Joey Verma’s text messages became increasingly hostile after his cousin told police their activities the day Brittney Irving disappeared.
Jason Labonte, the Crown’s star witness at Verma’s murder trial, testified Verma asked him to drive up to a remote part of McCulloch Road and haul out his borrowed truck, which had stuck in the mud.
Weeks later, police found Irving’s bullet-ridden body nearby.
When police first spoke to Labonte about her disappearance, he said nothing about helping Verma dislodge the truck because “I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble for something they may not have done.” He later reconsidered and gave police a fuller version of what happened on April 6, 2010.
By late May, Verma was feeling the heat. He complained to Labonte, whose nickname is Cutter, by text message.
“You need to see me in person, Cutter. I need to know what you have said to these guys! I’m hearing things!!,” Verma typed via BlackBerry.
“I told you to keep your f***ing mouth shut, man!”
Labonte testified he was on vacation and at home alone on April 6 when Verma, now 32, came over and had coffee with him. Later, Irving drove her Ford Explorer into his driveway and, with Verma’s help, unloaded two full plastic garbage bags and a box.
They stored the items in Labonte’s garage and Irving, 24, left. Verma drove away soon after in a truck he’d borrowed from Mike Roberts, a man who lived nearby, Labonte said.
After he picked up his kids from school, Labonte got a text message from Verma saying the truck was stuck and to come help him. He told him to come by himself, Labonte said.
Roberts had Verma’s truck, so Labonte asked him to drive it to his place. Roberts complied and asked if he needed help. Labonte declined.
He drove to a section of McCulloch Road where he and Verma had hiked before. He found Verma standing outside the truck and used a tow line attached to his truck to pull it out of the mud. They both drove back into town and Labonte returned Verma’s truck to Roberts.
Weeks later, Verma told Labonte “I had to kill her.” Labonte dismissed it as fiction, he said.
“It was just talk — Joey talking,” he said.
Police suspect Verma met Irving on McCulloch Road and shot her to death during a drug deal. The prosecution says Irving intended to sell him 50 pounds of marijuana.
Verma gave Labonte a bag of garbage he wanted him to dispose of a week after Irving disappeared. He threw it in a dumpster without looking in the bag.
“I assumed it was something Joey didn’t want. It could have been drugs,” he said.
Labonte eventually drove with Mounties to the spot where Verma got stuck. Verma knew he was talking to investigators but the two didn’t talk much about what he was telling them, he said.
That changed in late May when Labonte gave police his firearms and two of Verma’s guns, which he stored in a gun safe. Labonte was a licensed hunter, and he and Verma had hunted together before.
The men exchanged text messages on May 25 soon after Labonte surrendered the firearms. He told Verma he was “not very happy about what I got dragged into.”
“I bet not. I got dragged into it too. But it’s all good bro. They gotta do what they gotta do,” Verma wrote.
They met at a car dealership. Labonte told him he was worried about him because “stuff was in the media.” They discussed his conversation with the RCMP.
“I was scared for him,” Labonte testified. “He just said not to worry about it. Then just before we parted, he gave me a hug and said if he’s going down, everyone’s going down.”
Soon after, Verma found how much police knew about what Labonte had revealed. He accused his cousin of saying too much and demanded another meeting.
The trial continues.