Crown drops all charges in Lawrence Heights murder
Published Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:07PM EST
Two men accused of shooting a Lawrence Heights teenager last year in full view of a security camera have had all charges against them dropped because of a lack of evidence in the case.
The charges were dropped Thursday morning in a Finch Avenue courtroom as the Crown conceded they were having difficulty proving the two men are guilty of murdering 18-year-old Abdikarim Ahmed Abdikarim.
Defence lawyers suggested to reporters outside the courtroom that prosecutors had difficulty finding witnesses that would positively identify the shooters.
Owen Anthony Smith and Wendell Damian Cuff, both 25 years old, have been in custody since their arrest in April, 2008. At the time they were both charged with first-degree murder for the shooting spree that took place on March 14.
Abdikarim, who police say did not have a criminal record, was sitting with a group of friends outside an apartment building on Amaranth Court, near Lawrence Avenue and Allen Road, when a man walked up to them and started shooting. Abdikarim died from a gun wound to the head while five of his friends suffered minor injuries.
A surveillance camera in the area caught the shooting on tape. It showed one person shooting the gun while a second man ran away.
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said the case is not technically closed, but that officers are no longer actively investigating the case.
Smith and Cuff were not in court Thursday because of a labour dispute at the detention centre where they are being held. They will be released from custody later this afternoon.
However, lawyers for the men told reporters outside the courtroom that no one was able to positively identify the men on the video as the suspects.
"We can all watch the video 1000 times and we will not be able to make out any detail about the shooter other than what he's doing," said Boris Bytenski, Smith's defence lawyer.
Petanski said his client has always denied being involved in the incident.
"He has certainly never admitted to anyone that I know of that he was the gunman," he said. "He has always maintained his innocence."
John Struthers, who represents Cuff, said the video shows a man who police allege is his client running away when he witnesses the shooting.
"He looks up, see what's happening and says, 'Holy cow' and turns and runs the other way," he said, explaining the video. "As the Crown said in court today there is no evidence that he had any participation, knowledge or anything to do with this at all."
Struthers called the Crown "courageous" for dropping the charges before a judge ruled their evidence insufficient during a preliminary trial.
"I'm very grateful to the Crown attorney's office," he said. "They made a courageous and very correct decision in this case. They did the right thing and they did it professionally."
The murder victim's family was not in court Thursday but several family friends witnessed the proceedings.
They told reporters they were outraged with the results.
"This is a shame for the government of Canada, a shame for the justice system and a shame for the police officers who investigate," said Barlin Ali, a close family friend who says she grew up with Abdikarim's mother.
"I feel very, very sad. I can't express the sadness I feel being in this country," she continued. "There is no justice in this country."