Not guilty verdicts in Toronto boy's murder
A Toronto jury found two men not guilty Monday in a murder trial stemming from the July 2007 shooting of 11-year-old Ephraim Brown.
The jury acquitted Gregory Sappleton and Akiel Eubank, both 24, on charges of second-degree murder. The jurors began their deliberations on Friday.
Shortly after the verdict was read out, a relative of murder victim Ephraim Brown vented her family's frustration.
"All you cowards who know the truth and did not step up -- there's no forgiveness for that," Molly Brown told reporters.
"People knew the truth and they did not step up and speak the truth, and that is not right and that is not fair. You should have spoke up for Ephraim -- he was innocent."
Lorna Brown, Ephraim's mother, left the court sobbing. She said: "This justice system is one screwed up justice system … it's not right."
CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney, reporting from University Avenue courthouse, said it was a tense situation in the courtroom, but the two acquitted men -- painted by the Crown as gang enemies -- hugged after the verdict.
Eubank and Sappleton are both free men now. They had been in custody since being arrested shortly after the July 22, 2007 shooting, he said.
"It feels great," Sappleton said. He added: "It's been three-and-a-half years, but we get to take our lives back and do something constructive with it."
The two men said they've always been friends.
Edward Sapiano, Sappleton's lawyer, told reporters: "Unfortunately a boy is still dead and guns are still a problem in this city."
The key witness
Delaney said jury reheard some testimony Sunday from the Crown's star witness, Ephraim Brown's cousin Kishauna Thomas -- the only person at the party who testified.
Thomas testified she saw defendants Eubank and Sappleton, both allegedly members of rival gangs, get into a gunfight with each other.
Brown was with Thomas at his birthday party in the backyard of a townhouse near Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue West when he was shot. He had been allowed to stay up later than normal to enjoy the party, which grew to 70 people
The defence had argued that Thomas was not in a position to witness what she claimed to see and that someone other than the defendants had fired the fatal shot.
That bullet struck Brown in the neck, mortally wounding him. Up to a dozen shots were fired in a walkway between townhouses.
The Crown alleged that Sappleton belonged to the Baghdad Crew gang -- a claim denied by Sapiano.
Eubank's defence lawyers conceded he was a member of the Five Point Generalz (5PG) street gang and that he was at the party, but say he was unarmed that night. Eubank did suffer a gunshot wound that night.
His lawyers also implored the jury not to convict solely on the basis of their client's gang affiliation. "Don't say he's a gang member, he must have done something," Adam Newman, one of Eubank's lawyers, told them, according to the Toronto Star.
Justice Brian Trafford told the jury that street gang membership, by itself, isn't enough to convict someone of murder.
According to the Star, Trafford did issue a pre-trial ruling allowing police witnesses to testify about the "likelihood" of gangs operating in northwest Toronto.
Ontario courts have previously blocked police witnesses from talking about alleged gang affiliations, ruling such testimony to be too inflammatory and prejudicial.
Trafford also urged the jury to treat Thomas's testimony with care.
Brown's murder came a few months after the shooting death of Jordan Manners, 15, at a high school in the same area. Ontario's government used the cases to argue for a federal ban on handguns.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney and files from The Canadian Press