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Attempt to hail cab may have led to man's slaying Add to ...

From the outset, Toronto's 43rd homicide of 2009 stirred speculation it was a hate crime - a deliberate hit-and-run, committed because the victim was gay.

Certainly relatives and friends of 27-year-old Christopher Skinner have suggested that's what may have happened.

But video footage aired on the weekend points to a different scenario: that when Mr. Skinner was beaten and then run over by a black SUV eight days ago in the downtown core, the confrontation was sudden, unplanned and triggered by his efforts to hail a cab.

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The clip is one of three that police hope will shed light on what Detective Stacy Gallant of the homicide squad describes as one of the most cowardly homicides he has ever seen.

Shot between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. last Sunday, all three show Mr. Skinner at different points on downtown Adelaide Street, looking for a taxi.

He had spent the evening celebrating his sister's birthday and was heading home.

The first piece of footage was from 2:36 a.m., in the entertainment district, where Mr. Skinner is seen waving unsuccessfully at a cab and then walking east.

Fifteen minutes later, still walking, he is glimpsed looking at a cellphone, or perhaps an iPod.

The third and longest clip found him just east of Yonge Street, close to where he was killed.

The video is grainy, but appears to show him standing in a lane that has been closed for construction. About 20 seconds into the clip, the black SUV drives by.

As it did so, police believe some sort of contact occurred, causing the car to stop.

"We believe Mr. Skinner was still attempting to hail a cab and he may have intentionally or unintentionally struck the suspect vehicle with his hand or a part of his body," Det. Gallant said.

"Maybe he walked out into the middle of the roadway and caused this [SUV]to slow down, and they took offence to that.''

Four people are believed to have been in the suspect vehicle, driven by a white or light-skinned male in his 20s with a short, military-style haircut and clad in a black tank top, dark jeans and laced boots.

And at least two, including the driver, are believed to have gotten out of the car and beaten Mr. Skinner, leaving him on the ground.

Then, according to witness accounts, the driver got back in the car and deliberately ran over Mr. Skinner, with both the front and rear wheels, before gunning the engine and speeding away

"I've never seen one quite like this in my 10 years at the homicide squad," Det. Gallant said.

"They intended to drive over him."

Friends of Mr. Skinner say his death cut short a life full of promise.

He had recently written his law school admission test and was planning to go to law school, and later take over his father's law practice in his hometown of Uxbridge.

He was also going to marry his fiancé, Ryan Cooke, next summer. And his father, Warren, suggested last week that his son's sexual orientation may have had some bearing on his death.

"I can remember not that long ago walking down the street with Christopher and his friend Ryan, and hearing people yell things at them because of their sexuality," he said.

One of Christopher's lifelong friends, Ashley McAreavey, said she too doesn't know if the slaying was targeted, but that "unfortunately I feel like it was."

Det. Gallant, however, said that, thus far, speculation about a hate crime remains just that.

"We don't have anything pointing to that at this time," he said. "There is no evidence of it."

What is clear is that a number of people saw all or some of the incident first-hand. The third video clip goes on to show a number of stationary cars whose drivers have stopped to watch.

They are being urged to contact police.

"They may have been witnessing something more than they really realized," Det. Gallant said.

In an interview with CTV yesterday, Mr. Skinner's grieving parents urged the culprits to hire lawyers and turn themselves in.

"You talk about the driver, he means nothing to me, he's not even human," his mother, Ellen, said.

"A human has a heart and a soul and knows the difference between right and wrong."

Sunday night, a candlelight vigil for Mr. Skinner drew more than 1,000 people, who retraced his steps to Adelaide and Victoria streets, where he died.

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