The trial of two escapees from William Head prison charged with the murder of a Metchosin man will be held in Vancouver, not Victoria, to avoid jury bias, the BC Supreme Court ruled on Thursday .
James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage are charged with the first degree murder of Martin Payne, 60, whose body was found in July 2019, days after the two men were captured for their escape from prison.
Speaking on November 25, Judge Michael Tammen said the extensive media coverage and public discourse since then had convinced him that a jury made up of residents of Greater Victoria would endanger Busch and Armitage’s right to a trial fair.
“It is clear from comments made to the media by mayors of local communities that there was considerable fear and hostility among members of these communities,” Tammen said, highlighting coverage that questioned Busch’s placement and Armitage in a minimum security prison.
At the time of their escape, Busch, 42, was serving time for second degree murder and assault and had already served time for aggravated sexual assault and escape from custody. Armitage, then 30, was serving a sentence of 13 years and 10 months for robbery, aggravated assault and other offenses. In February 2018, he was assessed as medium security or moderate risk, but two months later he was transferred to minimum security William Head Institution.
On the evening of July 7, 2019, Busch and Armitage escaped the oceanfront prison by walking along the shore at low tide. West Shore RCMP launched a manhunt for the men, but it wasn’t until two days later when Busch and Armitage commented on a constable’s dog on leave in Esquimalt that they were found .
On July 12, West Shore RCMP attended a house on the 1000 block of Brookview Drive in Metchosin to check on Payne’s welfare after he failed to report for work. Three days earlier, on July 9, Oak Bay police had found his red Ford pickup truck on Woodburn Avenue.
Officers found Payne’s body inside his home and deemed the death suspicious. In June 2020, Busch and Armitage were charged with first degree murder.
Speaking Thursday morning, Tammen said he had no hesitation in accepting the request to move the trial to Vancouver, where he said he was sure a larger pool of jury selection with fewer knowledge about the case would be more likely to render an impartial verdict.
The trial date has not yet been set.
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