No blues for this bootlegger

One afternoon, in the mid-70s in Inuvik, I was looking for some oddball thing for my vehicle. I looked almost everywhere and then I decided to go see John, a local who owned one of the taxi companies. I can’t remember if he helped me out or not, but I remember I stayed for awhile and shot the breeze with him.

Somewhere along the way, he mentioned that his wife, Beth, and her sister were out shopping for clothes. I asked him what the occasion was. He said they needed the clothes to go to court. Then I remembered that a few months ago, their place had been raided and Beth had been charged with bootlegging. I asked him what he thought Beth’s chances were. When he told me his game plan, I knew I’d show up to watch the proceedings. I love watching court cases.

The courthouse in Inuvik at that time was just a room above the post office. The prosecutor and the judge would come in from Yellowknife. I arrived at the courthouse early and grabbed a front row seat. The prosecutor was already there getting organized.
John and Beth arrived (Beth looked great in her new outfit) with an entourage of about 10. Among them was John’s best weapon, Ted. A fancy lawyer from Yellowknife, Ted’s reputation preceded him. People in the know called him a prosecution killer. I just happened to be one of those in the know because I was once selected to be jury foreman in a murder trial where Ted acted as defense. I got to watch him for three days and, in the end, he won.

Ted dripped so much charisma, you almost had to follow him around with a mop. I have never seen a Hollywood movie that could give a performance like him. After seeing the opening evidence from the prosecution, you could tell that the RCMP had put a lot of time and effort into getting this bust right. It was going to be an uphill battle for Beth.

The RCMP had recruited an officer from its Fort Simpson detachment, which was 500 miles south of Inuvik. The officer grew a beard and came to Inuvik to work undercover. The Fort Simpson officer testified that he went to a taxi stand that was off the side of a house and purchased a bottle of Five Star whiskey from Beth. When the officer was cross-examined by Ted, he testified that since he was only in the taxi office, he could not tell if there was anyone else in the house. The lawyer also got him to admit that since he wasn’t in the whole house, there was a possibility that there was another person in the house who looked like Beth.

The next person to testify was the officer who conducted the raid. He testified that they had found Five Star whiskey in the house, shortly after the Fort Simpson officer had purchased a bottle off Beth. The prosecutor then had around six cases of Five Star whiskey hauled into court and recorded into evidence. In cross-examination, Ted got the officer to confirm that there were other people in the house and the officer had to admit that there was a possibility the whiskey belonged to somebody other than Beth. The prosecution had a few other minor witnesses, then turned the case over to the defence.

Ted put Beth on the stand and she denied selling any whisky. In the cross-examination, the prosecutor didn’t make any headway with Beth. They accused and she denied. It was time for the last part of John’s plan as Ted called Beth’s sister Halley to testify. John didn’t leave anything to chance. He had Halley dressed identical to Beth and had also sent both of the sisters to the hairdresser to get identical haircuts. The defence got Halley to explain how she was related to the case. Then Ted asked Halley where she was on the night of the raid.

Halley said she was at the taxi stand. Ted then asked her the big question, “Did Beth sell a bottle of Five Star whiskey to the undercover cop?” Halley answered, “No, she did not.” She was then asked, “Can you tell me who sold the bottle of whiskey to the officer?” Halley answered, “I did.”

Ted got Halley’s version of the story clearly established, and then turned Halley over to the prosecution. The prosecutor probed and prodded, and even threatened Halley with perjury, but never made much headway. Short little Halley was solid as a rock. She knew what she said on the stand could not be used against her. Halley was the last witness and then it was time for closing arguments The prosecutor went over the evidence again and tried to drill home the point that dressing the sisters alike was obvious and should be considered a stunt.

He also listed a few reasons why Halley’s testimony was suspect, and gave the floor to the defence. Anybody that knows me will agree on one thing. I’m cheap. Still, there’s one thing I would pay for, which is watching Ted in final arguments. Wind up the energizer bunny and watch him go. With a ton of flair, the prosecution’s evidence got shredded. Ted pointed out that the officer’s memory during cross-examination was spotty on a lot of details. He sliced, he diced. When he finished with the evidence from the other side, it was chopped up so finely it could have been used for confetti.

It didn’t take long for the judge to make his decision. Not guilty. I bet you think with a not guilty verdict that this story is over. Well, you’re wrong. The RCMP’s humiliation was going to go on a wee while longer. As soon as the judge rose to leave, John and four other fellas headed to the front of the courtroom, grabbed the cases of whisky and started to head out of the courtroom. The RCMP officer that was sitting with the Crown prosecutor spotted them and was livid. He told them that they couldn’t take evidence of the Crown. Luckily for the defence, the door where the judge leaves the courtroom was at least 30 feet away. With the judge only a few of steps from the door, Ted raised his voice so the judge could hear him, “Your Honour, they are trying to stop my clients from taking their property.” The judge never broke stride, he looked over his shoulder, said, “Give them their property” and, with one quick movement as fluid as a ballet dancer, he opened the door and left the room.

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