Youth claims girl admitted killing

Flowers are covered in snow on Thursday at a Hardy Park memorial to Damian Sobieraj near the spot where he died more than a year ago. The trial of a girl accused of manslaughter in his death continued Thursday. (RONALD ZAJAC/The Recorder and Times) jpg, BT

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A 14-year-old girl confessed to beating up Damian Sobieraj and throwing the 33-year-old man into the St. Lawrence River where he drowned, a youth testified on Thursday.

But under aggressive questioning by defence lawyer Francois Dulude, the boy, now 15, recanted his testimony, then insisted it was true, then somewhat petulantly said: “I don’t care.”

The boy, who was 14 at the time, told police that six days after Sobieraj’s death in Hardy Park on Sept. 13, 2018, he chanced upon the girl while he was walking back to high school after lunch.

Rumours were rife about the drowning death among his classmates, so he asked the girl, who is on trial for manslaughter, about it.

The boy told police the next day and repeated at the trial on Thursday that the girl admitted killing Sobieraj.

After confessing to throwing Sobieraj into the river, the girl added a bizarre twist, according to the boy’s testimony. She said that Sobieraj committed suicide.

According to the youth’s account, the girl told him that Sobieraj had called for help, saying he couldn’t swim. The man then made his way to a ladder for safety, but held himself under the water until he drowned, the witness quoted the accused girl as saying.

The same rumour had been making the rounds at Brockville Collegiate Institute, which he and the girl attended, the youth testified.

The youth said that he knew the girl because he was best friends with her younger brother, and that he often visited their home.

Dulude suggested the youth was making up the whole conversation. The lawyer said that the girl’s brother had thrown the youth out of his house a week earlier after some young girls complained about him.

His story was fabricated in retaliation, Dulude suggested.

The boy responded “sure” to the lawyer’s question.

Asked later by Crown prosecutor Alan Findlay, the boy seemed to come back to his original story, but then said “I don’t care.”

The boy was the second witness to testify during Day Four of the manslaughter trial.

Earlier, a girl, who was 12 at the time, told of the events in Hardy Park that led up to Sobieraj’s death.

The girl said she was with a group of youths hanging out in the park after dark, drinking cans of alcoholic cooler. They’d just all gone for pizza on King Street and she, the accused girl and a few others had returned and were sitting in the bandshell.

A couple of their friends were hitting a tree with branches torn off the tree a short distance away.

A man, later identified as Sobieraj, came out of the park and screamed “stop hitting the tree, you could go to jail for that,” the girl recounted.

One of the larger boys in the bandshell went down to confront Sobieraj, who was in a screaming match with the tree-whackers. The larger lad went face-to-face with Sobieraj and the two traded shouts, she said.

The youth shoved Sobieraj with two hands and another of the boys also shoved the man, who was still holding his little dog on a leash, she said.

Sobieraj took out his phone, saying he was calling 911. The girl decided to scram, not wanting to be there when the police arrived. When she left, the accused girl was still in the bandshell and Sobieraj was following his tormentor down toward the water, she testified.

The girl testified she ran from the park and stopped when she ran out of breath at the parking lot on the west side at Henry Street.

As she caught her breath, two friends from the park caught up with her with one telling her that the accused girl had “body-slammed” Sobieraj into the water “and killed him.”

The three friends walked back into the park and found a bench. The 12-year-old ran back to where she was told Sobieraj had gone into the water to have a look, she said.

The girl said she saw what looked like a white object, perhaps a shirt, near the ladder in the water, but she later concluded that it might have been a reflection of light on the river. (When divers recovered Sobieraj’s body the next day, he was fully clothed in a red plaid shirt and jeans.)

The trial continues on Tuesday.