in July 2012.
Many questions have been raised about how the Laura Babcock investigation was originally handled by Toronto police, who have been severely criticized for not following up on a mobile phone bill showing that the last eight phone calls she made were to Dellen Millard.
Sgt. Stephen Woodhouse — who was the lead detective in the original 2012 search for Laura Babcock told the National Post in May 2013 that investigators were never aware of any relationship between her and Dellen Millard. Contradicting her parents and ex-boyfriend, who said they had repeatedly brought the phone records to police attention, Sgt. Woodhouse said police did not see them until after Millard was arrested for the Tim Bosma murder. (Although, according to TPS operating procedures, investigators should have acquired the phone records of anyone missing under such circumstances, whether given to them by the family or not.)
“In this case we had no idea where Laura was living at the time, who her circle of friends were, what she was doing,” said Sgt. Woodhouse, who has since taken another position within Toronto Police and is no longer assigned to the case.
“In a city of 3 million people, where do you start?” he said. “We did the standard press release and put her picture out there… We followed the leads that we had.”
That the Crown would apply for a direct indictment indicates that they think they have a very strong case against Millard. This means that once police got serious about the Babcock disappearance investigation they don’t appear to have had too much difficulty finding evidence. It raises the question once again of why the investigation into Laura’s disappearance was so different pre- and post-Millard’s arrest.
In addition to the Bosma and Babcock murders, Dellen Millard has also been charged with the murder of his father, Wayne. No direct indictment is being sought in that case. Given that the Babcock and Bosma murder cases are being handled by different jurisdictions, it’s highly unlikely they will be joined and tried together.
Once again, none of the allegations against Millard and Smich have been proven in court. They are innocent until proven guilty.
This past Thursday, there was a major breakthrough in the puzzling murder case of Tim Bosma, the Ancaster, Ont., man who put his Dodge Ram truck up for sale online last spring, went for a test drive with two prospective buyers, and never returned. The young father’s tragic death was one of the biggest stories of 2013, but for months there had been almost no news. The accused killers—Dellen Millard, the heir to an aviation company, and his friend Mark Smich—had both pleaded not guilty; the case was slowly winding its way through the courts.
Those who have been closely following the case weren’t expecting to hear much more until the trial begins in 2015. I had become increasingly pessimistic about whether two linked investigations by Toronto police involving Millard would ever yield results. So it was a huge surprise last Thursday when he was charged with two more first-degree murders: that of his father, Wayne, whose 2012 shooting death had been initially ruled a suicide; and that of Laura Babcock, a friend of Millard’s who went missing in 2012. (Smich is also facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Babcock.)
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Those who have been closely following the story weren’t expecting to hear much more until the trial begins in 2015. I had become increasingly pessimistic about whether two linked investigations by Toronto police involving Millard would ever yield results. So it was a huge surprise last Thursday when he was charged with two more first-degree murders: that of his father, Wayne, whose 2012 shooting death had been initially ruled a suicide; and that of Laura Babcock, a friend of Millard’s who went missing in 2012. (Smich is also facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Babcock.)
While the Hamilton Police have been handling the investigation into Bosma’s death, Toronto Police Services has jurisdiction in Babcock’s and Wayne Millard’s alleged murders. Family and friends of Babcock have voiced concerns about how TPS dealt with her case. Journalists have also been critical. Even the typically cop-friendly Toronto Sun criticized homicide detective Mike Carbone for praising the Babcock investigators as “thorough” and “very diligent,” given the evidence of delays and confusion in the investigation.
Since last May, when I started covering the story of Dellen Millard, I have spoken extensively with friends and relations of his alleged victims and filed several access to information requests to better understand the process the police undertake when dealing with missing persons and suicides. My research raised serious questions about the investigations, whether basic protocols and procedures were followed, and, more significantly, whether Bosma’s death could have been prevented.
Laura Babcock, a 23-year-old recent graduate from the University of Toronto, disappeared in the summer of 2012. In the months before her death, her life started falling apart. Friends say she was struggling with mental illness, using recreational drugs, and moving from temporary home to the next. According to police, she had also begun advertising her services online as an escort. In late June, she met up with her ex-boyfriend Shawn Lerner, who loaned her his iPad so she could look for work, and he paid for her to stay at a west-end hotel. Then, in early July, she went silent. Lerner reported her missing to Toronto police on July 14; her parents followed up not long after.
Last December, I met up with Lerner at a north Toronto food court. He stressed to me that from the time he walked into the 32 Division police station near Yonge and Sheppard to report Babcock missing, no one seemed to care—allegations he’s made previously in the media. The officer on duty agreed to take the report, but Lerner says that he laughed at the suggestion that it might be possible to trace the iPad loaned to Babcock and accused Lerner of playing CSI. Then Lerner brought up the fact that Babcock had been using drugs. “As soon as they heard about the drugs, that’s when they just wrote her off,” he said.
Babcock’s cellphone bill shows that the last eight phone calls she made after she disappeared were to Dellen Millard. Babcock’s parents and Lerner have repeatedly stated that they gave the bill to police. They also followed up with Sgt. Stephen Woodhouse, the officer in charge of the investigation, but Lerner says the officer did not return his emails and that his voicemail was often full. (In a May 2013 National Post story, Woodhouse said that the original investigators were not aware of the relationship between Babcock and Millard, and that her phone records were not brought to their attention at the time.)
Dismayed by the lack of response, Lerner, who has acted as a kind of unofficial spokesman for the Babcock family, contacted Millard himself. Lerner still has the text messages he sent to the accused killer, who he knew casually through Babcock. In one text, Lerner wrote that he was not making accusations but trying to get information. Millard responded almost immediately to suggest a meeting.
When the two men met for coffee the next day, Lerner said that Millard initially denied having spoken with Babcock. But after Lerner produced the phone bill from his bag, Lerner said that Millard changed his story, saying Babcock had contacted him looking for drugs. Lerner says he passed this information on to Woodhouse.
By spring of 2013, the investigation into Babcock’s disappearance had pretty much stalled. Woodhouse had been transferred to another position. When asked about the case by theNational Post in May of that year, he said, “In a city of three million people, where do you start? We did the standard press release and put her picture out there…. We followed the leads that we had.”
In early June 2013, shortly after he was put in charge of the Babcock and Wayne Millard cases, homicide detective Mike Carbone spoke at a press conference. He made no mention of the major case management (MCM) system, which was implemented in Ontario in the late ’90s in response to the policing and communications failures revealed in the wake of the Paul Bernardo case. According to the TPS Policy and Procedure manual, the relevant pages of which were obtained through a freedom of information request, in any missing-persons case where foul play is suspected, the officer in charge must ensure that “a Major Case Manager is assigned to conduct the investigation in compliance with the Ontario Major Case Management Manual.” Police appeared to have not suspected foul play in the disappearance of Babcock, despite the fact she’d been missing for months, had left her passport with her parents, and had not made any financial transactions nor used her health card or phone since June 2012.
To the astonishment of reporters at the news conference, Carbone said that officers had only become aware of Babcock’s phone records in May 2013 as a result of the arrest of Millard for Bosma’s murder. Carbone later contradicted himself, saying that “at some point [during the investigation into Babcock’s disappearance] the officers from 22 Division would have conducted searches on her telephone and discovered those records.” When a reporter then asked if officers had ever spoken to Millard, Carbone replied: “I don’t believe the police interviewed Millard at the time.” I contacted Carbone a few weeks after the news conference and asked him to clarify this point, but he declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
On Nov. 29, 2012, 22 Division police in Etobicoke were alerted by a 911 call to investigate the shooting death of 71-year-old Wayne Millard at the home he shared with his son, Dellen. Just before he died, Wayne had completed the building of a new, multimillion-dollar Millardair operation at the airport in Waterloo, Ont. A pilot by training, he had inherited the family aviation business and planned on running the new venture, which he called Dellen’s project, with his only child.
Until last week, police had released scant information about his death. At the Babcock news conference in 2013, Carbone declined to answer questions about who had phoned 911 or found the body. He also refused to confirm newspaper reports that Wayne had been shot in the eye. He did, however, praise the police who looked into the death and classified it as a suicide for their “very thorough” work.
The Toronto Police Service protocols for investigations of suspected suicides emphasize “the need to remain vigilant for the possibility of foul play…[when] the only witness or person present at the time of death or finding of the body is an intimate partner past or present.”
Again, foul play does not appear to have suspected. Investigators never contacted executives at Millardair, according to Al Sharif, a consultant to the business. And the only relatives who appear to have spoken to police are Dellen and his mother. Wayne’s aunt, June Neill, wrote a comment on his online obituary that she had not been told about her nephew’s death or about the reception in his honour. (She died in February 2014.)
Complicating matters is the fact that the people Dellen did inform about Wayne’s death were told that he had died of an aneurysm. They only learned that it was a suspected suicide after the Bosma murder. I’ve spoken to more than a dozen people about Wayne, and not one has said they could imagine him killing himself.
The Babcock disappearance was not the first time Dellen Millard’s name had been brought to the attention of authorities. But since TPS has released only the barest details about their investigations into the deaths of Babcock and Wayne Millard, it’s not known whether they checked for and knew about Dellen’s previous contacts with police, or just didn’t see them as significant.
In 2009, a former tenant at Dellen’s west-end Toronto rental property —who was engaged in a dispute with him before the Landlord Tenant Board at the time—reported to police that she had found Millard and his friends tampering with the engine of her car the night before her hearing. A few years back, a neighbour of the Millards (who asked not to be identified) complained to police that Dellen and his buddies sped dangerously down the child-filled street. (Nothing came of these complaints.) According to a November 2013 article in theToronto Star, Millard had once been stopped by police and issued a contact card—the tattoo on his wrist that read “ambition” was recorded at the time, a detail that led police to him in the Bosma case.
This past September, on a fine Monday morning, police descended once again on Dellen Millard’s farm, near Cambridge, Ont., where Bosma’s remains had been found months earlier. This time, though, they were searching for evidence related to the disappearance of Babcock. There were Toronto homicide detectives, uniformed officers from the local Waterloo force, forensic technicians in lab coats, and an OPP HAZMAT team with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs and gas masks covering their faces. The road was lined with fire trucks, buses, and vans carrying television news crews.
Soon after this search, the OPP confirmed that it was in charge of the three Millard-related investigations under the auspices of the major case management system. As part of their responsibilities, they also began dealing with the press. In November, lead Det. Insp. Dave Hillman spoke to me frankly and openly about how major case management works and why everything crime- and justice-related seems to drag on for so long. But he declined then to provide any new information about the state of the individual investigations, which continue to be run by the Toronto and Hamilton police.
When I visited Toronto police headquarters in February to pick up some documents, I dropped by the media office to try once again to find out if there was anything at all they could tell me about the initial handling of the Babcock and Wayne Millard investigations. Would it be possible, for example, to say whether detectives looking into Wayne’s death knew about Dellen allegedly messing with his tenant’s car? Or could police explain why Wayne’s body was released for cremation when the coroner’s office said in May that the investigation into his death was still open?
Spokesman Mark Pugash politely explained that it simply wasn’t possible to provide answers. If a review of a criminal investigation is ever deemed necessary, it doesn’t take place until the criminal investigation is settled. Disciplinary actions don’t run concurrently.
There is little doubt the developments of the past week will have an impact on this story. Now that Millard has been charged with the murders of his father and Babcock, both cases are back in the headlines. It will be difficult to ignore any irregularities in the investigations. Was standard protocol followed? If not, will anyone be held accountable? And what are the Toronto police doing to ensure oversights don’t occur? The families and friends of the victims, and all the people of Toronto, have a right to know.
Updated with comments from Dellen Millard’s lawyer
Det. Jennifer Cash of the Toronto Police said yesterday that she is working full-time on the disappearance of Laura Babcock.
Babcock went missing in June 2012. Her last phone calls were to Dellen Millard, accused murderer of Tim Bosma.
Cash said in a brief phone interview Tuesday that an entire team was working on the case, but she declined to provide any further details and referred all questions to lead detective Mike Carbone, who is in charge of both the Babcock case and the investigation into Wayne Millard‘s death. Carbone has not yet returned calls.
Wayne is Dellen’s father. His death, from a gunshot to the head in November 2012, was originally deemed a suicide, but the case was reopened after Dellen was arrested for Tim Bosma’s murder in May of this year.
No new information on either the Babcock or Wayne Millard cases has been released since June 4 when the police held a news conference.
Update: Deepak Paradkar, Dellen Millard’s lawyer, said in an email: “Police have not contacted me or DELLEN about either one of the other two cases.”