Canadian accused in grisly murders pleads not guilty to beheading, killing

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FREDERICTON, New Brunswick (AP) – The man accused of fatally stabbing an elderly woman and decapitating her husband says he is innocent of a crime that has cast a pall over a small New Brunswick village.

Gregory Despres, 24, answered, “Not guilty,” in a firm voice when asked to enter a plea as his trial started in Fredericton on Monday. Apart from his not guilty pleas, the slightly built Despres sat quietly in the prisoner’s box, occasionally staring at people in the courtroom.

Despres is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his former neighbors in Minto, Fred Fulton, 74, and Verna Decarie, 70.

The two were found dead in their home in central New Brunswick on April 26, 2005.

Crown prosecutors opened their case against Despres on Monday by introducing potentially incriminating exhibits, including clothing stained with the blood of Fulton and Decarie and DNA material from Despres.

Justice Judy Clendenning of the Court of Queen’s Bench warned spectators that sensitive evidence will be presented during the trial, and she asked that if anyone was unable to control themselves, they should leave.

Prosecutors advised Clendenning that a key witness, Fulton’s daughter Debbie Mowatt, will be giving testimony from outside the courthouse, via closed-circuit television.

Mowatt found the bodies, including her father’s headless corpse, and has required counselling to cope with the emotional trauma.

“It is better for her to do it … outside the courtroom because of her fragile state,” family spokesman Mike Richardson, Fulton’s nephew, told reporters.

The double murder shocked the tiny community of Minto, about 30 miles northeast of Fredericton. Fulton and Decarie were well-known in the sleepy, coal-mining village. Fulton was an expert guitar player who loved to entertain at benefits and house parties.

“Everyone knew him in the community and loved him,” Richardson said.

“We’re here to represent him. We think about him every day. He was a great person.”

Crown prosecutor Paul Hawkins said the prosecution will call about 60 witnesses during the trial, which is expected to last at least three weeks.

In addition to family members, prosecutors will be calling Canadian and U.S. police officials.

The case made international headlines after Despres left Canada on April 25, 2005, the day before the bodies were found.

He was arrested the next day in Mattapoisett, Mass.

Despres, who has dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship, was granted entry into the United States at the Calais, Maine, border crossing despite carrying a chainsaw, a homemade sword, a hatchet and brass knuckles.

“The Crown will call all border crossing officials who came into contact with Mr. Despres,” Hawkins said.

Earlier, Despres waived his right to a jury trial.

“This is a very delicate case,” Richardson said.

“It’s a double murder and you don’t see those every day in a small community. We’re a little frustrated with the process, but as long as things are done properly and the evidence presented properly, he’ll be put away for the rest of his life. That’s what we want.”

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