In a courtroom crowded with family members, a Winnipeg teen was found guilty Wednesday night of bludgeoning his mother to death in her bed.

In a courtroom crowded with family members, a Winnipeg teen was found guilty Wednesday night of bludgeoning his mother to death in her bed.

Jurors deliberated over 18 hours over two days before convicting the now 19-year-old man of second- degree murder late Thursday evening.

The 51-year-old victim was found dead in her bed March 26, 2019. Her son stood trial charged with first-degree murder.

Family members initially cheered in jubilation as the jury foreperson announced a finding of not guilty for first- degree murder, drowning out his announcement of a guilty verdict on the lesser charge. Family members’ joy quickly turned to tears and sobs as the guilty verdict was confirmed by the jury foreperson. The teen’s father held his head in his hand and cried as jury members were polled one by one to confirm their verdict.

The Free Press is not naming the victim, as it would identify the accused, who was 16 at the time of the killing and cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The teen will be sentenced at a later date, following the completion of court-ordered reports. The maximum sentence for a youth convicted of second-degree murder is seven years, at least one-third of which is served under community supervision.

Family members shouted "We love you" as the teen was led out of court in handcuffs and taken into custody.

Justice Anne Turner cautioned family members before the verdict to contain any outbursts, as there had been occasional disruptions during the five-week trial. A dozen Sherrif’s officers were on hand to provide security and did not allow members of the court gallery to leave until after the jury was gone.

Prosecutors argued at trial the teen was the only person who had the opportunity to kill the victim, pointing to security video from neighboring homes appearing to show he was the only person to leave or enter the house around the time of the killing.

Jurors heard the woman, who shared custody of her son with her ex-husband, had been off work for several months due to a physical injury and mental health issues.

The night before the killing, the accused bought his mother flowers and made her dinner — all part of a ruse, prosecutors alleged, to divert attention from himself.

Prosecutors argued the woman was already dead when her son left home at 9:08 a.m. to take their dog for an unscheduled visit to pet daycare and other errands meant to provide him with an alibi. The teen returned home at 10:38 a.m. and five minutes later called 911.

Jurors heard the woman was bludgeoned a dozen times in the head, possibly with a baseball bat, and suffered defensive wounds to her arms. The accused’s DNA was found under the woman’s fingernails.

Defence lawyers argued there was nothing unusual about the presence of DNA, saying the woman routinely ran her fingers through the boy’s hair to help him sleep.

In a closing address to jurors on Monday, defence lawyer Matt Gould argued the woman could have been killed as early as 3 a.m., saying security video showed an unidentified man driving up to a neighboring house, exiting his vehicle, disappearing out of camera view for two minutes and then returning to his vehicle and driving away.

Mann said an intruder would have attracted the attention of the victim’s dog, who was very "aggressive" and protective. The accused, whose bedroom was directly adjacent to his mother’s, would have heard the attack.

"This was not a quiet killing," Mann said. "There is no chance that some unknown person sneaked into the house through some unknown point of entry, went into (the victim’s) bedroom and brutally killed her."

Jurors heard testimony from a former co-worker who police interviewed after the accused told investigators a man had been harassing his mother at work.

The victim filed a complaint against the man in May 2018, accusing him of "inappropriate behaviour" and "unwanted attention."

Det. Sgt. Kenneth Lepage testified he interviewed the "person of interest," and found his claims as to his whereabouts around the time of the killing were confirmed by electronic records showing his arrival and departure from work and a sign-in sheet showing he had dropped his children off at the YMCA.

Thousands of text messages uncovered by police show the woman was dependant on her son, beginning when he was as young as 14.

Text messages show the teen was often responsible for cooking, grocery shopping, and household maintenance duties. The woman had "few boundaries" with her son and treated him more like a partner, Mann said.

"There is absolutely no doubt (he) was under a lot of pressure from his mother," Mann said. "While (the victim) loved her son, she was needy, suffocating and a real burden on him. But was that why he killed her? We will likely never know for sure."

Last week, in the absence of the jury, Turner rejected a defence motion that she find there was no evidence to support a conviction for first-degree murder and enter a finding of not guilty.

Many family members have been clear in their support of the accused and their belief he was not responsible for his mother’s murder.

Following testimony earlier last week from the victim’s co-worker, Turner ordered that family members of the accused not be allowed to attend court for the co-worker’s cross examination after it was revealed someone had called his current employer to notify them of his involvement in the case.

"We see the comments that were made as a veiled threat and a clear intent to intimidate (the co-worker)," Crown attorney Jennifer Mann told Turner.

Mann said justice officials were careful to safeguard details of when the co-worker was to testify, suggesting the call to his employer "was almost certainly" placed by someone present in the court gallery for his testimony.

"The timing of this incident was not coincidental," Mann said. The co-worker "has already revealed many personal details about his life (which) could be used to harm him. During cross examination it is a very real possibility that other personal information will be revealed about his life. There is nothing we can do to prevent that information from making the rounds other than closing the courtroom."

Turner kicked one family supporter out of court after it was revealed she had given the finger to a Crown attorney and dressed down two family members who had been "staring down" the same Crown attorney and an assistant.

"Grow up," Turner told the men. "This is a murder trial. Tensions are high enough as they are. If you think staring people down in the court room is in any way effective or helpful, get over yourselves."

Dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.