Supreme Court reinstates manslaughter conviction in Winnipeg robbery

WINNIPEG – The Supreme Court of Canada has put an end to a case that saw a Manitoba man and his co-accused try to blame a Good Samaritan and a driver for a deadly mugging.

In a 5-4 split decision, the high court on Thursday reinstated the manslaughter conviction of Terrence Sinclair in the beating of Adam Lecours during a robbery on a Winnipeg street.

The ruling put an end to a long and painful battle for the victim’s widow.

“I’m just relieved the whole process is over now and glad that (Sinclair) is being held to account for his actions,” Noelle Dietrich said.

Lecours, 34, was walking home alone from work in March 2005 when he was jumped by three strangers. They beat, kicked and robbed him. As he lay injured on the road, a car ran over him and he died.

Sinclair, who was 18 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. Dallas Pruden-Wilson, who was 19, was also give a six-year sentence for manslaughter. A teenager who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to time served.

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Lawyers for the accused argued that the death was caused by the driver who ran over Lecours. They also pointed to a Good Samaritan who witnessed the attack and called 911 before running away in fear. They suggested she could have helped the beaten man.

Both arguments were rejected by a lower court.

What brought the case to the Supreme Court was a challenge of the trial judge’s interpretation of the evidence. Thursday’s ruling could set a precedent as to what lengths appeal courts can go in examining a trial judge’s thought process.

Sinclair said that while he was with his two co-accused for much of the night in question, he did not take part in the assault on Lecours. No witness could identify him as being at the scene. The woman who called 911 said only that there were three young males.

A Court of Queen’s Bench justice accepted the Crown’s argument that Sinclair must have taken part in the attack because the three accused had planned the robbery.

But the Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned Sinclair’s conviction in 2009. The appeal panel ruled the trial judge had too readily accepted the unproven Crown assertion that the robbery had been planned by all three.

The Crown challenged that decision. Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices ruled that the Appeal Court had gone too far in assuming what the trial judge had based her conviction on.

“In my opinion, for an appellate court to decide to order a new trial on the basis of a miscarriage of justice resulting from a misapprehension of the evidence, more is needed than an ‘apparent’ mistake … in the reasons,” Justice Louis LeBel wrote on behalf of the majority.

“In my opinion, the trial judge’s reasons … indicate that she was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt – regardless of whether the Crown had made out its case with respect to the planned robbery – that Mr. Sinclair was at the crime scene.”

LeBel pointed out that the trial judge also relied on physical evidence, including knife cuts in Sinclair’s jeans and on his legs, and the blood on his clothing.

The four dissenting judges argued the Manitoba Appeal Court was right to order a new trial in light of the judge’s acceptance of the Crown’s unproven theory.

“This mistaken view of the evidence appears … to have coloured her evaluation of the other circumstantial evidence on which the Crown relied,” Justice Morris Fish wrote.

“The supposed plan … underpinned the judge’s inference that Mr. Sinclair was at the scene of the crime.”