Is it possible to murder someone without actually killing them?
That’s the very intriguing question being posed to a Winnipeg jury in what is, without a doubt, one of the more unusual cases I’ve seen in quite some time.
Harold Mahatoo was a frail, sickly 65-year-old man who died mysteriously in a sunflower field just outside of Winnipeg back in July 2003.
Unlike most victims of homicide, Mahatoo wasn’t shot, stabbed or beaten. An autopsy revealed the former Presbyterian minister was killed by Mother Nature and/or a pre-existing medical condition in the form of exposure and complications from diabetes.
His nearly naked body was found on a strip of farmland eight days after he was apparently abandoned there. Doctors can’t say exactly when he passed away.
Shaun Dennis Nodrick, 32, is accused of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
A six-man, six-woman jury will begin deciding his fate on Monday. Getting all 12 jurors to agree on a verdict is likely not going to be easy.
Nodrick doesn't deny driving Mahatoo out to an isolated field near the Bel Acres Golf and Country Club, removing Mahatoo's shoes, shirt and pants and then leaving him to fend for himself after stealing his car and bank card. He also claims the much older Mahatoo had made sexual advances towards him and told investigators he stripped him of his clothing and left him in the field in an attempt to "humiliate" him.
But Nodrick says he never planned to kill Mahatoo, whom he met while both men were staying in the chemical withdrawal unit at the Health Sciences Centre in the spring of 2003.
"This was a tragic accident. Nobody could foresee this," defence lawyer Mark Wasyliw told jurors during closing arguments earlier this week. "Leaving him on that farm site didn't cause his death. It was Mr. Mahatoo not leaving the site that became fatal. It's a decision (Nodrick) had no part in," said Wasyliw.
Wasyliw questioned why Mahatoo didn’t simply walk to a farmhouse that was less than a kilometre away, or a golf course that was about the same distance. A major highway was also nearby.
"He wasn't on a deserted island. There was lots of life around there," said Wasyliw. "Why didn't he leave? That's the mystery."
Wasyliw suggested Mahatoo may have opted not to seek help, considering he had been suffering from depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts in the weeks preceding his death.
Crown attorney Brian Wilford put forward his best argument, saying Mahatoo was suffering from a variety of health ailments which likely would have made it difficult to find his way out of the field.
In order to prove Nodrick is guilty of murder, jurors will have to accept that he deliberately intended to kill Mahatoo by leaving him in that field.
On my national radio show, we frequently play a game called "You Be The Jury" in which we take a hot-button case, go through the facts and get the first 12 callers to voice their verdict.
Over the years I could probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve had a unanimous verdict on any case, no matter how obvious it seemed.
It’s a good exercise to show just how difficult it is to get people to agree on something, and I suspect the case against Nodrick is going to be extremely challenging for those tasked with deciding his fate.
We’ll have full coverage of the verdict when it happens here at www.winnipegfreepress.com . I’ll also provide live "play-by-play" of the jury’s decision for those following me at www.twitter.com.mikeoncrime