A jury of nine men and three women will soon determine the fate of James McCullough in the first degree murder trial that has disturbed and captivated the community for the past several weeks.
Juror deliberations in the trial began just after 5 p.m. Monday after a day of closing arguments, in which defence lawyer Lynda Lamb argued her client should be found guilty of manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
“You must find James McCullough guilty of manslaughter,” Lamb said. “Mr. McCullough did do a terrible thing, he stabbed his friend to death, but this was not premeditated murder. It was a reaction to the suddenness of the attack on him in the hotel room.”
McCullough, 22, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a dead body in the death of Alex Fraser, 20, at the Travelodge on Exeter Road on September 8, 2013. Fraser’s body parts were later found in two hockey bags in a hotel room the two friends shared for a night.
Lamb argued McCullough had no prior plan to kill his friend, cut up his body, dispose of the parts, and escape detection. Instead, she said, McCullough, after having drunk and done drugs, stabbed his friend in a rage following a sexual advance from his friend before blacking out.
McCullough would have thought things through more if he had planned a murder, Lamb argued, like having a clear plan on how to dispose of the body and escape.
Crown prosecutors, however, argue that sexual advance never happened, and that McCullough was acting out a sick fantasy and knew what he was doing.
“James McCullough is a calculated predator,” said Crown lawyer Meredith Gardiner, pointing to a violent rap poem by McCullough which she said referenced murder, dismemberment and cannibalism, as well as conversations he’d had with a nurse about fantasizing killing someone. “He committed these offences for no reason other than he wanted to.”
Since the start of the month, the jury has heard from a variety of witnesses including the accused as both the Crown and defense tried to piece together what happened the night Fraser died.
Assistant Crown attorney Gardiner suggested McCullough saw a work-holiday visa to Australia that was approved shortly before Fraser’s death as an opportunity to realize his fantasy of killing someone, disposing of the remains, and fleeing the country.
The Orangeville man claimed he had planned to live with an uncle in Australia and be an English teacher before the night Fraser died.
McCullough took the stand last week, describing Fraser as a “great guy, an intelligent guy, a computer whiz” who used to drink with him.
The jury heard that the friends cabbed from Orangeville to the London hotel, where McCullough paid with cash to check-in and used a fake name.
McCullough, who admitted to dealing drugs at the time, claims he was deceptive because he was planning a home invasion during his visit to London. McCullough brought a knife and two hockey bags to be used during a robbery at a home he previously lived in while attending college.
However, Gardiner later pointed out McCullough told police he always used fake aliases because he was paranoid and thought the government was chasing him.
McCullough did cocaine and drank alcohol with Fraser before having a shower. He claimed that after he was finished, Fraser was standing naked in between two hotel beds, confessed a secret love for McCullough, and said he wanted to have sex.
McCullough said he told Fraser he wasn’t gay and the two began to physically fight.
During the struggle, McCullough testified Fraser grabbed at his genitals which sent him into a frenzy that ended when he grabbed a knife from his backpack and stabbed Fraser twice in the chest.
McCullough claimed he blacked out soon after stabbing Fraser, and woke up hours later on a hotel bed. He found Fraser’s remains in the bath-tub, and claimed to have no recollection of how Fraser was dismembered.
McCullough said he vomited then placed Fraser’s remains in two hockey bags he had originally intended to use during the home invasion, which was “probably one of the worst things I ever had to do in my life.”
Gardiner accused McCullough of lying, and said McCullough initially told Police Fraser was a “weirdo” who brought the knife in hopes of killing him.
During further cross-examination, Gardiner offered up her own theory to jury of what happened on the night Fraser died.
She suggested McCullough planned to checked into a hotel with Fraser, whom he knew regularly passed out while drinking, stabbed him when he was unconscious and enjoyed dismembering his body.
Gardiner argued that was the only explanation for McCullough being able to eat two fast food meals in the room with the remains placed in hockey bags after claiming the initial sight of Fraser’s remains made him vomit.
Forensic pathologist and Western University Professor Michael Shkrum testified earlier that Fraser died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and torso.
He counted 29 stab wounds to the head, neck, chest and abdomen. He also found cuts to three fingers on Fraser’s right hand, which Shkrum believes may have been defensive-type wounds.
Shkrum said dismemberment happened postmortem.
McCullough denied Gardiner’s claim that he was keeping a tiny piece of Fraser’s bone found later in his backpack as a souvenir of the kill, and said “I felt horrible about killing him.”
McCullough also denied that he could be heard laughing while making a 9-1-1 call about a dead body in Room 326.
The Crown suggested the accused only decided to call Police after failing to convince a friend or loved one to give him a ride out of town.