An eyewitness and one of the first OPP officers on the scene testified Thursday on the opening day of the first-degree murder trial of Martin Forget, 43, and Brian Quesnel, 30.
The two men are charged with killing Joseph Simonds, 34.
Sonny Brokenshire, 23, who was also initially charged with first-degree murder in the death of Simonds, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder on Jan. 10 in a Newmarket court. He is now expected to testify in the trial of his former co-accused.
“Mr. Brokenshire is going to tell you about a plan,” said assistant Crown attorney Sarah Sullivan in her opening remarks to the jury on Thursday. “A plan that was hatched to kill Joseph Simonds that came hard on the heels of a closed investigation that took place in Quebec.”
In her opening statement, Sullivan outlined the Crown’s version of events.
Sullivan said that Simonds was killed in the early morning hours of June 4, 2017, by a shotgun wound to the chest he sustained at his residence - a basement apartment at 282 Franklin St. in the south end of Orillia.
Sullivan said Brokenshire had two children by a former girlfriend, Brandie Lalonde, when he was 17 years old. Eventually, their relationship ended and she began dating Joseph Simonds. In 2017, Lalonde and Simonds, who she was dating at the time, moved to Quebec to live with her mother and stepfather, Martin Forget.
On April 5, 2017, Lalonde’s mother contacted Quebec police to report an allegation of sexual abuse against Simonds in relation to Lalonde and Brokenshire’s three-year-old daughter. While Quebec police and local agencies investigated, no charges were ever filed.
Shortly thereafter, Lalonde and Simonds split, and Simonds moved back to Orillia.
In May, Lalonde began dating Brian Quesnel.
“Approximately three weeks later, Mr. Simonds was shot and killed,” said Sullivan.
On Thursday, the first witness called was Beonca Jeffries, who was in the Franklin Street apartment with Simonds at the time of his death.
Jeffries testified that she, along with Simonds and two of his roommates, spent the evening of June 3, 2017 and early morning of June 4 having drinks and smoking pot.
The couple had not yet gone to bed when Jeffries noticed the flash of car headlights flicker across the wall of the living room, signalling that someone was pulling in the driveway of the Franklin Street residence.
“(Joe) went to the door, stood outside the door and said, ‘If you’re coming in, the door’s unlocked,’” testified Jeffries.
Jeffries said she couldn’t see who was at the door from where she sat on the couch in the living room, but she heard one male voice she said she didn’t recognize at the same time she heard a car door shut.
Seconds later, Jeffries heard a loud bang that sounded like a pot falling off the counter and hitting the floor. Simonds hit the floor as well.
“When he hit the floor, I turned the lamp on right beside me,” said Jeffries. “All I remember is him backing up, falling on the floor.”
Jeffries’ son was sleeping in one of the bedrooms. She testified she ran in circles for about two minutes, grabbed her son and ran upstairs and outside.
“I called my mom first. She told me to call the cops. I was outside freaking out,” she said.
During questions from Forget’s defence attorney, Alan Brass, Brass brought up Jeffries’ mental health struggles.
“Because you suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you have difficulty remembering. Is that safe to say?” asked Brass.
“I guess it’s safe to say,” responded Jeffries.
Quesnel’s defence attorney, James Harbic, asked Jeffries if she was aware Simonds had enemies.
“We all do,” she said.
Also taking the stand on Thursday was OPP Det.-Const. Douglas Willson. He testified he and his partner were among the first responders on the Franklin Street scene when the call came in at about 3:50 a.m.
The duo met up with Orillia firefighters and walked through the crime scene with the assistance of one of the tenants.
“I saw some blood droplets on the tile floor by the (kitchen) table,” said Willson.
Willson testified they found Simonds propped up against a coffee table in the apartment’s living room. He also testified he found plastic wadding which holds shotgun pellets and a shotgun shell on the floor of the apartment.
He testified he noticed fresh tire marks in the gravel driveway, which he covered with tarps to preserve as the weather changed during the investigation and started to rain.
The trial continues Friday with more testimony from Willson. An agreed-upon statement of facts is expected to be provided to the court, as well as the testimony of first responders and more OPP officers who assisted in the investigation.
Brokenshire is expected to testify starting Monday.