The RCMP officer who first arrested Cody Legebokoff says he had knots in his stomach when what started as a roadside stop for speeding morphed into a possible liquor infraction, then a potential case of poaching, and finally a charge of murder in the death of 15-year-old Loren Leslie.
Constable Aaron Kehler, whose hunch on a frigid night in November, 2010, prompted the arrest of a man the Crown has characterized as a serial killer, testified Tuesday at Mr. Legebokoff’s trial in B.C. Supreme Court. Mr. Legebokoff has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
It marked the first time Constable Kehler has spoken publicly about the case.
He told the jury something immediately seemed off when he saw Mr. Legebokoff driving along a logging road in a remote stretch between the northern B.C. communities of Vanderhoof and Fort St. James.
“Something was odd. I felt it inside that there was something not right about that scenario and that scene,” he said.
The RCMP officer’s testimony put the spotlight back on Mr. Legebokoff after the defence spent much of the first two days of the trial focusing on the troubles or vulnerabilities of the women who were killed.
Constable Kehler had been with the RCMP for just over a year and was stationed in Fort St. James at the time. He said he had been driving south to Vanderhoof to meet another officer when he saw vehicle lights in the woods to his left. He said he initially thought the lights were from a snowmobile because of the remoteness of the area.
But he said he then saw a pickup truck roar down the logging road and onto the highway. He said the driver was speeding and he pulled him over about 10 minutes later, when another officer was in the area to provide backup.
Constable Kehler said the strangeness ensued. He had been involved in approximately 100 previous roadside stops but said Mr. Legebokoff was the first person he’d seen who immediately held his licence and registration outside the driver’s side window.
What’s more, he said, Mr. Legebokoff was in shorts when the temperature was well below zero. Constable Kehler himself was wearing long johns at the time.
Constable Kehler told the court he saw blood on Mr. Legebokoff’s chin. He said he eventually spotted more on his legs, and inside the vehicle.
He said Mr. Legebokoff told him he had been poaching deer with a friend.
“I’m a redneck, that’s what we do for fun,” he quoted Mr. Legebokoff as saying.
He said he took Mr. Legebokoff into custody under the Wildlife Act, but found the poaching story puzzling. Mr. Legebokoff became upset and agitated, he said, when the Constable Kehler shared his skepticism.
Constable Keller said Mr. Legebokoff told him that he and his friend had clubbed the deer with a pipe wrench. The blood-stained tool was found in Mr. Legebokoff’s vehicle, Constable Keller said. The officer said that he then suggested to Mr. Legebokoff that people who beat animals to death can turn into serial killers.
Meanwhile, Ms. Leslie’s backpack had been found on Mr. Legebokoff’s passenger side seat, Constable Kehler said. A conservation officer was called in to head up the logging road to check out the poaching story, but Constable Kehler said they were aware Ms. Leslie’s body might be discovered.
Constable Keher said he got the answer from the conservation officer over radio. He said the conservation officer told him it was the “worst case scenario.”
Mr. Legebokoff was arrested and the Crown says DNA evidence links him not only to Ms. Leslie’s death, but also to the deaths of Jill Stuchenko, Cynthia Maas, and Natasha Montgomery. The Crown has said all four were brutally beaten.
Ms. Leslie is something of an outlier, when compared with the other women. She was far younger and met Mr. Legebokoff online, the Crown has said.
The Crown has said Ms. Stuchenko, Ms. Maas, and Ms. Montgomery had worked in the sex trade. It has said Mr. Legebokoff was addicted to cocaine and used sex workers to get him the drug.
Mr. Legebokoff has pleaded not guilty. The defence has not formally laid out its case or strategy, but has used its court time to question family members of the deceased.
For instance, defence lawyer Jim Heller on Tuesday questioned Ms. Leslie’s mother and father about her problems with anxiety and whether she’d ever attempted to take her own life. They portrayed her mostly as a happy child, though they said she did have some mental-health issues.
The Crown has said Mr. Legebokoff at one point told police Ms. Leslie inflicted her injuries on herself because she wanted to end her life. It has said she could not possibly have been able to injure herself to such a degree.