It was sheer misfortune that 15-year-old Matti Baranovski was beaten to death in a north Toronto park by a group of teenagers looking for a fight.
On the first day of public testimony in a case that gripped Toronto more than three years ago, jurors heard that Matti and a friend had walked to G. Ross Lord Park in North York to hang out with some friends on a Sunday evening, Nov. 14, 1999.
As they sat at a picnic table in the dark, chatting and smoking cigarettes, a more sinister group was forming at the other end of the park. It consisted of about a dozen young men looking for revenge against a group they called the Russians for an incident in which a threat was made with a knife.
The "Russians" were known to hang out at the park, but they were not there that evening, the prosecutor said. He said the young men came up with a different plan, "since they were there already," to rob the group of teenagers sitting at the picnic table.
Crown attorney Michael Blain said in his opening statement that Daniel Weiz, 22, and Meir Mariani and William Cochrane, both 19, and a few others went over to Matti and his friends. Some of their group had left because they did not want any part of a robbery.
The three are charged with second-degree murder in the boy's death; the prosecution says he was killed when he resisted being robbed.
Mr. Blain said they took the teens' cigarettes, then began searching the four boys and one girl for money and marijuana. When Matti resisted, he was pulled a few metres away, tripped by Mr. Mariani, then kicked repeatedly in the head, neck and face by all three of the accused, according to the Crown.
The fatal kick snapped his head backward and sideways, tearing open an artery that began pumping blood into his head, the jury heard.
After one of the attackers shouted a signal, the group fled the park, hopping over walls and leaving jackets behind in their rush.
A young man who was part of the group will testify against Mr. Weiz, Mr. Mariani and Mr. Cochrane that he initially boasted that he took part in the fatal kicking, then changed his story.
The witness bragged to friends that "they'd kicked his ass," Mr. Blain said.
But he later said this was an empty boast, made because he wanted to feel part of the group. He will testify at the trial that he did not participate in the assault, but will identify those who did, the prosecutor said.
A friend who walked with Matti to the park that night, Alex Grinevitch, testified yesterday that he became anxious soon after they arrived when seven or eight young men walked by the picnic table, fanning out on both sides. One was wearing a black or dark blue bandanna across his face.
But they passed by without saying or doing anything, and he relaxed again, Mr. Grinevitch said.
At that point, Matti was not at the table; he had gone to a nearby apartment building to get some homework from a friend.
He returned 10 minutes later with a girl named Marina. Mr. Grinevitch took Marina to a playground screened by bushes about 50 metres away so they could talk privately, Mr. Grinevitch said.
As he and Marina started walking back a short time later, he saw a group of people he did not recognize standing in a circle near the picnic table.
They seemed to be arguing, and Mr. Grinevitch said he saw one person kicking someone on the ground.
Thinking members of the group who had passed them earlier might be fighting among themselves, he retreated to the bushes with Marina.
When the men had fled, he saw someone lying face down on the pathway; it did not dawn on him until he turned the motionless body over that it was his friend, Matti, Mr. Grinevitch said.
"I tried to wake him up; he was unconscious," Mr. Grinevitch said.
He said he ran to a nearby building to call police or an ambulance and found Matti's other friends doing the same.