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Guilty plea in man's death

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 end Johnathen Felix's life may never be known.

Derek Merrick, 21, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last week 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, but he said he had passed the pistol 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 Felix sought shelter in prevented anyone from seeing him.

Merrick pleaded guilty late last week 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. He turned and ran.

Merrick admitted to bringing the gun along. One of his unidentified companions 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, Winnipeg police said, who said he had no direct ties to the city's drug subculture.

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 Sept. 25.

Killer may get his wish

IT appears the third time will be the charm for a convicted killer who wants to plead guilty to a notorious cold-case Winnipeg homicide.

Traigo Andretti, 38, is expected to resolve his case when he returns to court Sept. 10.

Andretti appeared before a judge Monday and tried to admit responsibility on a charge of second-degree murder. The same scene played out on June 23, when Andretti made his first court appearance.

In both instances, his bid was rejected on two grounds. First, he was appearing in provincial court, which can't accept guilty pleas in murder cases. His matter must first be transferred to Court of Queen's Bench. Second, Andretti is insisting on acting as his own lawyer, which has given judges some pause for concern.

Andretti confirmed Monday he will continue to represent himself. He is charged with killing Myrna Letandre in September 2006, then burying her body inside a Point Douglas rooming house. The remains weren't discovered until May 2013, and Andretti wasn't arrested until early last month following a lengthy investigation by Project Devote members from the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service.

Letandre was 37 when she vanished without a trace.

Police got a major break in the case after Andretti -- a former Winnipeg resident -- was arrested in British Columbia in May 2013 and accused of killing and dismembering his wife, Jennifer McPherson, on a West Coast island only days earlier.

While questioning Andretti about that homicide, B.C. investigators received information about the Letandre case that was forwarded to their Manitoba colleagues. That triggered an extensive search of a Lorne Avenue home in Point Douglas, where Letandre's remains were discovered.

Andretti pleaded guilty in April to first-degree murder in McPherson's death. He acted as his own lawyer in that case and was given an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Project Devote investigators then moved in to complete their investigation of Letandre's death. Andretti was arrested in a B.C. prison and transferred to Manitoba earlier last month to deal with the charge.


-- James Turner and Mike McIntyre

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2014 B3


Updated on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 8:47 AM CDT: Fixes headline

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