Does Bradley House have a bad memory, or is he a bad liar?
That was the question debated on the third day of the murder trial for House, who is accused of killing Niagara winemaker Paul Pender. Pender was stabbed to death near his cottage in Haldimand County in February 2022.
House, a 33-year-old from Hamilton, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
His defence team does not deny House stabbed Pender minutes after appearing at his door bleeding from the mouth. But his lawyers argue House was in the grips of a psychotic episode caused by a mental disorder, and is therefore not criminally responsible because he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time of the murder.
Crown attorney Gabe Settimi said House was “coked out of (his) mind” the night he ran through a snowstorm from a construction site in Selkirk to the Pender cottage, and that it was the drugs that “scrambled (his) thought process” and caused him to kill.
“You’re an addict, and you were out of control up to the day you murdered Paul Pender,” Settimi said to House, who testified all day Wednesday.
House’s defence — repeated dozens of times on the witness stand — is that he cannot remember killing Pender, or anything that happened that night between running off into the snow and waking up in hospital.
Whether he remembers or not is beside the point, Settimi countered, pointing to police body camera footage that shows House giving paramedics what turned out to be accurate information about his allergies and narcotics use while en route to the hospital.
House was also lucid enough to ask pertinent questions after being charged with second-degree murder the night Pender died, Settimi said, suggesting House was aware of his actions and in his right mind far sooner than he claims.
“You knew what was going on,” Settimi said.
Defence attorney Beth Bromberg took pains to establish that House started having frequent hallucinations — which he describes as “seeing spirits” — as a child, long before he started regularly using hard drugs in his mid-20s.
House testified he frequently felt like he was being followed and was mistrustful of cellphones and cameras. He believed a camera was implanted in his head.
He said he now takes antipsychotic medication that reduces the frequency of his visions and lessens the ringing in his ears he said plagued him the day of the murder.
“It slows down my thinking,” House said of his medication. “I feel less anxious on it. Less crazy.”
But Settimi suggested House heard no voices and saw no spirits the night he murdered Pender, instead admitting to officers he was on a “bad trip” after taking cocaine and Percocet earlier that afternoon.
The prosecutor was skeptical House would not remember running 1.5 kilometres through a snowstorm and “hunting Paul Pender down.”
“There’s no way you can’t remember that,” Settimi said. “You just couldn’t handle hearing what you did.”
House confirmed he took drugs that day, but no more than usual, and said he had never reacted so strongly to drugs in the past despite being a regular user.
During his testimony, the accused contradicted himself about timing and quantity while detailing his drug use. Bromberg previously told the court her client would be a “terrible historian” due to what she described as House’s learning disabilities and memory issues.
Following the cross-examination by the Crown, the defendant briefly addressed the court, stressing to Justice Michael Bordin that he did not known what happened the night of Pender’s murder and saying he was “extremely sorry” for the pain caused to the Pender family, and to his own.
“But mostly for destroying the (Pender) family,” House said. “I am not this type of person.”
J.P. Antonacci’s reporting on Haldimand and Norfolk is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. firstname.lastname@example.org
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator