On the third day of a trial that will continue throughout the week and then later this fall, details emerged from the Beatton River beatings last summer as reluctant young witnesses took the stand to recount a summer evening gone wrong.
Five men stand accused of 200 charges, with each man accused of 40 crimes including weapon offences, specifically, pointing a firearm and assault with a weapon; assault causing bodily harm; aggravated assault; uttering threats; and mischief. They are Calvin Gunning, Jeremy Jondreau, Jordan Ramos, Jordan Reno and Joshua Toth.
The accused and the charges are all to be decided by one trial and one judge, which means witnesses are questioned by Crown Counsel and can be cross-examined by five defence lawyers representing the accused.
Most of the Crown's 38 witnesses are in their early twenties and come from small communities and reserves outside Fort St. John.
When the witnesses entered the courtroom Wednesday, the accused turned their heads and stared at them as they approached the stand. Throughout Wednesday's proceedings the five men made hand gestures and apparent signals at witnesses, which many in the gallery assumed were intended for intimidation.
Witnesses offered testimony with downcast eyes and soft voices.
That has the witnesses' friends and family nervous about retribution when the four suspects now in custody are released on bail - something that could happen as soon Friday. The fifth suspect, Josh Toth, was released on bail earlier this year.
"What these kids are doing is so courageous," said Marlene Greyeyes, "We're concerned that their bravery isn't receiving the kind of support we'd like to see."
"What types of precautions are their going to be to protect these kids once these guys get out?" she wondered, "They all live in places 45 minutes out of town and we're worried something is going to happen."
One of the witnesses father, Malcolm Apsassin, explained how the beatings and now the trial have derailed his son's life.
"Every time our kids have to come into town for sports or other activities they're worried. This used to be such a peaceful town. My son was only trying to do something nice for his cousins by driving them to the party, because he doesn't drink. Because of that he ended up getting beaten and has to worry about these bullies," said Apsassin.
Myles Acko, 21, testified for most of Wednesday afternoon and provided the court with his personal account of the birthday party turned mass-beating early July 25th.
Acko told the court he and a truckload of his friends and cousins arrived at a popular party spot along the Beatton River to celebrate his cousin Kyla Apsassin's birthday. According to Acko, there were between 50 and 100 people there and the evening unfolded as per usual until about three in the morning.
At that point, Acko said, he and his cousin were loading the keg into the back of a truck when he was struck on the back of the head by what he guessed was a 2x4.
When he realized there was more than one man assaulting the group, Acko told the court he tried to run away but was struck on the kneecap with a board, which sent him to the ground, where more assailants caught up with him and started stomping on his head and kicking him in the gut.
From the ground, Acko testified, he heard his cousin Travis Apsassin yelling that one of the guys had a bat. While he was being beaten, Acko said he began asking the men why he was being attacked.
"What did I do to you? I don't even know who you are," Acko said he asked his attackers.
According to the witness, the men responded telling him "F**k you! You're dead."
From his spot on the ground, drifting in and out of consciousness, Acko testified, all he could hear were screams and threats. Then he noticed a man waving a handgun. After that, Acko said he covered his head and waited for someone to get shot and thinking he was going to be stabbed.
Eventually, a couple of Acko's friends helped him to a van full of people heading for the Fort St. John hospital, where he received eight stitches and was treated for a dislocated knee, cuts and bruises.
Because the beatings occurred more than a year ago, and most of the witnesses were drinking, the Crown is relying heavily on the testimony of two sober witnesses, one of whom is Travis Apsassin.
Throughout the morning, Defence Counsel worked to discredit Apsassin's testimony by suggesting he was relying on hearsay and assumptions.
At one point when Apsassin motioned for a drink of water, defence counsel fetched him a glass, joking they were "full-service lawyers", but then apologized they couldn't put any whisky in it for him.
Look forward to more coverage on the proceeding as court continues.