It's a stunning development in a high-profile Winnipeg homicide.
Justice officials have abruptly dropped their case against a Winnipeg man accused of planning the cold-blooded contract killing of his ex-girlfriend and set him free.
Drake Moslenko appeared in court Tuesday for the conclusion of a preliminary hearing that would determine if there was sufficient evidence for him to stand trial for first-degree murder.
But Crown attorney Daniel Chaput took the decision out of the judge's hands, announcing he was entering a stay of proceedings on the most serious charge in the Criminal Code.
Chaput told court the decision was made after losing a legal ruling earlier in the hearing. No other explanation was provided. A court-ordered ban prevents specific details of the proceedings from being published.
'We're happy with the decision. We feel it is the right decision' -- defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe after first-degree murder case dropped
Preliminary hearings are held to allow an accused person to test the Crown's evidence against them. The threshold for getting a committal is much lower than the "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" required at trial. Generally speaking, a judge must find only that the Crown presented some evidence, which if believed by a jury, could allow them to find a suspect guilty.
The Crown does have the right to reinstate a charge it stays within one year, although such a move is extremely rare. By staying its case against Moslenko at this stage -- prior to a judicial ruling on committal -- the Crown retains a small tactical advantage, namely time.
Moslenko, 28, showed no reaction upon learning he was walking free. If convicted, he would have faced an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.
"We're happy with the decision. We feel it is the right decision. We're happy our client has been exonerated," defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe told the Free Press outside court. Both she and lawyer Sarah Inness have been representing Moslenko.
A co-accused, Treyvonne Willis, is facing the same first-degree murder and remains before the courts. He is a friend of Moslenko, who allegedly carried out the deadly June 2012 attack on Kaila Tran. Willis, 21, recently consented to stand trial in Court of Queen's Bench following a two-week preliminary hearing. No dates have been set, and he is being held in custody.
Moslenko was accused of paying Willis to stab Tran to death in a St. Vital parking lot. Tran, 27, died from the injuries she suffered after being attacked at about 7 a.m. while on her way to her vehicle, which was parked near her Clayton Drive apartment.
The young woman's screams alerted neighbours, who witnessed the attack. Several ran out of their apartments in a bid to help Tran, and one chased her attacker on his bicycle until he disappeared near the Seine River.
Police said Moslenko and Tran had been a couple for four years but split up shortly before her death. Witnesses reported seeing Moslenko at the scene following the attack on Tran, sobbing and holding her hand as she lay on the ground bleeding.
In a puzzling move, the Crown consented to Moslenko's release on bail only a few weeks after his arrest. It's unusual for justice officials not to fight to keep someone facing a first-degree murder charge in custody. No explanation was given to the court.
"There's something funny with their case," one veteran defence lawyer said after hearing of that development.
Moslenko was freed on a $100,000 surety and has been living under a 24-hour curfew with his father in Transcona. Those bail conditions were eliminated following Tuesday's hearing, meaning he is no longer under any restrictions.
Moslenko is a former amateur baseball star and a budding rap artist who was involved in nightclub security at the time of the incident. Moslenko met Tran while both were working at the Blush Ultra Lounge nightclub.
He pleaded guilty in 2010 to his involvement in a robbery at the Travelodge on Alpine Avenue, where he also worked. Court records show he helped engineer the plan in which an employee turned over more than $5,600 in cash from the hotel bar to another co-accused and claimed she'd been robbed. He was given a three-month conditional sentence and probation.
Several members of Tran's family were in court Tuesday but left without comment. Following her death, several friends took to social media to lash out against her accused killers, saying she was a loving and caring young woman with no enemies.
Police have never disclosed an alleged motive for the killing. Just days after the slaying, police said their underwater search-and-recovery unit searched the Seine River near the attack scene and recovered the murder weapon.
When the Winnipeg Police Service announced the arrests of Moslenko and Willis, spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen credited a third party who came forward with information as giving police the break they were seeking.