By Roger Bill / August 4, 2023
10:00 AM. July 24.
Twenty-one-year-old Robert Belbin’s hands are handcuffed behind his back. Leg irons are on his ankles. He kind of shuffles as he walks into Provincial Courtroom #6. His mother, Tonya, is sitting in the first row of the gallery. Robert Belbin pauses and as a member of the Sheriff’s staff removes the handcuffs the young man says, “Hiya Mom. How are you doing?”
Robert Belbin was accused of stabbing a 23-year-old man in a fight on George Street on the 24th of May weekend in 2022. Thomas Barnes told the court Robert Belbin and a group of other young men attacked him from behind. Thomas Barnes said he was knocked to the ground and was on his hands and knees being “beat-up” and “stabbed.”
The fight occurred near the bandstand on George Street. A doorman at a nearby bar said he was on a deck about 20 feet away and saw what he called a “brawl” involving seven or eight men. Jason Newell said one of the men reached into his pocket and pulled out what he said, “looked like a knife” and made a gesture as if he was flipping open the knife’s blade. Asked if he saw a knife the doorman said, “No.” In fact, nobody testified to having seen a knife and the police never recovered one.
Thomas Barnes says he broke free of the fighting and ran back to his car parked on Bates Hill He told the court Robert Belbin “chased me” and “punched me in the head in my car.” Video recorded on security cameras of two nearby businesses show Robert Belbin following Thomas Barnes as he returned to his car. There was no video evidence, however, of Robert Belbin punching Thomas Barnes in the head. All the lead investigator for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary could testify to is that “some sort of interaction” occurred between the two young men.
Despite the absence of video evidence, the police believe Thomas Barnes was stabbed by his car on Bates Hill. Their theory rests on Thomas Barnes’ blood being found on the ground on Bates Hill but not found on the ground on George Street. Even if the police theory is correct the only witness to two men fighting by Thomas Barnes’ car on Bates Hill was a 24-year-old schoolteacher and she described the man fighting with Thomas Barnes as a “black man.” Robert Belbin is a white man.
THE JUDGE AND THE LAWYERS
When he was making his closing arguments Crown Prosecutor Mark James was challenged by Judge James Walsh. Walsh asked, “Who stabbed him?” The judge continued, noting that Barnes said it happened on George St. during the fight and the police theory is it happened by the car on Bates Hill. “It can’t be both,” said the Judge. He called the Crown’s argument at one point, “a stretch.” The Crown Prosecutor finally argued that even if Robert Belbin did not stab Thomas Barnes, “he was a party to this offence.” The Judge said he had, “concerns” about that line of reasoning.
The closing argument of Robert Belbin’s lawyer was brief. “Where did it occur?” Iain Hollett asked. If the stabbing took place by the car on Bates Hill, the defence lawyer said, the evidence of the 24-year-old schoolteacher, a Crown witness, was “key.”
What was “problematic,” Hollett argued, is that there “was absolutely no evidence” that Robert Belbin assaulted Thomas Barnes on Bates Hill. The only evidence, he argued, is that the Crown’s witness said it was somebody other than Robert Belbin striking Thomas Barnes on Bates Hill. All the Crown had achieved, Hollett said, was to prove the “mere presence” of Robert Belbin on George Street and Bates Hill. He asked the judge to enter an acquittal.
Provincial Court Judge James Walsh said he would render a verdict on September 12. Then Robert Belbin put his hands behind his back, he was handcuffed, and he shuffled out of the courtroom to await the verdict.
MORE YOUNG GUYS IN COURT
What was not discussed during the Belbin trial was that Thomas Barnes, the young man who was stabbed, was scheduled to appear in court the following day, on July 26. Barnes has been charged with aggravated assault and weapons charges arising from an incident several weeks following the fight on George Street.
Also scheduled to be in court on the day after the Belbin trial ended was another young man, 21-year-old Brandon Chafe. Among other things Brandon Chafe has been accused of attempting to commit murder where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence. Chafe is charged for his role in the same incident that led to the charges against Thomas Barnes.
YOUNG GUYS AND GUNS
Thomas Barnes told Judge James Walsh he did not know the men who beat and stabbed him, except he acknowledged he recognized Robert Belbin from social media.
The following night after the encounter, shots happened to be fired at a Thorburn Road apartment building where Robert Belbin lived. More shots were fired less than two weeks later at Robert Belbin’s grandparent’s home on Baker Street in the east end of St. John’s where Belbin sometimes stayed.
Robert Belbin remains in custody. In addition to being charged with the George Street assault, he faces another 38 charges including murder in the death of 22-year-old Seamus Secord in February 2023 on Mayor Avenue.
How is Robert Belbin’s mom doing? In a text message following the conclusion of the assault trial Tonya Belbin wrote, “I have to laugh, or I’ll never stop crying.”