WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find upsetting.
In a surprising turn of events, the woman accused of murdering and mutilating a man in Kelowna has announced that she is firing her lawyers–amid the trial.
In a BC Supreme courtroom in Kelowna on Nov. 8, Gabriella Sears stood up and told Justice Carol Ross that she was firing her two lawyers.
Sears is on trial for charges of murder and interference with human remains. She is accused of murdering Darren Middleton, her friend and work partner on June 17, 2021.
Sears told the court that she was not happy with her lawyers on the 18th day of what is scheduled to be a 44-day trial.
Justice Ross urged Sears to reconsider the decision and granted a one-week stay of proceedings. Court will reconvene on Nov.15, at 10 a.m.
Justice Ross said that she would not allow for excessive delays in the trial and asked Sears to take the week-long stay of proceedings to reconsider her decision.
Sears is legally able to switch lawyers or represent herself in the trial, as a ‘self-represented litigant’.
Typically in criminal cases, the Crown prosecutors present their evidence to the court first. The process of giving evidence involves calling witnesses to the stand for questioning. After the direct examination is completed by Crown, the defence lawyers have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
After Crown completes its case, the defence has a turn to call witnesses to the stand and subsequently, Crown has the opportunity to cross-examine each witness.
Sometimes, the accused will elect to take the stand as a witness during the defence’s turn to call evidence. When this happens, the accused is first questioned by their defence lawyer and is then cross-examined by the Crown prosecutor.
If Sears chooses to fire her lawyers and cannot not find a replacement or should she decide to represent herself in the trial, she would have the opportunity to conduct the cross-examinations on Crown’s witnesses herself. She would then be able to call people to the stand for direct questioning.
If Sears represents herself, she will still have the opportunity to take the stand as a witness and give testimony. She would then be subject to cross-examination by Crown.
In the Kelowna murder trial, Crown had nearly completed their case and had only a few witnesses left when Sears announced that she would be firing her lawyers.
Over the past 18 days in court, Crown has called numerous people to the stand including Middleton’s widow, friends and family, RCMP officers, blood splatter experts and the physician who conducted the autopsy of Middleton. Defence cross-examined each witness.
Justice Ross told Sears that it is in her best interest to continue with her current lawyers as they are acting in her best interest and have been working together for a long time leading up to the trial.
A ‘mini-trial’ called a voir dire was held before the start of the trial to determine whether certain disputed pieces of information could be presented as evidence during the trial.
During the voir dire the court heard that twice, Sears told police that she was sexually assaulted by Middleton and that she killed him in retaliation.
At the end of the voir dire, Justice Ross ruled in favour of the defence and said that the confessions may not be used as evidence in the trial on the grounds that Sears’ rights were violated by police.
On June 17, 2021, Sears was arrested under the name Dereck Sears and was publicly identified by police as a man. However, Sears identifies as a transgender woman. At the time of the incident, she had only told a few people about her gender identity. Sears now uses the name Gabriella and she/her pronouns. Sears and Middleton were close friends and work partners. Middleton and his wife Brenda Adams were some of the only people who knew that Sears identified as a woman.
Adams was called to the stand as a witness and said that she found Middleton’s beaten and mutilated body lying in Sears’ blood-splattered bathroom in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood and called the police.
Adams had gone looking for Middleton after he failed to return home from a job. She said that at one in the morning, she drove to Sears’ house to try and her husband.
Middleton’s widow told the court that she entered the dark house and followed the sound of dripping water to the bathroom. Adams said that Middleton was dead and appeared to have been beaten. She said that his penis was laying on his stomach, and a knife was placed where his genitals should have been. Adams also noted that Middleton was dressed in clothes that were not his.
The doctor who conducted the autopsy of Middleton also gave evidence as a witness. He said that Middleton had been beaten by a blunt object, causing bleeding in his brain and multiple skull fractures. The physician said that the blunt force trauma and brain bleeds likely caused Middleton’s death. He also noted that Middleton had several deep lacerations on his body. He also said that Middleton’s penis had also been severed and his testicles had been cut off.
A baseball bat and two knives were identified at the crime scene by RCMP.
The trial will continue on November 15.