Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gang associate found dead in suite

Killed in rooming house known for drug activity

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Cadets guard a laneway Monday as police investigate the killing of a man inside a suite on Andrews Street.


Cadets guard a laneway Monday as police investigate the killing of a man inside a suite on Andrews Street. Photo Store

Justin Desmarais made plenty of enemies in his life. Now, Winnipeg police are combing through his background in an attempt to find out who was angry enough to kill him.

Desmarais, 24, is the city's first homicide victim of 2014. His body was found inside a suite Sunday afternoon in the 200 block of Andrews Street in the North End.

Sources say he was stabbed.

"Obvious and substantial injuries were suffered," police Const. Jason Michalyshen said Monday. No arrests have been made.

Desmarais didn't live at the rooming house and exactly how he got there -- and why -- are important pieces of the investigation.

A female family member told the Free Press Desmarais was last seen on Friday. Police concede it's possible he was killed a day or two before his body was found by another tenant inside the residence, which was known for drug activity.

"Why he was there, who he was associating himself with has yet to be determined," said Michalyshen.

Desmarais is no stranger to the criminal justice system. Sources described him as an associate of a local North End street gang that doubles as a gangster-rap music group called Bassment Records. In online postings, there's an indication the group has been involved in a previous gang dispute with a rival -- and much larger -- North End gang.

His last arrest occurred in July 2013 on charges of impaired driving, and in August 2013 for failing to appear in court. He remained free on bail and was set to appear in court Thursday on those charges.

Desmarais was given an 18-month conditional sentence in July 2009 on a charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking. In December 2009, he received a suspended sentence for weapons-related charges along with several breaches of court orders. That case involved an unusual attack in the summer of 2008, when witnesses reported seeing a man beaten unconscious in the middle of a Winnipeg street, stabbed and then stuffed in the trunk of a car.

Desmarais and a co-accused were charged with attacking the victim, who was never located and simply referred to in court documents as John Doe.

The incident began with an early-morning house party in the 500 block of College Avenue on July 26, 2008. A large group of young men who had been inside the party gathered in the backyard and surrounded the victim, who was then struck in the face and knocked unconscious. A witness claimed the victim got picked up by two men, then apparently stabbed. He was then carried to a waiting vehicle and stuffed in the trunk. The vehicle sped off, and no licence plate was obtained.

Police were called by area residents and arrived to find a chaotic scene. A bloody knife was found wrapped in a black T- shirt and hidden under a nearby parked car. Police also found broken glass and blood on the street and signs of a struggle inside the home.

Desmarais admitted to the charge of carrying a concealed weapon. Charges of assault and forcible confinement were stayed. Sources cited the difficulty of prosecuting someone for a serious crime when having no information about the victim.

Anyone with information about Desmarais' death is asked to contact members of the homicide unit at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2014 B4


Updated on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 8:15 PM CST: Fixes typo.

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