Day two of the trial for a man charged in the disappearance of Eduardo Balaquit was hit with a slight delay after a juror tested positive for COVID-19.
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sadie Bond informed the jury about the situation Tuesday morning, telling the court the juror was directed not to attend and was discharged for the remainder of the proceedings.
Testimony in the trial eventually went ahead after the 13 remaining jurors all agreed to do rapid tests and all the results came back negative.
Balaquit, 59, vanished June 4, 2018, and hasn’t been seen since.
The accused, Kyle Alexander Pietz, 36, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and is presumed innocent.
The Crown alleges he caused Balaquit’s death during a robbery.
Const. Christine Mazerolle, a member of the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS), testified Tuesday she was sent to the Balaquit family’s home on the morning of June 5, 2018, after they filed a missing persons report because Balaquit didn’t return home from work the night before.
The officer testified she then went to Westcon Equipment on Keewatin St. where Balaquit worked as a cleaner. The jury was told his van was found parked at a neighbouring business.
“We observed that the front passenger side window was smashed,” Mazerolle testified.
During cross-examination by Pietz’s lawyer, the officer told the court: “There was a hole in the window big enough for my partner to put his arm through.”
Mazerolle testified officers found safety glasses, some clear plastic, a piece of pipe outside the vehicle as well as a cell phone inside the vehicle and that Balaquit’s son Edward attended the scene.
“We believed that phone was his fathers,” Mazerolle told the court.
Court has heard Balaquit’s body has not been found and his family has not heard from him in nearly four years.
A former Westcon parts department employee testified on June 3, 2018—the day before Balaquit was last seen—he got two phone calls on the company’s after hours cell phone from someone claiming to be a customer in need of a key for a grader.
“I definitely thought it was Kyle … Mr. Pietz,” Derek Barron, the former employee, told the court.
Barron testified he worked with Pietz at Westcon prior to receiving the calls and that Pietz had previously left the company.
“I said, ‘is this Kyle?’” Barron told the jury. He testified the caller replied, ‘no.’
“He told me that his name was Don,” Barron told the court.
Barron testified he agreed to meet the caller that Sunday night at Westcon to get them the part.
“Did anyone ever show up?” Crown attorney Vanessa Gama asked.
“Yes,” Barron testified. “Mr. Pietz.”
“I pretty much called him out on it on the spot.”
Barron told the court he asked Pietz why he was at Westcon.
“Told me he was delivering pizzas and that he seen my vehicle or something,” Barron testified.
Barron told the jury Pietz was wearing gloves and eventually left but no one ever showed up to get the grader key.
Const. Sheri Nedohin, a forensic identification specialist with the WPS, told the court the day after Balaquit’s disappearance a sticky note was located inside Westcon with ‘the building is next,’ written on it. She testified no fingerprints were detected.
The trial, which started with 14 jurors, is expected to continue Wednesday morning but before it does, rapid tests will be available to the 13 remaining members of the jury to take.
Tuesday marks the second time in the trial a juror has tested positive for COVID-19.
Court heard a juror also tested positive last Friday before the case got underway. They were also discharged and replaced Monday by one of two alternate jurors.
The trial is scheduled for six weeks.
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