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Jury selection over for man accused in Toronto police officer’s snowplow death Add to ...

Jury selection is complete in the murder trial of a man accused of stealing a snowplow two years ago and embarking on a wild, early-morning driving rampage that killed Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell.

The 12th juror was sworn in Tuesday morning.

A panel of 12 jurors and two alternates had all been accepted Monday, after a surprisingly swift vetting process by Crown and defence, but on Tuesday one of the 12 asked to be excused on grounds of financial hardship.

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Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer agreed, a replacement was soon picked and the trial will begin Feb. 4.

A new Superior Court protocol, effective Feb. 1, will give wide leeway to media and others in the use of electronic devices, providing the judge agrees. Subject to some constraints, tweeting and live blogging by journalists will be permitted.

Cameras will remain off limits.

Richard Kachkar, 46, is charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 12, 2011 death of Sgt. Russell, who had been with the Toronto Police Service for 11 years.

Tall and heavy set, sporting a beard he did not have when he was arrested, he watched attentively from the prisoner’s box as jury selection wrapped up.

The trial is expected to last about two months, with about 50 Crown witnesses anticipated.

First-degree murder usually means a killing was planned ahead of time, or was committed while the victim was being sexually assaulted or confined.

But under provisions written into the Criminal Code when Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976, killing a police officer or prison guard automatically brings a charge of first-degree murder.

Representing Mr. Kachkar will be veteran defence lawyer Bob Richardson, who has had numerous high-profile clients.

Sgt. Russell, 35, left behind his wife, Christine, and son Nolan. He was the 25th officer killed in the line of duty since the Toronto force was formed in 1956.

His death and funeral stirred a huge show of support for Toronto police by city residents and politicians.

Mr. Kachkar had checked into the Good Shepherd shelter on Queen St. East at around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, after arriving in Toronto on a bus from St. Catharines, Ont.

Police allege that early the next morning, near Dundas and Parliament streets, he stole a snowplow – a heavy-duty pickup truck with a mechanized shovel attached to the front – after its driver stepped into Tim Hortons coffee shop and left the keys in the ignition.

Mr. Kachkar then allegedly careened through the snowy downtown streets for more than two hours, damaging numerous parked cars, before eventually striking and killing Sgt. Russell near Avenue Road and Davenport Road as the officer tried to wave him down.

After allegedly mowing down Sgt. Russell, Mr. Kachkar was finally arrested on Keele Street and was shot several times in the takedown.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, he was barefoot when he allegedly stole the plow.

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