The man accused of abducting his three-year-old son elected a trial by Supreme Court Justice and jury in Cranbrook Provincial Court Monday afternoon.
Robert Barnett is charged with abduction by a parent/guardian and theft over $5,000 in relation to an incident on November 16 that sparked an Amber Alert when three-year-old Alvin Barnett disappeared during a supervised visit in Fernie.
The boy was then smuggled over the B.C./Montana border. Robert Barnett and the child were found the next day in Whitefish, Montana, after spending the night in an allegedly stolen vehicle. The boy was returned to Canada safe.
Barnett, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, appeared in person before Judge Lisa Mrozinski on December 17 for arraignment and election, and advised court he was representing himself.
Crown counsel Andrew Mayes said Barnett had already had a bail hearing and was to be detained pending trial.
Barnett told court he had contacted over a dozen lawyers and was having difficulty finding one that would take legal aid.
Both counsel Rick Strahl and Greg Sawchuk, who were in court for other matters, advised court they had conversations with Barnett, but had not taken him on as a client. Sawchuk said he had informed Barnett of the availability of legal aid and explained his options for a trial.
Mrozinski cautioned Barnett, and suggested he wait before selecting a method for trial.
“I don’t know that you want to do your electing today,” she said.
Barnett said he wanted the matter to be moved forward as fast as possible and advised he wished to elect trial by judge and jury.
“I think the Crown’s case speaks for itself,” Barnett said, adding that it would be up to them to prove his innocence or guilt, and he planned to call few witnesses.
Barnett also queried about an assessment order of his mental ability, but Mrozinski said he would have to collect information to the court to prove or disprove an illness. She later said if Barnett wished to have an assessment done on himself, he would have to bring that before the next judge to hear his case.
Mrozinski cautioned further about the choice to proceed without counsel, but Barnett opted to continue.
“I have a right to not have a lawyer and have things go as fast as possible,” he said.
Barnett also asked to waive his right to a preliminary hearing, which is held ahead of a trial to gather the information for a case and determine the permissibility of evidence at a trial, and whether there is enough evidence for a trial to be held.
Mrozinski said it was certainly Barnett’s right to not have a preliminary hearing, noting that it would make the matter go through the courts quicker, but said it may not be in his best interests to not have one ahead of his trial.
Barnett said he was concerned about the child at the centre of the case.
“There’s a three-year-old involved here,” he said.
Mrozinski said that should Barnett opt to seek counsel at a later date, they may have difficulty representing him.
In the end, Barnett opted for a trial by judge and jury and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. He will appear before a Supreme Court Justice in person on January 14 at 10 a.m. He did not enter a plea.
Barnett, who has dual American and Canadian citizenship, returned to Canada earlier this month after initially fighting extradition from Montana.