Sunday, April 29, 2007

How to buy and sell heroin without saying a word

You don’t need words to buy heroin. Gestures will do. That's according to Nigel Roberts, 26, a former heroin addict who was testifying last week at the murder trial of Dennis Knibbs in B.C. Supreme Court.

Knibbs is on trial for one of two murders which were committed on Apr, 4, 2005 in the New Wings Hotel. "The Wings" was a residential hotel where Roberts, who says he's been clean for a year, was purchasing heroin multiple times a day at the peak of his 3 yr. habit in 2005.

Roberts was asked by prosecutor Michael Luchencko about his history of purchasing heroin at Oppenheimer Park or across the street at the New Wings Hotel on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. At Oppenheimer Park, Roberts explained, it was “users selling to other users.” He noted, “They didn’t have any real dealers out of Oppenheimer Park.”

But Roberts knew “a couple of dealers in the New Wings”. He explained that he never purchased drugs from these dealers directly though. “They had people give it to me.” When a user arrived to purchase heroin, the dealer would have “a separate person hook ‘em up.”

When asked if he had “personal knowledge” of any dealers at the New Wings Hotel, Roberts listed: “Ian, Rocka, John.” “Ian” is a nickname for Aliston Liscombe, the defendant’s cousin who was shot and killed at the New Wings on the night of Apr. 4/05. “Rocka” is a nickname for Dennis Knibbs, on trial for allegedly shooting the young man whom he had just witnessed shooting his cousin. “John” refers to John Whalen Jr., who admitted in court that he was a crack cocaine dealer [See “How much does a crack cocaine dealer earn?”] at the New Wings, and had shared a cab with Knibbs in the minutes following the shootings.

But Roberts noted that these men had never sold drugs to him directly; “They would hook me up.”

“I would go to Ian and I would know who he had working for him”, said Roberts. He explained that when purchasing heroin, “You don’t have to say words.” He demonstrated the gesture he would use when approaching Ian at the New Wings: repeatedly jabbing his left index finger downwards in the air, in the direction of his right forearm. Ian would respond by pointing his own finger, “like ‘Go to him’.” “I’d purchase my heroin from a crack head, another user”, Roberts said. “Where?”, the prosecutor asked. “Everywhere in the New Wings.”

The judge noted that witnesses where immune from prosecution for statements they made in court, unless they committed perjury.

Witnesses such as Nigel Roberts and John Whalen Jr. who knew Knibbs through the Downtown Eastside drug culture, have been testifying freely about the drug trade. Knibbs is not on trial for drug dealing, but for murder. When it comes to testimony that could affect the murder trial verdict though, these witnesses have been more guarded. Both Nigel Roberts and John Whalen Jr. have shown up in court to retract previous statements they made to police that could have proven damaging to the defense.