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Toronto teen acquitted of manslaughter as court finds he acted in self-defence
Published Tuesday, October 22, 2019 2:56PM EDT
The scales of justice and a judge's gavel are pictured. (File)
TORONTO -- A teenager who shot and killed one of five men who attacked him in the lobby of his apartment building had his manslaughter and aggravated assault convictions overturned on Tuesday.
In entering acquittals on the charges, Ontario's Court of Appeal said the trial judge made mistakes in rejecting the boy's self-defence argument.
The judge "reached that conclusion based on a fundamental factual error regarding (the boy's) evidence, and on a misapplication of the objective requirements for reasonableness in the self-defence context," the Appeal Court ruled. "Her conclusion that self-defence was disproved beyond a reasonable doubt is an unreasonable one."
Evidence at trial was that five men attacked the youth, identified as R.S., in a building in west-central Toronto on the evening of April 12, 2012. At least two of the five were said to belong to a local gang known as the Gators.
Surveillance video from that night showed the youth walking through the lobby of his building when one of the five assailants hit him on the back of his head with a baseball bat. R.S., who thought he had been shot, fell to his knees, and the gun he was carrying fell from his pocket.
R.S. picked up the gun, swung around and fired four shots in about five seconds as his attackers scattered. One of the men was fatally injured, while a second was grazed by a bullet. Police charged R.S. with second-degree murder.
At trial, R.S. testified he opened fire to protect himself from further attack. Court also heard he bought the gun because he had twice been shot at previously, including one incident in which the shooter called his name before firing at him from a car. That shooting occurred two months before the attack at issue.
Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell rejected the boy's self-defence argument at trial.
"All of the individuals who had commenced the attack were running away," Forestell said. R.S. "knew that they were running away. He testified to that effect. He no longer faced an imminent threat of force."
Forestell convicted R.S. in March 2014 of manslaughter, aggravated assault, careless use of a firearm, and illegal possession of a firearm. The youth appealed all the convictions except for having the gun illegally.
In looking at the case, the Appeal Court noted a person may legally use lethal force in self-defence, provided the action is reasonable in the circumstances. The court also found Forestell had misunderstood R.S.'s evidence. In fact, the appellate court said, he never testified to knowing his attackers were running away when he opened fire.
"The trial judge's conclusions are therefore unreliable, especially on the issue of the reasonableness of the appellant's actions in the context of a defence of self-defence," the Appeal Court said. "In this case, her critical factual error makes the verdict an unreasonable one."
What appears to be undisputed, the Appeal Court said, was that R.S. was on his knees swinging the gun around as he fired. There was no evidence, the court said, that he knew before firing that his attackers were running away. As a result, Forestell's opposite conclusion amounted to "palpable and overriding error."
While the higher court could have ordered a new trial, it said acquittals on all appealed counts were appropriate given the Crown had essentially failed to prove its case in the first place. The Appeal Court also said it would not be in the interests of justice to prosecute R.S. again for something that happened seven years ago.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2019.