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Man accused of armed robbery 'seemed pretty calm' witness tells Crown

Alexandre Ethier in court after pleading not guilty to three charges, including carrying a weapon to commit an offence
The Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse is pictured in this file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday

An Elliot Lake gas station attendant identified a man, who robbed him at knifepoint last year, as a "pretty regular customer" when he testified Tuesday at Alexandre Ethier's trial.

Austin Kirby said he recognized the voice of the man, who came up to the till at the Esso station shortly before 1 a.m on Aug, 28, 2018 and demanded money and smokes.

"He seemed pretty calm," the 22-year-old told Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan.

Kirby was the first Crown witness to take the stand at the 25-year-old man's trial on three charges.

Ethier pleaded not guilty to stealing $176 cash, cigarettes and lottery tickets while armed with a knife, carrying a weapon to commit an offence and uttering a threat.

The man often came into the store for Number 7 Red cigarettes, snacks and to purchase gas for a black GMC pickup truck, Kirby said.

On that night, a man exited such a truck. He was wearing a red hoodie, red pyjama bottoms and black-framed sunglasses, and wielding a black, three-and-a-half-inch knife. He took the money from the till.

"He said if I call police before 15 minutes, he knows where I live," the witness told assistant Crown attorney David Didiodato, who showed the court security videotapes of the incident.

The man left the store with the cash and Number 7 Red brand cigarettes, after also grabbing some tickets and toonies.

Kirby said he was on the phone with his girlfriend when the man showed up, and she understood what was going on and contacted police.

When he identified the accused as the robber in court, Ethier's lawyer Jennifer Tremblay-Hall pointed out her client was the only handcuffed person, sitting next to an officer, in the room.

During cross-examination by the defence, Kirby agreed he was traumatized by what had occurred and his focus was on his safety and complying with the man.

He also agreed that up until the time police mentioned Ethier as the suspect he didn't know his name or personally know him.

His girlfriend had shown him a photograph of Ethier on the internet the day after the incident, he said.

"You're told the name and see a picture on the Internet," Tremblay-Hall said, asking if he "firmly" believes it was Ethier who robbed him.

"Yes," the young man responded.

As well, Kirby indicated police never showed him a photo lineup after the robbery and he had never said he recognized the man's voice when describing the perpetrator.

The court also heard from the accused's mother Joanne Michaud, who identified her son as the person in the videos.

"The way he walks, the way he stands, that's him," she told Didiodato.

"I can't be 100 per cent sure because I can't see his whole face," Michaud said, adding still photographs she had viewed looked like his mouth, skin and hands.

"It looks like his truck," she said, after watching a video showing a black pickup pulling up to the pumps.

She testified that he came to her home on Aug. 27 looking for money and she gave him $5 because he said he needed gas.

"I didn't know where he was staying. I think he was jumping from one drug house to another," she told the Crown.

When she was cross-examined, Michaud said "of course not," when the defence suggested she can't be sure it was her son's truck.

Ethier was wearing grey sweat pants, a grey hoodie, a red hat and boots the day he came to her home.

She agreed with Tremblay-Hall that the person in the video was wearing a completely different outfit.

"Maybe I saw him on Aug. 26,"  Michaud said. "I'm sure it was not long before the robbery."

McMillan heard the police came to see her on Aug. 28.

They indicated that Ethier was a suspect in a robbery and showed her three photographs.

"You believed it was him because he was in dire straits. You wanted him to be safe," Tremblay-Hall suggested, wondering if her identification was clouded by her concern of getting her son on off the street.

"Possibly," she replied.

"You would do anything that would get him off the street," the defence said.

"Absolutely," was the answer.

Michaud agreed she has waffled back and forth, and still can't be sure.

"Most of the time I believe it was him."

Editor’s Note: SooToday does not allow comments to be posted on court stories.

About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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