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This article was published 23/4/2015 (1157 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jury deliberations are underway in a high-profile Winnipeg homicide case.
Kaila Tran, 27, was ambushed outside her St. Vital apartment block in June 2012 and stabbed at least 30 times in broad daylight. She died of massive injuries despite the efforts of neighbours to save her.
The Crown says this is an open and shut case - Treyvonne Willis planned the killing of Tran, then executed it with cold-blooded precision. But defence lawyers have offered jurors several alternative theories and explanations as they began weighing the evidence Thursday morning. They will remain sequestered until they reach a verdict.
Willis, 22, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, which is the most serious charge in the Criminal Code.
"You should have no doubt whatsoever. He had the requisite intention at that time. He had one purpose, and one purpose only: to kill Kaila Tran," Crown attorney Daniel Chaput said in his closing argument Wednesday.
He urged them to "follow the evidence" presented during the two-week trial, including from Willis himself in a lengthy videotaped police interview during which he admitted to carrying out the murder for hire in an attempt to get out of a drug debt that may have been as high as $100,000.
"It was the accused who wrote the story. He is the author of his own misfortune," Chaput said. "Mr. Willis discussed, measured and deliberated the killing."
But defence lawyer Ursula Goeres painted a different picture. She accused police of repeatedly breaching the rights of Willis during the more than 16 hours they had him locked in the interview room. In her final remarks to the jury Wednesday, Goeres suggested her client was telling police what they wanted to hear out of necessity.
"His will to exercise his right to silence was overcome," she said.
Goeres said police didn't give Willis food for more than 12 hours, refused to give him a blanket when he said he was cold and took advantage of the fact he hadn't slept and was in fear of his own safety from others likely involved in the deadly plot.
"It's quite likely he was just giving answers to questions to end the interrogation," she said. "You should not take his admissions to being involved in the killing as reliable."
Goeres conceded there is other evidence — such as phone records and surveillance video — that place Willis at the scene of the killing. But she told jurors that doesn't mean he is guilty of premeditated murder.
Goeres suggested Willis may have just been an observer while another man carried out the slaying. She pointed the finger of blame at Tremaine Sam-Kelly, a key Crown witness who testified against Willis, his former friend. Sam-Kelly told jurors he was asked to provide "support" for Willis before, during and after the killing.
Sam-Kelly told jurors Willis was a desperate man willing to do anything to dig himself out of a huge financial hole linked to his drug habit.
He claimed Willis was approached by someone — Sam-Kelly said he didn't know who — and given an "out." Willis explained he knew Tran through her boyfriend, and Tran was going to be targeted because she was a "snitch" against her boyfriend.
In his statement to police, Willis repeatedly told officers Sam-Kelly played no part in the murder and that he was solely responsible.
"I (expletive) up," Willis said at one point in the video. "I deserve to go to jail for what I did. I murdered her." He refused to say who put him up to the killing, saying his family members would be hurt if he did.
But even if jurors accept Willis plunged the knife into Tran, his lawyer urged them to consider he may have been too high on drugs at the time to form the necessary intent. Sam-Kelly testified he and Willis both took an unknown quantity of "Molly" — also called ecstasy — just before the incident.
Goeres suggested Wednesday her client may have just been planning to rob Tran, not kill her, when things got out of hand and he acted "impulsively."
She questioned why Willis wouldn't have gone to greater lengths to cover his tracks if he knew he was going to commit murder. "That doesn't speak to careful planning or deliberation," she said. "This wasn't a plan. I might describe this as a gong show."
Jurors have several alternative verdicts to consider, including second-degree murder or manslaughter.