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Letter bomber Guido Amsel found guilty of attempted murder

A Winnipeg autobody mechanic who proclaimed his innocence after a series of bombs were mailed to his ex-wife and local lawyers has been found guilty of constructing and mailing homemade explosives.

Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord convicted 52-year-old Guido Amsel Thursday in a court decision livestreamed by multiple media outlets. She rejected Amsel's "conveniently designed" explanations for how his DNA ended up at two explosion scenes and found him guilty of four counts of attempted murder for mailing bombs to his ex-wife, Iris Amsel, her lawyer, Maria Mitousis, and another lawyer, George Orle.

Lord decided Amsel was behind four explosions -- one in 2013 and three in 2015. All four of the bombs used the homemade explosive substance triacetone triperoxide and were designed to spew shrapnel at their targets. The three mailed bombs all contained messages to their targets.

"I've concluded that the person who sent those devices is Mr. Amsel," she said of the explosive packages.

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A Winnipeg autobody mechanic who proclaimed his innocence after a series of bombs were mailed to his ex-wife and local lawyers has been found guilty of constructing and mailing homemade explosives.

Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord convicted 52-year-old Guido Amsel Thursday in a court decision livestreamed by multiple media outlets. She rejected Amsel's "conveniently designed" explanations for how his DNA ended up at two explosion scenes and found him guilty of four counts of attempted murder for mailing bombs to his ex-wife, Iris Amsel, her lawyer, Maria Mitousis, and another lawyer, George Orle.

Lord decided Amsel was behind four explosions — one in 2013 and three in 2015. All four of the bombs used the homemade explosive substance triacetone triperoxide and were designed to spew shrapnel at their targets. The three mailed bombs all contained messages to their targets.

"I've concluded that the person who sent those devices is Mr. Amsel," she said of the explosive packages.

At the beginning of his trial in September, 2017, Amsel pleaded not guilty to all 19 charges against him. On Thursday, he was convicted of most of them, but the judge found there was no evidence that he intended to kill his ex-wife's then-boyfriend James Block, who was with her when a homemade bomb exploded outside her home in December, 2013.

Full verdict 

Click to Expand

"With the exception of Mr. Block, I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Amsel knew the lethal nature of the bombs in each of the incidents and that he intended to kill the recipients," Lord said.

Lord said it was clear Amsel "firmly believes" his ex-wife stole millions of dollars from him and conspired with lawyers working on their civil-court dispute.  She said she was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Amsel's "conspiratorial beliefs" prompted him to build and send the bombs.

Amsel's current wife wept in the courtroom after hearing the judge's decision. At one point while Lord was speaking, Amsel seemed to moan from the prisoner's box. After the judge left the courtroom, Amsel immediately questioned his defence lawyer, Saheel Zaman, and appeared upset.

"I can't believe that," he said in disgust as he walked out, led by sheriff's officers. He'll be sentenced at a later date.

Amsel's defence team declined to comment after hearing the judge's decision. 

A full courtroom listened as Lord delivered her verdict, one that's been widely anticipated since Amsel's high-profile trial ended five months ago.

In reaching her decision, Lord ultimately dismissed the defence's concerns the DNA evidence pointing to Amsel had been contaminated by police. The Winnipeg Police Service and the RCMP acted properly and professionally when handling the evidence, the judge found.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Guido Amsel</p>

SUPPLIED

Guido Amsel

Lord also decided the block-letter handwriting was "very similar" on all of the explosive packages' address labels and on the reconstructed note mailed to Mitousis. She looked at writing samples by Guido his ex-wife gave to police and concluded they seemed to match. An FBI expert's handwriting analysis was inconclusive, but determined all of the writing may have been produced by the same person.

Timeline

July 2, 2015: A Canada Post letter carrier delivers a bubble-wrapped package addressed to lawyer Maria Mitousis at the Petersen King law firm at 252 River Avenue. The package remains unopened until the next day. It is placed on Mitousis's desk until her return to the office.

July 3, 2015: An explosion severely injures Mitousis and shatters windows at the law office after the explosive package is opened. Mitousis loses her right hand in the explosion. The bomb was disguised inside a voice recorder that purported to contain audio that would help with her "defence."

July 4, 2015: A package addressed to Guido Amsel's ex-wife Iris Amsel explodes after being shot with a police bomb robot's water cannon at 597 Washington Avenue. The explosive device appeared to be within a notebook. Guido Amsel is arrested as a suspect in the bombings.

July 2, 2015: A Canada Post letter carrier delivers a bubble-wrapped package addressed to lawyer Maria Mitousis at the Petersen King law firm at 252 River Avenue. The package remains unopened until the next day. It is placed on Mitousis's desk until her return to the office.

July 3, 2015: An explosion severely injures Mitousis and shatters windows at the law office after the explosive package is opened. Mitousis loses her right hand in the explosion. The bomb was disguised inside a voice recorder that purported to contain audio that would help with her "defence."

July 4, 2015: A package addressed to Guido Amsel's ex-wife Iris Amsel explodes after being shot with a police bomb robot's water cannon at 597 Washington Avenue. The explosive device appeared to be within a notebook. Guido Amsel is arrested as a suspect in the bombings.

July 5, 2015: A package addressed to lawyer George Orle at 280 Stradbrook Avenue is also detonated by a police bomb squad robot. That explosive was hidden within an electronic greeting card.

July 6, 2015: Amsel is charged with the three explosions. He would later be charged with a fourth explosion that happened Dec. 13, 2013 at his ex-wife's home in the RM of St. Clements.

Summer 2015: WPS continues to investigate several reports of suspicious packages in the city, one of which turns out to be a chocolate Easter bunny. No other explosive packages are found.

Sept. 9, 2015: Amsel is denied bail.

Feb. 25, 2016: Amsel's request for an out-of-province judge to hear his case is denied in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench.

May 12, 2016: Amsel is denied bail for a second time. He remains in custody awaiting trial.

September 2017: Amsel's provincial court trial begins. He pleads not guilty to 19 criminal charges, including five counts of attempted murder stemming from the bombings. The trial continues intermittently over the next four months, hearing from more than 40 witnesses.

Dec. 19, 2017: Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord hears closing arguments from lawyers and reserves her decision.

April 6, 2018: A decision date is arranged for May 17, 2018 for Lord to deliver her verdict.

May 17, 2018: The verdict is expected. CTV was granted permission to broadcast the judge's decision, which will be livestreamed on winnipegfreepress.com

May 17, 2018: The verdict is handed down by Judge Lord.

The decision wraps up a case that has captivated the public as well as the legal community, considering lawyers were targets.

"The legal community is looking for some closure here," said lawyer Victor Bargen, who worked in the same Stradbrook Avenue as George Orle when an explosive package was mailed there. 

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse after the verdict, Bargen said he was pleased with the judge's decision and her "thorough" summary of her reasons.

He added that "no one, based on this last incident, should feel safe at work — and I'm not saying that to be alarmist or to frighten people.

"We always think this could happen at other places, well, it can happen here too and it did. So we're pleased with the verdict."

A lengthy legal battle between Amsel and his ex-wife — a target of two explosions in 2013 and 2015 — was nearing a resolution when the three explosive packages were mailed in July, 2015. The one addressed to Iris's lawyer, Mitousis, exploded when she pressed play on a recording device and resulted in the loss of her right hand. The other two packages, sent to Iris and to the law firm that had represented Guido during the legal dispute, exploded when they were blasted with water cannons from police bomb robots.

"I have not sent explosives to anybody, anytime," Amsel said when he testified in his defence in December.

During the trial, prosecutors focused on the fact that Guido Amsel's DNA was found in Mitousis's office after the explosion and at the scene of an earlier December 2013 explosion outside his ex-wife's home in the R.M. of St. Clements. They argued he had motive to commit the bombings because he was convinced his ex-wife had defrauded him and believed she was paying off the lawyers working on both sides of the case.

The former couple's legal problems began after they divorced in 2004. When the divorce was finalized, Iris Amsel got 50 per cent of the shares of Eurotech Autobody, a company Guido founded and they worked on together. They got a lawyer to help them "resolve it all," so Guido would again own 100 per cent of Eurotech's shares, Iris Amsel testified in court in November.

Guido Amsel agreed to pay his ex-wife $100,000, and he also owed her a lump sum of $40,000, plus half of the cost of the equipment they had purchased for the business. He didn't pay all that he owed, and Iris sued him in 2010.

Guido launched a counterclaim against his ex-wife in 2010 and went to RCMP in 2011 to make a fraud complaint against Iris. The RCMP didn't investigate. Sgt. Dan Bresciani of the commercial crimes unit testified he met with Guido Amsel and determined no criminal investigation was warranted.

Guido testified he suspected his ex-wife of stealing more than $4 million from their business, but he said when he reported his suspicions to the RCMP, the officer he spoke to held out his hand "like a cashier" asking for money in order to investigate, Amsel claimed. Bresciani previously testified he never asked Amsel for money.

Police investigate bombing that took place at Petersen and King Law Office at 252 River Avenue in July 2015. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Police investigate bombing that took place at Petersen and King Law Office at 252 River Avenue in July 2015. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Iris Amsel testified their business never made millions of dollars. In her decision, Lord said she accepted Iris Amsel's evidence and noted she testified in a "calm and measured way."

In addition to accusing police of bribery, Guido Amsel claimed evidence against him was fabricated or planted to frame him at the explosion scenes where his DNA was found.

The three explosive devices mailed via Canada Post in July 2015 were sent about a week before a scheduled auction would have liquidated Eurotech's equipment assets and forced Guido to pay Iris the money he owed her. They were to divide the auction proceeds in half and Guido would pay Iris $40,000 from his share. It was a last step in their lengthy legal battle — all that was left was to decide who would pay the legal costs.

Charges against Guido Amsel

Guido Amsel, 52, was found guilty of all but four of the 19 charges against him. 

GUILTY

- Attempted murder against Iris Amsel, Maria Mitousis and George Orle:  four counts (two pertaining to Iris Amsel)

- Aggravated assault of Maria Mitousis

- Making, possessing and using explosives - seven counts - including causing an explosive substance to explode with intent to cause bodily harm to Iris Amsel

- Possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose: two counts

- Committing mischief to the property of Iris Amsel and James Block

NOT GUILTY

- Attempted murder of James Block 

- Causing an explosive substance to explode with intent to cause bodily harm to James Block

The judge noted there was no evidence Amsel had specifically targeted James Block, who was dating Iris Amsel at the time of the 2013 explosion. 

- Mischief endangering life by causing damage to James Automotive at 597 Washington and the law offices of Orle Bargen Davidson at 280 Stradbrook Avenue: two counts

The judge noted she would have found Amsel guilty of mischief if the charges had been laid under section 430 (1)(b) of the Criminal Code, because there was evidence that the Stradbrook law office and the auto shop had been rendered dangerous because of the mailed bombs. But the current wording of the charge (section 430(2)) required proof that employees of the law firm were endangered by damage caused to the building. 

The explosive packages sent to Orle Bargen Davidson and James Automotive were detonated by police bomb robots. 

A child-custody dispute between them had previously neared a resolution — in Iris's favour — just before the December 2013 explosion outside the home the Amsels once shared. No one was hurt in that overnight blast, which left a crater in the outer wall of the garage and sent debris flying into a neighbour's yard 70 metres away.

The series of bombs delivered after the Canada Day weekend prompted several false alarms and reports of suspicious packages throughout the city during the summer of 2015. The explosion at Mitousis's law office prompted the discovery of the other two packages.

"I remember the sound, which was a firecracker pop, and just felt like I was reeling for a moment," said Mitousis, describing the explosion when she testified in court last fall. "Everything seemed like it shifted... I remember feeling off-balance, feeling like I was underwater."

Mitousis has since returned to work but is still recovering from the explosion after several surgeries. During her testimony last fall, she said she was continuing physiotherapy appointments and made adjustments at work to accommodate the loss of her dominant hand, and still had lasting nerve damage, pain and weakness in her arms. She was not present in court Thursday when the judge delivered the verdict.

Bargen told reporters he's seen Mitousis and she's "doing extremely well."

"She's an absolute beacon for the legal community. She will not be defeated by this," he said.

"I hope she continues to be an inspiration for the legal community."

After the verdict, one of Amsel's friends, Rudy Mooyman, handed a folder to a sheriff's officer that he said was for the judge. He has maintained Amsel was wrongly accused, and afterward told reporters Amsel "was hoping to get out today."

"Guido didn't do it," he said.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

Read full biography

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Thursday, May 17, 2018 at 6:01 PM CDT: Full write through

6:29 PM: Adds second byline

May 23, 2018 at 6:30 PM: Fixes typo

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