LONDON, Ont. – A jury in London, Ont., will have to decide if a man accused of murdering and dismembering his friend was provoked into a stabbing frenzy after an unwanted sexual advance, or whether he was “a calculated predator” acting out a depraved fantasy.
The two theories were presented to jurors on Monday as closing arguments were presented in the grisly case.
Crown prosecutors argued James McCullough was acting out a sick fantasy and knew what he was doing when he killed his friend and cut up his body in a hotel room in September 2013.
But McCullough’s defence lawyer suggested her client, who had been drinking and doing drugs, only stabbed his friend in a rage after an abrupt and troubling sexual advance from his buddy before blacking out.
McCullough, 22, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a dead body in the death of 20-year-old Alex Fraser.
Fraser’s body parts were found in two hockey bags in a hotel room the two friends shared for a night.
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McCullough’s lawyer argued her client had no prior plan to kill his friend.
“You must find James McCullough guilty of manslaughter,” Lynda Lamb said. “Mr. McCullough did do a terrible thing, he stabbed his friend to death, but this was not premeditated murder. It was a reaction to the suddenness of the attack on him in the hotel room.”
If McCulloug had in fact planned a murder, he might have thought things through more and would have had a clear plan on how to dispose of the body and escape, Lamb added.
“All of these things are absent,” she said. “They’re absent because there was no prior plan to kill Alex Fraser.”
Crown prosecutors, however, suggested there never was any sexual advance made by Fraser and urged the jury to find McCullough guilty as charged.
“James McCullough is a calculated predator,” said Crown lawyer Meredith Gardiner, pointing to a violent rap poem by McCullough which she said referenced murder, dismemberment and cannibalism, as well as conversations he’d had with a nurse about fantasizing killing someone.
“He committed these offences for no reason other than he wanted to.”
The trial has heard that one Saturday night, after first drinking at McCullough’s home, the two friends took a cab from Orangeville, Ont., where they lived, to London, with Fraser clearly intoxicated at the time.
McCullough testified there were three reasons for the trip – to party, to go shopping for clothes and to conduct a home invasion on a residence where he once lived when he attended a college in the city.
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McCullough said he brought alcohol and two hockey bags on the trip, as well as a knife and knife sharpener that he said he usually had on hand “for protection,” because he was a drug dealer.
The jury heard that the men checked into a Travelodge, where McCullough gave a fake name, a fake address and paid for the room in cash.
Once in the room, the two young men drank about six shots of tequila each, talked about their plans in London and McCullough had some cocaine, the trial heard.
McCullough then went for a shower and when he emerged from the washroom, he said Fraser was standing in the room, naked, saying he wanted to have sex.
McCullough said he got angry and pushed Fraser, who made a grab for his genitals, he said. The two got into a tussle and Fraser fell, at which point McCullough said he “freaked out,” grabbed his knife and stabbed his friend twice.
He told the court he then blacked out and when he regained consciousness, his friend’s body parts were lying in a bathtub – a sight so horrific it caused him to throw up.
The Crown argued that McCullough’s blackout was “convenient” and made up.
“There’s no evidence before you that such a black out is even possible, or that someone could complete such a complicated and difficult task as dismembering a human body in such a state,”
Gardiner said. “The only reason for Mr. McCullough to dismember Alex’s body is because he was acting out his fantasy.”
Gardiner also noted that a clean piece of bone was found in a ziplock bag in McCullough’s backpack.
“It was a trophy, a souvenir, by which the accused could remember living out his fantasy,” she suggested. “That completely and utterly destroys the accused’s claim that he did not mean to kill Alex Fraser.”
The trial heard that after Fraser died, McCullough reached out to an old acquaintance in the hope of getting a ride out of town, but the friend refused.
McCullough eventually called 911, saying repeatedly “someone is dead and I am unarmed.”
When asked why he called police, McCullough said he did so “because it was the right thing to do.”
Gardiner pushed back against that explanation.
“If he had been even remotely interested in doing the right thing, he wouldn’t have lied about virtually everything to police,” she said. “When all the pieces are put together they paint a picture of planing and deliberation.”