A Winnipeg man who claims he had no choice but to pull the trigger in a deadly gang-related shooting has lost his bid for a new trial.
Joseph Burnell Head was convicted in September 2012 of second-degree murder after his plea of self-defence was rejected. Jurors took less than 24-hours to find him responsible for the January 2009 death of 26-year-old Shawn Beauchamp, who was found lying in the snow with a gunshot wound to the back.
Head, 25, was given a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 12 years. He filed an appeal, seeking to overturn the verdict on the grounds several error were made.
Now the Manitoba Court of Appeal has weighed in, rejecting his bid in a written decision released this week.
"In my view, the jury instructions, read as a whole and in the context of the issues at trial and the positions of the parties, were balanced, fair and free of error," said Justice Chris Mainella.
One of the key arguments presented by Head is the fact the trial judge refused to allow jurors to hear about Beauchamp’s violent past. Beauchamp had 27 prior criminal convictions, but they weren’t allowed to be mentioned at the trial. Head claimed this was vital background which contributed to his actions.
The trial judge ruled allowing the victim’s criminal history into the trial would be prejudicial. The high court has now agreed with that ruling.
Jurors heard the evidence was clear that Head, who was a member of the Indian Posse, was one of several men that came across a group of members of the Bloods gang near the corner of St. John’s Avenue and Charles Street that night.
Court heard that an argument broke out which was initiated by the Bloods. Moments later, Beauchamp -- a Bloods member -- was pepper-sprayed. After Beauchamp fell to the ground, Head shot him once and then fled.
Beauchamp was rushed to hospital, but died of his wounds.
"I was really scared. I thought he was going to shoot me," Head told police following his arrest. However, police investigation revealed none of the Bloods members, including the victim, were even carrying weapons on them at the time.