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Dismissal in case of violent attacks in Mulgrave

Crown says ‘no reasonable prospect of conviction’ against accused

  • December 13 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

MULGRAVE — The year-long legal odyssey of two Mulgrave men indicted on assault charges related to a violent home invasion came to an end in Antigonish Supreme Court last week as the Crown dropped its case against them, finding “no reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Appearing on Dec. 5, Crown Attorney Jonathan Gavel told Justice Frank Hoskins that “the Crown will be offering no evidence” and “invited dismissal” of Craig Edward Ryan, 52, and Craig Evan Ryan, 24, who had faced charges including assault causing bodily harm and “mischief by wilfully smashing a pair of eyeglasses” at a private home in Mulgrave last fall. After three minutes of deliberation, Hoskins dismissed the charges “for want of prosecution.”

Both defendants had entered not guilty pleas and attended a preliminary inquiry in Port Hawkesbury on Nov. 1, 2023, during which presiding Provincial Court Judge Laurel Halfpenny-MacQuarrie also dismissed the charges against a third man, Riley Hoben, 23, for the same crimes in the same incident, for want of prosecution.

The case drew much interest in the local area as rumours of its details circulated across social media, while the facts remained sequestered in the provincial court system. But, now that the matter has concluded, “The publication ban on evidence presented during the preliminary inquiry is no longer in effect,” Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service (NSPPS) spokesperson Melissa Noonan told The Journal last week.

The injuries

According to the indictments, Craig Edward Ryan and Craig Evan Ryan were charged with eight counts of criminal offences against James Simpson, 44, his brother Joseph Simpson, 46, their mother Juanita Simpson, 69, and their nephew Johnathan Larade-Simpson, 17, while they resided in their Mulgrave home “on or about October 1, 2022.”

The specific charges against the Ryans included: aggravated assault against James Simpson, endangering his life; assault against Joseph Simpson, causing bodily harm; assault against Johnathan Larade-Simpson; assault against Juanita Simpson; break and enter; one count of mischief each for “wilfully damaging a home phone ... wilfully smashing a glass storm door ... [and] wilfully smashing a pair of eyeglasses ... of Juanita Simpson.” The preliminary inquiry dealt specifically with charges of aggravated assault (one) and break and enter (five).

During the proceedings, James Simpson – who was taken by ambulance to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish following the incident – described his injuries in unsparing detail.

“I think I got four broken ribs, a busted sternum, broken orbital bone, broken cheekbone, broken nose, smashed out teeth, couple stitches, fractured vertebrae,” he told Crown attorney Bronté Fudge-Lucas. “My chest is still messed up. My fourth ... vertebrae is still messed up ... My eye’s a little blurry ... My false plate got teeth kicked out ... My plate got broke.”

Regarding his injuries, Joseph Simpson – who had also been transported to St. Martha’s for treatment – told Fudge-Lucas that, while he witnessed his brother “being basically beat to a pulp ... I sustained a minor concussion ... actually, a mild concussion, about six kicks to the top of my head. I had a lacerated tear duct in my left eye, [which took] approximately a month-and-a-half [to heal].”

The home invasion

Juanita Simpson described the scene in her home that day as a “just like a movie.”

As “Joseph was held down so he couldn’t help his brother, Jimmy was being brutally pounded. And I watched every blow that boy took and helpless and screaming for them to stop: ‘Get off, stop it. You’re hurting him.’ ... I heard a pane of glass being broken ... I seen the glass flying through the front room ... right through ... to the kitchen ... I went to reach for the receiver ... the phone ... to call 9-1-1 and [a] young gentleman knocked the phone off the wall ... My plant dishes were destroyed ... My glasses were on the floor in the soil underneath the table ...same as ... my hearing aid.”

Jonathan Larade-Simpson told Fudge-Lucas that on that night, “I seen two people in the hallway leading to the kitchen ... After that I got into a fight with one of them ... I told them to get out of the house and I got hit ... in the head ... a fist ... Then I fell ... I tripped over the couch, then I was on the ground, I got hit again. I got back up. I went out to the kitchen and that’s when I saw two other people ... hitting my uncles ... Joseph and Jimmy ... [I got] a cut to the head. I went to the hospital and they gave me some stuff for it.”

Shotgun incident

In his cross-examination, defense council Stan MacDonald saved the bulk of his questions for Joseph and James Simpson, starting with their actions while hunting for partridge in an isolated part of Mulgrave, where a group of men had congregated roughly an hour before the attacks occurred.

MacDonald: “So, Mr. Simpson [Joseph], if I have this correct, October 1, 2022, was the first time that James had ever fired your 20-gauge [shotgun].”

Joseph: “Yes.”

MacDonald: “Then, on this particular day, you say you saw some people, and on that particular day he [James] decides to fire the shotgun?”

Joseph: “Yes.”

MacDonald: “Did you have a discussion about that? Like you say to him, ‘Well, geez, you never wanted to fire before. Why would you want to fire when there’s people around?’”

Joseph: “I don’t know what ... why he wanted. All I know is he asked to fire off the 20-guage.... There was buildings between us and the other fellows ... It was into the trees away from them.”

MacDonald: “And you’re not saying today that any of those people that you saw at that roadway were any of the Ryans? Correct?”

Joseph: “Not at that time, no.”

MacDonald: “You didn’t recognize anybody at this ... when you stopped and the firearm was shot off?”

Joseph: “No, I did not.”

Shifting stories

Regarding the assaults, Joseph Simpson conceded to MacDonald that his original statement to the police – specifically identifying the Ryans as the assailants – might not have been as watertight as it had sounded at the time of the altercation.

“I wasn’t sure ... 100 per cent sure of the names,” he said. “But I was 100 per cent sure of the visual... Mind you, we had just finished a fight and I’m suffering ... I do ... did suffer a concussion. So, you can still be a little bit hazy from concussions.”

James Simpson also changed a key aspect of his initial version of events, admitting to MacDonald that he had lied to police when he told them that Joseph, not he, fired the shotgun that may have provoked the assault later that day.

MacDonald: “You were asked and the police officer says, ‘OK pal ... OK, do you know how? Do you know why they came into the house? [You said] ‘No.’ Do you know what this is all over? [You said] ‘No.’ That’s what you told the police officer on that date, correct?”

James: “Correct.”

MacDonald: “That was a lie?”

James: “Yes.”

MacDonald: “So, why did you lie?”

James: “Because I thought I’d be in trouble.”

MacDonald: “For discharging a firearm.”

James: “Correct.”

MacDonald: “So you now describe this is firing a shot gun into the air.”

James: “Yes.”

MacDonald: “That’s not really what happened, was it?”

James: “That’s really what happened.”

MacDonald: “You didn’t fire a shot anywhere near these guys?”

James: “What’s your definition of ‘near’?”

MacDonald: “Well, you tell me. You say you fired the shots ... How close to these people did these shots come?”

James: “Twice the distance from here to the back of the courtroom, probably.”

Withdrawal of charges

The Crown withdrew all charges only after “thoroughly reviewing their files,” Noonan said in her email last week. According to NSPPS’s website, “A Crown Attorney may decide not to go to trial if he or she believes it is not in the public interest to prosecute.”