Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man cleared in trafficking case

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IT'S an example of how telling the truth can set you free.

A man's "disarmingly candid" testimony in his own defence at an inter-provincial cocaine trafficking trial has seen him cleared of serious drug and weapons charges.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Deborah McCawley ruled to acquit Jeffery Clark Wednesday of allegations he faced from a Headingley RCMP traffic stop that netted the seizure of nearly half a kilogram of cocaine and a loaded nine-mm pistol from the vehicle he was a passenger in.

Clark, 34, was travelling with another man, Luis Oriak-Morenko, 36, from B.C. to Winnipeg on Oct. 10, 2009 when they were pulled over by RCMP. The drugs and weapon were found after a search of Oriak-Morenko's backpack.

The only evidence connecting Clark to the backpack's contents were fingerprints seized from documents inside, which bore no relation he was engaged in a "joint drug couriering enterprise" or otherwise knew what was in the satchel, McCawley found.

McCawley said the main issue in the case was whether Clark was involved in a joint venture, as federal prosecutors claimed, or an "innocent dupe" who didn't know about the drugs and gun.

The Crown also relied on the fact Clark gave police a fake name and looked "very nervous." He also had no identification, money or credit cards with him. At the time he was wanted by police and out on bail. He was also subject to a weapons prohibition stemming from a prior conviction.

"Although on the face of it, for the reasons argued by the Crown, there was much to raise a strong suspicion as to Mr. Clark's involvement, the lack of any other physical evidence proved problematic for the Crown in light of the testimony of Mr. Clark," said McCawley.

Clark, who was acquainted with Oriak-Morenko through a friend of an ex-girlfriend, had agreed to come with him on the road trip from Vancouver to surprise family members and ask them for money without letting them know in advance he was coming. He said he believed they'd be more likely to lend it to him if he didn't signal he was coming.

Clark told court he didn't carry identification because he was always losing it, and gave the fake name because he knew he was wanted by police and didn't want to be apprehended.

Clark's "straightforward and reasonable" testimony -- combined with the slim physical evidence -- meant the Crown hadn't proven their case, McCawley said.

Oriak-Morenko "absconded" during the trial and it's not known currently where he is, McCawley said.

An arrest warrant for him remains in effect.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 A8

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