Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/4/2015 (1156 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jury deliberations are threatening to push into the weekend 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. Treyvonne Willis, 22, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, which is the most serious charge in the Criminal Code.
Jurors have been sequestered since Thursday morning following more than two weeks of evidence. They will remain together until they can reach a verdict.
The Crown says this is an open and shut case — Willis planned the killing of Tran, then executed it with cold-blooded precision. Willis implicated 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," prosecutor Daniel Chaput said in his closing arguments this week. "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.
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. And 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.
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 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," she argued.
Jurors do have several alternative verdicts to consider, including second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Manitoba justice officials to decide what to do with the man previously accused of being the mastermind of the murder-for-hire plot.
Drake Moslenko, 28, walked out of court a free man last June when the Crown abruptly announced a stay-of-proceedings on a first-degree murder charge. Moslenko – the boyfriend of Tran — was in the midst of a preliminary hearing at the time.
The Crown told court the surprise 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.
The move gave the Crown exactly one year to either re-lay the charge against Moslenko or forever lose the ability to prosecute him. And with that deadline now fast approaching, a decision will have to be made soon.
Moslenko’s name came up several times during the trial against accused Willis — the man Moslenko was previously accused of hiring to do the deed.
Police repeatedly tried to get Willis to implicate Moslenko during a lengthy videotaped interrogation that was shown to jurors during the trial. But he refused to budge, insisting that he and his family would be in danger if he started "dropping names."
However, the Crown’s key witness did point an accusatory finger in Moslenko’s direction. Sam-Kelly told court that Moslenko knew about the murder plot against Tran, who was going to be targeted because she was a "snitch" against her boyfriend. He said Willis was offered a way out of a massive drug debt if he carried out the killing – although Sam-Kelly didn’t say exactly who made the offer to Willis.
"(Willis) said if we get rid of her, he can give me the money. The boyfriend," Sam-Kelly testified. He said the plan involved stealing items such as Tran's bank cards and even her car, which Moslenko would ultimately use to give money to Willis against his debts.
According to police, Moslenko and Tran had dated for about 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.
Moslenko is a former amateur baseball star and a budding rap artist who was involved in nightclub security at the time of the incident. He met Tran while both were working at the Blush Ultra Lounge nightclub. Moslenko did not attend any of the trial against Willis.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.