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Tuesday, November 02, 1999

Trail of blood tells story of night officer was killed
Billy Hancox was a sitting duck when he was stabbed, testimony shows
Christie Blatchford
National Post

In a criminal trial, when the chickens come home to roost, it is often with the forensic pathologist on the witness stand.

Yesterday was the 11th day of the trial of Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Ann Taylor, and, but for the early evidence from those who tried to save Toronto Police Detective-Constable Billy Hancox, the undercover officer the two women ambushed on a hot summer's night last year, the fact of the dead young man has often seemed very far from the courtroom.

Instead, the case has centred on the two perpetrators -- and perpetrators they are, having acknowledged from the get-go they are responsible for the killing, though their lawyers argue it was manslaughter. Much of the evidence called by prosecutor John McMahon has cut both ways, simultaneously serving his contention that this was a cold-blooded case of second-degree murder and the defence lawyers' view that it was not, that it was a crime born of despair, intoxication and a profound absence of intention.

In one breath, the evidence allowed Mr. McMahon to say in effect, "Look, these women were sober, in control and well aware of what they were doing"; in the next, it would give Marshall Sack or Aaron Harnett (who represent Ms. Cece, the actual stabber) grounds to counter with, "But wait a minute; Ms. Cece was slurring her words and staggering"; or grant David O'Connor and Kingsley Graham (who represent Ms. Taylor, allegedly the catalyst), the chance to argue, "See here, Ms. Taylor was suicidal, not homicidal."

But yesterday, the last day of evidence -- the trial will resume tomorrow for the lawyers' closing addresses -- Dr. Martin Bullock took the stand, and after him, an Ontario Provincial Police blood-spatter expert named Constable Craig Stewart, and through them, and a collection of photographs that became Exhibit No. 56, the Ontario Court jurors were transported in a visceral way to the crime scene, and to the horror that befell the young officer.

They were left, metaphorically, as drenched in blood as Det.-Const. Hancox was on the night Ms. Cece came up to his surveillance van and, through the half-open driver's side window, plunged a butcher's knife into his chest.

There was blood everywhere in that blue van.

There was expirated blood -- meaning it was breathed out in a fine pink mist -- on the top of the roof and on the base of the steering wheel.

There was blood on Det.-Hancox's seat, on the inside of the driver's side door and on the sill of the door frame; these were "passive" stains, as they're called, meaning the blood had fallen freely, dripping from the wound, or his face and throat, or hand.

There were splotches of blood on the right armrest, both passive stains and those called "transfer" stains, caused when a blood-soaked object, such as a hand, moves across something else.

There was blood on the police radio which sat between the two front seats.

There was blood on the steering column and on the Harley-Davidson Cycles key chain and on the key that was still in the ignition.

There was blood around the interior dome light, and on the rear-view mirror and on the windshield and, in a very long, narrow streak, blood on the visor on the passenger's side.

There was blood on the inside of the passenger's window.

There was even blood -- a lone projected drop -- behind the driver's seat on the van's sliding cargo door that is so beloved by young families.

Outside, on the pavement of the parking lot of a little strip mall where Det.-Const. Hancox had been working on the night of Aug. 4, 1998, there was more blood.

There was a transfer stain -- this one from Det.-Const. Hancox's right shoe -- near the van. Further back was another. Near the rear driver's side wheel was a large pool of blood, a pool, Const. Stewart explained, usually found when a victim has collapsed and is busy with dying. Between the driver's door and Det.-Const. Hancox's body was a large spill pattern, this caused when a massive volume of blood "falls all at once"; it is seen often in stabbings.

There was blood on the microphone of his hand-held police radio, found dangling out the door.

The pools, smears, drops, sprays and smudges told a story, Const. Stewart said.

He couldn't be sure it happened like this, but his experience told him that Det.-Const. Hancox had been sitting at the time the blade tore into his chest; that he had indeed pulled out the knife himself, his arm moving from left to right, and that as he did so, the wrenching movement sent blood flying through the air, and that the streak on the visor was likely from the bloody knife crossing it; that he had got out of the van, and stood by the door, perhaps while he radioed for help, gurgling, "I'm stabbed!" (Const. Stewart determined this by the two distinct voids in the large spill pattern by the door, caused, he said, by Det.-Const. Hancox's feet blocking the blood flow); that he had leaned back into the van and put a blood-soaked hand on the keys in the ignition, trying to turn the van on or off and that he had tried to turn the dome light on.

The evidence from Dr. Bullock, the young pathologist, filled in the blanks.

The knife -- Laser brand; "cooks" style, its packaging boasting a 25-year guarantee of "Never needs sharpening" when Ms. Taylor boosted it from a nearby Dominion store -- entered Det.-Const. Hancox's chest on the upper left side, coming in on a slight upward angle.

The blade went in more than five inches, slipping in between the second and third ribs, ripping the upper lobe of his left lung, cutting an airway and branches of the pulmonary vein and artery both, and nicking the surface of the heart itself. The wound was twice as wide as it was long, and though Dr. Bullock couldn't say definitively why, he said he believed it was either that the knife was moving, twisting, as it went in, or that Det.-Const. Hancox had in shock or resistance, moved, or a little of both.

What he could say for sure was that Det.-Const. Hancox had not a single defensive wound, the cuts to his hands and forearms that pathologists see when people who are attacked with a knife try, effectually or not, to fight back.

In sum, the testimony of the pathologist and the blood-spatter expert meant that Det.-Const. Hancox was a sitting duck.

It also showed that though he was not recognized by his killers as a police officer, he died as one, that his training kicked in, that in his final minutes, he had the remarkable presence of mind to try to turn on the little dome light, to turn off the van (or to turn it on, perhaps to drive away), and to make the radio call that would announce to his brothers what had happened to him. No one said this directly yesterday, but the reasonable inference is that he wanted, very badly, to live.

As he did all this, he would have been in tremendous pain (especially as he pulled out the knife), and the blood would have been pouring into his torn airway, and every time he took a breath, the air would have escaped into his chest, and the blood into his injured lung.

Does it matter that he died with courage and a clear mind?

It does when you have seen, as the jurors have, the very worst of the pictures in Exhibit 56.

They show the king-size Snickers bar the young officer purchased just before he died. He had taken a bite or two of it. Then the knife came in his window, and at some point, Billy Hancox bled on the top of the bar.

These stains, so like Det.-Const. Hancox on the last night of his life, were of the passive variety.

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