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Crown says killer of B.C. man was either a ‘master ninja’ or there were two attackers

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An escaped inmate accused of the first-degree murder of a Vancouver Island man either needed martial arts training, or he worked together with the other man who walked away from the William Head prison, the Crown attorney said Monday.

Crown attorney Chandra Fisher told the jury in the trial of James Lee Busch that he and James Armitage committed the murder together after escaping in July 2019.

Armitage began the trial with Busch, but the BC Prosecution Service said the Crown is now proceeding against the two accused on separate indictments.

They were “inseparable” when they waited for Martin Payne, 60, to come home from work, Fisher said in her closing arguments.

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She said they gathered the weapons and had duct tape prepared, all in a plan to get Payne’s banking information.

“What sort of master ninja would it have taken to use two different knives and a hatchet and inflict all of those moves on Mr. Payne? The only reasonable inference is that it was both Mr. Armitage and Mr. Busch working together,” Fisher said.

However, defence lawyer Ryan Drury said the Crown’s case is “weak” and “speculative.”

“They’re trying to sell you on a play-by-play of a murder that implicates Mr. Busch, when we say that the evidence that they presented is far too inconclusive for anyone to boil it down to one single play-by-play.”

Payne was killed on July 8, 2019, a day after Busch and Armitage walked away from William Head Institution. The prison was just eight kilometres from Payne’s home in Metchosin on southern Vancouver Island.

“They either planned and deliberated ahead of time that they were going to kill him from the beginning, or that they were planning to unlawfully confine him and ended up killing him in the course of that confinement, and Mr. Busch was an active participant in that,” Fisher told the jury.

Either of those outcomes would mean that Busch is guilty under the law, she said.

Fisher asked the jury to consider whether the men intended to kill the victim, arguing they needed Payne “to be silent, or else they’d be going right back to jail.”

“Even before the attack began, it’s clear that it was designed to be carried out by two people,” she said.

“We know Mr. Armitage and Mr. Busch escaped from prison, and we know they intended to remain at large. They needed a place to hide, they needed money, they needed transportation. What they did not need was a witness.”

Sitting on the other side of a glass barrier in front of the victim’s family members, Busch wore a grey sport jacket and blue collared shirt with a short, slicked-back ponytail. He grimaced at times but held his head high as the prosecution spoke to the jury.

Drury, who began his closing arguments for the defence later Monday, said the prosecution has not proven Busch’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Escaping prison and then planning to evade attention by committing a murder doesn’t seem like a great plan,” he said, suggesting Payne’s death was not intentional or planned.

“I say there is a substantial and overwhelming body of evidence that supports a finding that Mr. Armitage, acting alone, is responsible for the death of Mr. Payne.”

The defence continues its closing remarks Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.

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