For the first time, the family of a deceased teenager saw the face of the man accused in their son's death when Justin Joseph Little appeared on a courtroom closed-circuit television screen Tuesday.
Little, 29, is charged with 14 criminal offences in the hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Ben Harris, who was riding his bicycle with another 15-year-old boy along Highway 9 in the RM of St. Andrews on Friday when they were hit by a truck and left in the ditch. Harris died and the other teen was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Little is accused of being high on drugs while he was driving a stolen 2009 GMC Canyon pickup truck, and he allegedly ran away on foot after the crash.
Harris's parents, his sister and three other family friends watched as Little appeared via video link from the Winnipeg Remand Centre, handcuffed and wearing standard-issue grey T-shirt and grey sweat pants. Slim, pale, and bald with a close-shaven beard, Little didn't speak in the brief court appearance, during which Crown attorney Manoja Moorthy asked provincial court Judge John Guy to impose a court order that will prohibit Little from contacting Harris's family and the family of the surviving 15-year-old.
Lawyer Ian McAmmond spoke in court on Little's behalf and agreed to set the next court date for Aug. 31 in Selkirk provincial court. Little is not expected to appear in court in person on that day. He remains in custody and has not yet applied for bail.
Judge Guy also revoked a previous bail order that had allowed Little to be released from custody in Winnipeg July 30, just 12 days before the fatal crash.
He'd been released on a $1,500 recognizance with the Crown's consent, and was instructed to follow court conditions including a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. He was ordered not to be in any motor vehicle without first getting permission from its owner and not to possess break-in tools.
Little, whom police identified as a Calgary resident, had been arrested after he allegedly stole a vehicle in Winnipeg last month. He was accused of committing break-ins between mid-June and mid-July and was charged with theft of a motor vehicle, breaking and entering, two counts of housebreaking with intent, two counts of mischief, and failing to comply with a court order.
The allegations, which haven't been proven in court, paint a picture of someone who was repeatedly breaking into and damaging vehicles. Little is accused of two break-ins in the RM of Woodlands on June 24, damaging two vehicles in Winnipeg on July 17 and July 19, and breaking into a detached garage and stealing a vehicle from a St. Vital residence overnight July 19.
Little has been in and out of jail since he was a teenager. He has a lengthy criminal record out of Alberta, including convictions for theft, possession of property obtained by crime, drug possession, assault and breaches of court orders.
Through a support worker, the Harris family declined to speak to reporters following Little's brief court appearance Tuesday. In a previous interview with the Free Press, Ben's father John Harris questioned why Little was released from custody after being charged with several criminal offences earlier this summer.
"We will be there for every court appearance. We want him to see our faces, to see the suffering that he’s caused. He’s not going to be able to sneak in there and sneak out," Harris said.
Little would not have been able to see any observers who were watching him in court Tuesday. Courtroom cameras that are set up for video appearances only allow an accused person to see the judge and Crown and defence lawyers standing at their podiums.
Harris previously described his son as a kind, honest and well-liked young man and a talented guitar player. The two teens were on their way to a sleepover around 11:30 p.m. when they were hit by the truck, and before Ben died, he helped save his friend's life, John Harris was told.
-with files from Ryan Thorpe
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.