Malley trial today: RCMP investigation into amount of gunpowder used in deadly blast

A re-creation of the bomb that police believe killed a disabled single mother ignited large fireballs and the blast shockwave tore through plywood in test detonations shown to a jury.

A re-creation of the bomb that police believe killed a disabled single mother ignited large fireballs and the blast shockwave tore through plywood in test detonations shown to a jury.

Victoria Shachtay died on Nov. 25, 2011, after opening a Christmas gift bag disguising a bomb.

Brian Malley, 57, of Innisfail is charged with first-degree murder and is on trial in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench.

In their investigation into the death of Shachtay in Innisfail, the RCMP explosive disposal unit created three pipe bombs similar to the one that killed the 23-year-old woman, hoping to find how much gunpowder was used in the deadly blast.

Cpl. Greg Baird, a member of the bomb unit, testified on Tuesday in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench about his role in the investigation. On scene, he sifted through the debris of the explosion that killed Shachtay, in hopes to find left over bomb fragments.

Baird said they were able to re-assemble the bomb from fragments found on scene. They determined it to be a six-inch long, two-inch wide steel pipe with threading at either end, called a nipple. A five-mm-wide hole was drilled into the pipe, where the detonator was put in to ignite the gunpowder.

In 2013, members of the bomb unit built three versions of the bomb and detonated them at a safe location.

Baird said they used a different detonator from what they believe was used in the bomb that killed Shachtay. They used an “electric match,” which he said is safer than the exposed light bulb filament that police allege Malley used.

Baird testified that he found several ways to use the light bulb filament as a detonator, but they did not use it in their tests for safety reasons.

The test bombs were filled with 114 grams, 225 grams and 290 grams of gunpowder. All were filled using Alliant blue dot double smokeless gunpowder, the same powder seized at Malley’s residence.

The bombs were detonated and the debris was studied by Baird. Of the three bombs detonated, the closest to matching the one that killed Shachtay was the one filled with the most gunpowder. That blast created the fragment size most comparable to the deadly bomb.

Jurors were shown video of the three test explosions. Baird narrated the blast, which started with a fireball and included a blast wave that rocked the nearby witness board — a three-quarter-inch sheet of plywood stationed 18 inches from the bomb. Baird said the distance was chosen to reflect Shachtay’s distance from the bomb.

The blast wave on the bomb with the most gunpowder split the plywood in half lengthwise.

Extra precautions were necessary in the creation of the test bombs. Baird said that even a loose gunpowder grain in the threads of the nipple could ignite from the friction caused by trying to screw an end cap on.

Jamie Clifford, manager of Wolverine guns and tackle, testified to the components needed to reload shotgun shells.

Police verified that Malley purchased one bottle of Alliant blue dot double smokeless gunpowder from the store in 2011.

Clifford said if gunpowder was being purchased to reload shotgun shells, one would also need a press, a die to deprime existing shells, a shuck, primer, wad, powder and the contents of the shot they were attempting to load the shell with.

RCMP Cpl. Mike Moulds, who was part of the May 25, 2012, search of Malley’s residence, said police did not find a press or any other item associated with reloading a shotgun shell — only the gunpowder.

Malley, who was Shachtay’s financial advisor, is accused of killing her to “cut his losses.”

Shachtay was paralyzed in a 2004 car crash. Court was told earlier that she invested $575,000 of her 2007 settlement with Malley, but by 2011 that money was gone.

The trial continues today in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench and is scheduled for several weeks.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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