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Witness in Twitchell case was 'fighting for his life'

An Edmonton man testified he felt he was "fighting for his life" after being attacked in the same southside garage Crown prosecutors allege Mark Twitchell later killed Johnny Altinger.
The partial remains of Johnny Altinger were found in this north Edmonton sewer
The partial remains of Johnny Altinger were found in this north Edmonton sewer

An Edmonton man testified he felt he was "fighting for his life" after being attacked in the same southside garage Crown prosecutors allege Mark Twitchell later killed Johnny Altinger.

Gilles Tetreault testified Friday in Twitchell's first-degree murder trial that he went to the garage on Oct. 3, 2008, after arranging a date through the website with a woman named Sheena.

He was provided directions, but she refused to provide a phone number or specific address. He said he was told to come to a garage and go through it to the house.

Tetreault said when he entered the garage, a man in a hockey mask suddenly attacked him, put him in a bear hug and prodded him repeatedly with something that made a loud noise and emitted blue light.

He said he initially thought it might be some kind of weird joke, but then thought he was being mugged.

"Right then and there is when I obviously figured out this was no date."

He said he pulled the baton away from his body, adding it was more annoying than painful.

The man then threatened him with a gun. He said his attacker began yelling demands and Tetreault complied because of the gun.

"Get down on the ground, get your head down put your hands behind your back," Tetreault said the attacker demanded, before putting duct tape over his eyes.

When the man produced a black metal set of handcuffs Tetreault testified he became convinced this was more than a mugging.

"I figured I would rather die my way then his way."

He told the court he began to stand up and told the man, "I can't do this!"

Tetreault said he grabbed the gun, initially only wanting to position it away from him, but realized it was fake.

"I tell my friends it was the best feeling I ever had, because I knew the gun was plastic," Tetreault told the jury, drawing a nervous laugh from the audience.

The man grabbed his jacket and punched Tetreault in the head. Eventually he was able to squirm free of his jacket and get out under the garage door, but his legs failed him and the attacker dragged him back inside.

The attacker threw him inside and briefly lost control of Tetreault, who said he realized he was in serious trouble.

"How am I going to get away a second time? I'm pretty much dead," he testified about his thoughts.

Tetreault slid past the man and outside, using all his energy to run. He went to a trail near the garage and encountered a couple walking their dog. The man, who kept his mask on, saw him near the couple and went back inside.

Tetreault said he simply didn't think of calling the police after he left, but came forward when he saw a news article about police looking for someone who encountered a similar problem.

Twitchell kept his head down and didn't look at Tetreault during his initial testimony, but did look up during his lawyer's brief cross-examination.

Tetreault was shown the hockey mask police seized from Twitchell and he said it was identical to the one his attacker wore. He also said the handcuffs police seized were similar, though on cross-examination he admitted he didn't know if they were identical.

Forensic testimony

Thursday's evidence was dominated with forensic experts, including Dr. Robert Schimpf, an RCMP reporting scientist who testified that several exhibits in the case had blood on them that matched Altinger's DNA.

Among those items stained with Altinger's blood were a military knife found in Twitchell's car, Twitchell's jeans found in his St. Albert home, a running shoe and belt Twitchell wore at the time of his arrest, knives from a game processing kit found in the rented garage, and a blood-soaked metal pipe, Schimpf said.

Dr. Bernard Bannach, the assistant chief medical examiner for Alberta, testified about remains found on June 4, 2010 in the bottom of a storm sewer.

The jury was shown images of the remains, which included a torso and pelvis.

He said the sternum had clearly been cut in two and the nature of those cuts could not have been accidental.

"It is straight up and down, it is not ragged."

Bannach said there was another clear indication of a cut through the lower vertebrae.

He testified the remains were missing both arms and most of both legs, as well as the skull.

Facebook friend

On Wednesday the jury heard from a young woman Twitchell corresponded with through Facebook using a fake account in the name of Dexter Morgan. Renee Waring, who never met Twitchell in person, testified via video-link from Ohio.

Dexter Morgan is the lead character in the TV series Dexter, which chronicles the life of a serial killer who works as a forensics expert.

Twitchell's lawyer Charles Davidson told the court his client was prepared to admit he was the person behind the account.

After the two had sent dozens of messages back in early October 2008, there was a pause before Twitchell re-kindled the conversation Oct. 14.

He told Waring he had a busy weekend, but couldn't get into all the details.

"I also had something else keeping me busy, but I am really concerned about telling anyone because of the implications," he wrote. "Suffice it to say I crossed the line on Friday … and I liked it."

Twitchell is charged with murdering Altinger on Friday, Oct. 10, 2008.

The trial resumes on Monday. The Crown is expecting to finish its case by Tuesday.

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