A man has taken the fall in connection with the fatal shooting of a well-liked, up-and-coming Winnipeg male model.
But exactly who pulled the trigger of the .22-calibre handgun used to tragically end Johnathen Felix’s life may never be known.
Derek Merrick, 21, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with Felix’s death on March 31, 2012.
But Merrick’s admission of guilt in the killing comes with a caveat: he admits to possessing the loaded gun, yes.
But, he says, he’d passed the pistol off to someone else before multiple shots were fired towards Felix as he fled a drug-related ripoff behind a Balmoral Street apartment block.
Felix, 21, was wounded but managed to escape. He was found dead in a nearby yard about 12 hours later.
A tall fence around the yard in which Felix sought shelter prevented anyone from seeing him.
Merrick pleaded guilty late last week while in the midst of a preliminary hearing into a second-degree murder charge.
His admission to manslaughter saw the Crown drop the murder allegation. They also dropped their case against co-accused Tyion Sanderson, 24.
Prior to the shooting, Merrick called up the B-Side street gang’s drug line and arranged a purchase of two rocks of crack cocaine, prosecutor Erika Dolcetti said.
The deal was a setup, she added.
"The intention at that time was for him to commit a robbery of the person who was selling the drugs," said Dolcetti.
Merrick and two cohorts met up with Felix behind 247 Balmoral St.
Felix was there with the drugs but refused to empty his pockets when ordered to. He turned and ran.
Merrick admitted to bringing the gun along. One of his unidentified cohorts asked for it, court heard.
"Merrick asked, and said to the person, ‘not to shoot,’ but in any case did provide the gun," said Dolcetti.
Up to six shots were fired. One hit Felix in the back, the other in the back of his leg. He ultimately died of a lung hematoma, said the Crown.
Merrick is not a known gang member, said Dolcetti.
Neither was Felix, according to Winnipeg police, who said he had no direct ties to the city’s drug subculture.
The investigation into his killing was protracted and unusual.
About an hour after the shooting, police were called to a disturbance at a nearby Young Street home. At the time, they didn't know Felix had been shot.
In the kitchen, police found 32 rocks of crack cocaine and other drug paraphernalia.
A search of a basement room led to the discovery of a .22-calibre revolver — with six spent bullet casings in its chamber — sticking out of a duffel bag, the Crown previously disclosed in court.
"It was only after they found the victim a few hours later that (police) put two and two together and they realized that they were probably looking at the murder weapon that actually caused the death of Johnathen Felix," Crown attorney Rustyn Ullrich told court at a bail hearing last summer.
A shaver in the same bag had Merrick’s DNA on it, Ullrich had alleged. The Crown conceded that evidence, ostensibly believed to link Merrick to the gun, was circumstantial.
It wouldn’t be until nearly a year after Felix was killed that Merrick was arrested.
Co-accused Sanderson, who was charged on the day Felix was shot — but only in connection to the drug investigation — wasn’t implicated by police in Felix’s homicide until May 2013.
After Merrick pleaded guilty in connection to the killing, Sanderson admitted to a charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Sanderson’s murder charge was "stayed on its merits," said Dolcetti, who suggested the Crown’s review of the case showed no reasonable likelihood of conviction against him.
He had no criminal record at the time but was pending on a separate drug-trafficking charge, Judge Anne Krahn was told.
Sanderson was sentenced to 434 days of time already served. Krahn gave him extra credit for that time, meaning his sentence on paper is just shy of two years.
A joint-recommendation for 11 years in prison is on the table for Merrick, defence lawyer Sarah Inness said.
That deal has not yet been accepted by Krahn. She will sentence Merrick on Sept. 25.
After Felix’s death, a large number of people gathered at the scene where he was found to mourn his loss.
He’d only recently returned to Winnipeg to attend university after graduating high school in Victoria, according to relatives.