Justice

Activist on trial

An emerging native leader is accused of murder

JOHN DeMONT May 3 1999
Justice

Activist on trial

An emerging native leader is accused of murder

JOHN DeMONT May 3 1999

Activist on trial

Justice

An emerging native leader is accused of murder

Accused murderer Noah Augustine looked like himself again. Gone were the scruffy goatee and orange prison overalls he wore in the mug shot that stared out from newspaper front pages after he turned himself in to police last October in Jacksonville, Fla. Instead, the charisma that helped establish the 28year-old as a leader in New Brunswick’s native community was evident each morning last week as he walked into the Miramichi courthouse in his natty, earth-tone sport coat, his handsome face clean-shaven, his thick black hair jelled fastidiously back. Whatever Augustine was feeling did not show. He listened impassively as prosecutor Paul Hawkins told the jury that the native activist showed up at the home of Bruce Barnaby, a resident of the Eel Ground reserve near Miramichi last Sept. 19 and shot one bullet into the 41-year-old man, then straddled his fallen body and fired again. Augustine’s firm expression hardly wavered while the prosecution painstakingly presented its evidence—even though he knew a conviction could mean up to 25 years in jail.

His fall from grace has Shakespearean overtones. And the worst may still be ahead for Augustine, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder. The Crown’s best ammunition: Augustine’s own | confession, allegedly given over the telephone to an RCMP corporal, just before he surrendered in Florida a week after the murder. Moreover, Thomas Haddad, a native police constable who turned himself in along with Augustine and is now charged with being an accessory after the fact to the murder, was due to testify this week that he heard Augustine admit to the shooting.

On the other hand, the defendant’s lawyers intended to argue this week that their client fired in self-defence to protect himself from a man with a long history of violence. Police found a knife in Barnaby’s home but did not seize it in their investigation after the shooting. The defence strategy could set up the most dramatic moment in the trial: Augustine’s own appearance on the witness stand to give his version of what happened that grim morning last September. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he told reporters last week.

He once had so much more to look forward to. Media-sawy and articulate, he seemed to be the perfect new-style leader for a native

community looking to assert its independence. Augustine, who grew up on the Red Bank reserve near Miramichi, marked himself as someone to watch in the early 1990s when, after a rash of suicides on the nearby Big Cove reserve, he trained as a suicide prevention counsellor and began holding seminars for RCMP, corrections officials and native inmates. In 1994, he con-

was expected to testify that Augustine told him he then straddled the victim’s body and shot once more.

ducted an exhaustive study of prescription drug abuse on reserves that received national attention. He was just 23 when he narrowly lost an election to become Red Bank’s chief. For a while, he worked for the provincial government developing economic opportunities for natives. In 1997, he set up a consulting firm catering to native clients.

Then a year ago, when native loggers defiantly cut down trees to protest a court ruling that they had no right to log on Crown lands, Augustine emerged as one of the most visible and vocal native spokesmen. “Noah is special,” explained Red Bank band Chief Michael Augustine as he attended the trial last week. ‘To be a leader you have to be born with certain traits. He’s got a charisma that few people have.” That reputation has made the allegations of what

happened last September hard for many New Brunswick natives to accept.

Hawkins, in his opening statement last week, said Augustine went to his aunt’s home on the night before the killing to discuss the 1986 death of his cousin, Darren Augustine, who, according to an inquest, was accidentally killed when a car hit him while he was lying on a road. By the time the last of the prosecution’s 36 witnesses steps down, the jury will have heard evidence that Augustine left his aunt’s home and went to a camp where Haddad and another police officer were drinking. Hours later, Augustine and Haddad were at Barnaby’s door. According to Hawkins, Haddad will testify that by then he was too drunk to remember anything. But according to Hawkins, Augustine was carrying Haddad’s gun when he entered the home, and it went off—striking Barnaby. Haddad

Augustine’s lawyers—Gary Miller and Peter O’Neill—have other hurdles to mount. After the shooting, Augustine and Haddad allegedly headed for the American border. Last September, just minutes before surrendering to the Florida Highway Patrol, Augustine called Cpl. Ferris McLean at the Sunny Brook, N.B., RCMP detachment and, according to Hawkins, told him, “I did it.” But Hawkins also revealed that Augustine later told police, “I’m not a coldblooded murderer.” What was once the tale of a crusading activist has been transformed into a sombre courtroom drama.

JOHN DeMONT in Miramichi

JOHN DeMONT