Godmanchester resident Gary Arnold took the stand last week at the Montreal courthouse, where he is on trial facing seven charges including kidnapping, unlawful confinement, extortion, and conspiracy in connection with the September 2020 abduction of Sandra and James Helm, of upstate New York, allegedly over a drug debt owed by their grandson.
Arnold was called to testify before the jury on January 19 after the prosecution rested their case against him. According to a report by the Canadian Press, the prosecution introduced 13 witnesses, including Sandra Helm who was kidnapped with her husband (who has since died) and smuggled across the Canadian border through Akwesasne before being held for two days at a cottage in Magog. She identified Arnold as one of the two men who abducted her.
The court also heard testimony from her son, Michael Helm, and the lead Sûreté du Québec investigator, Guillaume Poirier, as prosecutors introduced video, wiretap, text, and phone messages as evidence of Arnold’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy.
In his defense, Arnold told the court that his involvement with the kidnapping was forced and that he had no prior knowledge of the abduction plot. He denied having been inside the Helm’s home or having ever been to Magog. He testified he received a threatening letter ordering him to a meeting with a man he referred to as “Big,” where he was given a phone and threats were made against his family if he did not comply with orders. These orders included a demand to go to the Suroît Hospital in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield to pick up catheters for Helm, who has a medical condition, where he was caught on surveillance video. Arnold insisted he did not know who the medical equipment was for but confirmed he delivered them to a man named Franco D’Onofrio, who was waiting in a parked car. D’Onofrio is also facing charges for his involvement in the abduction.
According to a report by the Montreal Gazette, Arnold admitted to pleading guilty in previous instances when faced with criminal charges. He told the jurors this case was different, and that he was not guilty.
Prior to the start of Arnold’s testimony, lawyer John T. Pepper Jr. called to the stand Sylvain Tanguay, a private investigator hired by the defense, who told the jury he had found the threatening letter referred to by Arnold at his home in Godmanchester.
The trial resumed on Monday. (SR)