Witnesses say victim demanded his cigar back in fatal exchange on Saint John boardwalk

·4 min read

On July 13, 2018, two separate groups of friends made plans to meet up that night on Saint John's boardwalk to listen to live music.

Hours later, the groups would cross paths briefly, leaving one man unconscious on the pavement with a fatal head injury and another man in police custody.

William Ronald Jordan, 21, is charged with manslaughter in the death of 54-year-old navy veteran Anthony Dwyer.

On the second day of the trial, Marilyn Steeves, 64, testified that she met up with Dwyer and his partner, Catherine Geldart, at a pub in Petitcodiac. The couple was heading to Saint John to watch a friend perform on the boardwalk.

Steeves agreed to go along and five of them piled into Dwyer's van. She said they had a pleasant evening on the boardwalk and were preparing to leave when she heard that Dwyer had been injured.

Under cross-examination from defence lawyer James McConnell, Steeves said Dwyer was the kind of person to approach complete strangers and strike up a conversation. She agreed with McConnell that Dwyer also had a "strong personality" and "wouldn't hesitate to argue his point."

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Steeves said Dwyer had been drinking that night and that another member of their group was going to drive Dwyer's van back to Petitcodiac.

Another witness, Sam Mallett, said he's best friends with Jordan. He told the jury that he joined Jordan that night and shared a joint with him and a few other people at the amphitheatre near the boardwalk.

The two, along with Jack Rabb, then made their way along the boardwalk, heading to a bar for a drink.

Along the way, said Mallett, they were approached by an acquaintance of Jordan's who was wearing a neck brace. The man gave them a small cigar and then moved a short distance away.

Mallett said Dwyer approached soon after and asked Jordan where he got the cigar. He said Dwyer demanded it back.

Jordan refused and Dwyer got more agitated, said Mallett.

He said Dwyer kept getting closer to Jordan and became "more assertive."

He said the exchange escalated very quickly. Jordan asked Dwyer what he was going to do about it.

Mallett recalled Dwyer responded by saying that he would take his two fingers and push them into Jordan's throat — as he did just that.

"It was quick, but not a jab," testified Mallett.

It was at that point, he said, that Jordan swung a closed fist and punched Dwyer in the face.

"I really don't think, at that point, there was anything else he could do," said Mallett.

Witnesses differed on the nature of the physical contact Dwyer made. Mallet says it was pressure to the throat with two fingers, while Rabb says it was more of a jab to the throat with four straight fingers.

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Another man, Jeff Kyle, who watched the exchange from a nearby patio, said it was a two-handed push to the chest.

But all agree that Jordan responded by punching Dwyer in the face and that he fell back and struck his head on the pavement with a sickening sound.

Again, there was a difference of opinion about Jordan's punch. Some said it was a left hook to right side of Dwyer's face, others say a right hook to the left side. One said it was a left-handed punch that landed on the left side of Dwyer's face.

Jordan was arrested on the boardwalk by police a short time later.

His girlfriend, Sarah Taylor, testified Wednesday that she had been with Jordan on the boardwalk that night, but had parted company shortly before the incident. The two met up immediately after and Jordan told her, "I think I just knocked somebody out."

She said he looked shocked and confused and that he told her the man he punched "had his hands all over me."

Taylor said she was with Jordan a short time later when he was taken into police custody.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Rabb, testifying by video link from his home in Ottawa, said the exchange between Dwyer and Jordan happened right in front of him. He called Dwyer a "provocateur" and said Jordan wasn't aggressive or threatening as Dwyer continued to invade his personal space.

Before Dwyer made contact with Jordan, Rabb said he believed the entire exchange to be an absurd joke over "what amounted to a third-hand cigarillo" that was half-smoked by that time.

Then came the "judo-chop motion" from Dwyer, said Rabb, that sent Jordan back a couple of steps and caused him to cough. He said Jordan responded with the punch to the face that appeared to knock Dwyer out immediately because he made no effort to break his fall.

"He fell down like a sack of bricks," said Rabb of Dwyer.

"He fell back absolutely still, like a plank, straight backward."

On Tuesday, jurors heard that two emergency room nurses who happened to be on the boardwalk tended to Dwyer immediately and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.

Dwyer died in hospital three days later.

The trial continues Thursday morning.