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Burnaby RCMP officer takes stand in Ibrahim Ali murder trial

Constable discovered missing teen's wallet on dark path of Central Park before requesting dog team that found her body nearby.
A Burnaby RCMP officer who spotted the wallet and phone that led police to the body of a 13-year-old Burnaby girl took the stand in Vancouver Supreme Court on Friday.

In the early morning hours of July 19, 2017, Burnaby RCMP Const. Richard Huggins was sweeping the beam of a flashlight over a darkened trail of Central Park when something pink beside the trail caught his eye.

Huggins was one of the officers working to find a 13-year-old girl who had been reported missing by her family less than 90 minutes earlier, according to testimony at the first-degree murder trial of Ibrahim Ali in Vancouver Supreme Court Friday.

The girl can not be named because of a publication ban.

Huggins told the court that technology available to police in "life or death" circumstances had pinpointed or "pinged" the location of the missing girl's phone to within a 30-metre radius. 

It led police to a trail in the southeast section of the park.

Huggins' police cruiser wouldn't fit down the trail, so he and fellow Burnaby RCMP Const. Jason Castillo walked the path with flashlights.

"On my side, something catches my eye. It's pink and it's at the base of a tree," Huggins told the jury.

He said he bent down to pick it up and discovered it was a wallet with a phone inside.

Also inside was the missing girl's student ID card.

Recalling that moment, Huggins appeared to choke up, pausing for several moments and apologizing.

"I have the phone, and I have the wallet,  but I don't have (the girl)," Huggins said of his thoughts upon finding the wallet and phone.

He radioed the detachment to report the phone had been found and requested a police dog team to help with the search.

A dog and handler located the teen's body about 20 metres from the trail, according to Huggins.

Huggins was the second on the scene.

In the beam of his flashlight, he said he saw the lifeless teen, lying on her back, hands by her head.

Her shirt had been pulled up and her shorts and underwear pulled down.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Kevin McCullough questioned Huggins about a man he had encountered at Central Park while searching for the teen.

Huggins said the man had told him he was part of a film crew working in the park that night.

McCullough asked Huggins if he had gotten the man's name or taken his photo, or if he had determined how far away from the girl's body he had met the man.

Huggins said he had not.

"That's not a big distance from where (the victim's) body was found," noted McCullough after Huggins told him where he had encountered the man.

In follow-up questions, however, Crown prosecutor Isobel Keeley asked Huggins if he'd ever been tasked with investigating the man or the distance between where they met in relation to the spot where the victim's body was found.

Huggins said no.

Ali, who was 28 years old at the time of the girl's death, was charged in September 2018.

He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial continues Monday morning (May 1).