A jury started hearing evidence Tuesday in a murder trial involving a former medical student accused of fatally shooting a fellow Dalhousie University student and disposing of his body after a drug deal turned violent in downtown Halifax.
William Sandeson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
In an opening address in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Crown attorney Carla Ball told the jury that the victim, Taylor Samson, was a 22-year-old physics student when he disappeared late on Aug. 15, 2015.
The Crown is alleging Samson was a drug dealer who went that night to Sandeson’s apartment on Henry Street in Halifax to sell him nine kilograms of marijuana. Ball said the evidence shows that Sandeson killed Samson within minutes of his arrival. She said the dead man’s body was then placed in a large duffel bag that was carrying the drugs.
“His remains were never found,” Ball said.
The Crown prosecutor said Samson was reported missing that night. The search for him extended into the following week, when police determined the last call made from his cellphone was to a group home in Lower Sackville, N.S., Ball said.
Investigators later confirmed the call was for Sandeson, who worked at the home. And on Aug. 18, 2015, Sandeson agreed to an interview with Halifax Regional Police.
At that point in the police investigation, Sandeson was not a suspect. But that changed when police discovered previously deleted text messages on his cellphone showing conversations with the murder victim about a “20-pound drug deal.”
“Those texts became critical to the investigation,” Ball said, adding that Sandeson’s version of events did not mesh with what the texts revealed. “It became clear that the accused and (Samson) were meeting to conduct a 20-pound drug deal, contrary to what he had said to (police).”
After Sandeson was placed under surveillance, more evidence was uncovered during a search of his apartment, including video images from a surveillance system showing the two men entering the apartment on Aug. 15, 2015, at around 10:30 p.m.
“Samson was carrying a large duffel bag and they were alone,” Ball said. “The last time (Samson) was seen alive was when he walked into that apartment. He was never seen again.”
The video recordings show Sandeson removing items from his apartment over the next three days. Other images show him in the process of cleaning the trunk of his vehicle.
Ball said the jury will hear from Justin Blades, a visitor in a neighbouring apartment who later told police that Sandeson had invited him into his apartment shortly after Samson had arrived.
“Mr. Blades saw a man sitting at the kitchen table, slumped over … with blood pouring from his head,” Ball said. “Blood, money and drugs were all over the floor.”
Subsequent police searches of the crime scene found traces of what looked like blood, a firearm with one round in the chamber and a bullet that had been fired into a window frame near the kitchen table, jurors heard.
An RCMP forensics expert is expected to testify that blood found on the bullet and the gun matched Samson’s DNA profile, Ball said.
As well, a search of a home where Sandeson’s brother lived turned up nine kilograms of marijuana in the basement. And a search of the farm owned by Sandeson’s parents found a duffel bag and a shower curtain that contained traces of blood that also matched Samson’s genetic profile.
Ball said RCMP cellphone experts will show the jury text messages “that will provide some insight into what may have motivated the murder: money.”
One message Sandeson sent to a friend the day after Samson went missing read, “Student loan paid off and I am completely squeaky clean now,” Ball said. Sandeson was expected to start medical school the following month.
The first witness to testify at the trial was Samson’s mother, Linda Boutilier. She told the court she had a close relationship with her son, who was in his fifth year of the physics program at Dalhousie. She described searching for her son the day after he disappeared.
“I went through dumpsters looking for him,” she said through a series of deep sobs.
Under cross-examination, Boutilier told defence lawyer Alison Craig that her son, who stood six feet five inches tall and weighed 210 pounds, was a strong man who could defend himself. She also said she was aware he sold drugs.
“Yes, he had a temper at times, especially if someone was trying to hurt him,” she testified.
Mackenzie Ruthven, Samson’s 27-year-old former girlfriend, told the court she, too, was aware that he sold drugs, and she confirmed he was carrying a black bag that probably contained marijuana when she saw him leave his Halifax apartment late on Aug. 15, 2015.
“He was just going a couple of houses over and he’d be right back,” she said before losing her composure and drawing several deep breaths. Ruthven said she believed Samson was selling drugs to pay for his university education.
In all, the jury is expected to hear from 50 witnesses. A total of 27 days have been set aside for the trial.
The court proceeding marks the second time Sandeson has been put on trial for killing Samson. A verdict from a trial in 2017 was overturned on appeal and a second trial was ordered in 2020.