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Mourners gather for Little Italy shooting victim, suspect appears in court

Pallbearers pull John Raposo's casket during funeral services at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Friday, June 22, 2012. Mr. Raposo was gunned down in Little Italy on Monday.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

The man accused of gunning down John Raposo on the patio of a Little Italy café Monday will be pleading not guilty to first-degree murder in the case, his lawyer says. Dean Wiwchar, 26, has a criminal record and spent time in jail in two provinces.

He made a brief court appearance Friday, where he was remanded for four weeks. Clad in dark pants and a white short-sleeved shirt, Mr. Wiwchar stood about six-feet-three-inches tall in the prisoner's box of a basement courtroom at Old City Hall. A man with a medium build and thick dark hair with tightly-clipped bangs, he did not display emotion or reach visibly to the proceedings.

He was banned from communicating with a bystander who was wounded during Monday's shooting and whose name is now covered by a publication ban.

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Mr. Wiwchar will not be able to apply for bail until after his next appearance.

"He has no idea why he's been charged with this," said his lawyer, Christopher Avery, outside court. He maintained his client doesn't fit the original description of the suspect, who was shorter and blond.

A native of Stouffville, a bedroom community northeast of Toronto, Mr. Wiwchar's family home sits on a large piece of land on a quiet residential street. There was no answer at the phone Friday.

Investigators would not say what led them to Mr. Wiwchar or what connection, if any, he had to Mr. Raposo, but a police source said he had been under surveillance all day Thursday.

He had been visiting his grandmother earlier in the day, Mr. Avery said. As he headed from York Region to downtown Toronto in a van cab, police closed in, surrounding the taxi with unmarked cars and pulling him out at gun point on Parliament Street.

Mr. Wiwchar was convicted of robbery in 2005 and spent some time in jail, Mr. Avery said. Court records show he was arrested on four different occasions in Ontario. One time in York Region in 2004, he was hit with 29 charges.

After getting out of jail, he moved to British Columbia, where he has some extended family and his girlfriend still lives. A court filing from last year identifies a Dean Wiwchar as living at a Salvation Army shelter in Vancouver's Downtown East Side and lists his occupation as a labourer.

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A man with the same name and year of birth as Mr. Wiwchar has seven criminal convictions stemming from five incidents in Abbotsford and Agassiz in 2009 and 2010. He received three 90-day jail sentences, two conditional sentences, a firearms ban and an order to provide a DNA sample.

While Mr. Wiwchar awaited his court appearance Friday, some 200 people were simultaneously gathering for Mr. Raposo's funeral at St. Mary's Roman Catholic church on downtown Toronto's Bathurst Street.

His older sister, Michelle, eulogized him as a family man, a devoted father to his young son and confidant to his mother. She said he was also an entrepreneur, always coming up with business ideas on the spur of the moment.

"He saw life as an adventure, and he lived it to the fullest," she told the largely Portuguese crowd.

Mr. Raposo's funeral began shortly after 9 a.m. as six black-clad pallbearers wearing large white flowers on their lapels carried his casket into the church.

In his homily, the priest recalled seeing him at his son's baptism, where he held his child to his face.

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"We will remember John for how he lived, not for how he died," he said.

As a hymn played and mourners took communion, Mr. Raposo's 17-month-old son cried.

Meanwhile, the Sicilian Sidewalk Café, where the shooting took place, re-opened for business Friday for the first time since Monday's incident.

Officially, officers will not say what motivated Mr. Raposo's slaying, but a well-placed police source said Mr. Raposo had been involved with downtown Toronto gangs since he was a young adult and once ran with a crew that sold drugs at the street level.

"The 18-year-old kid's grown into his 30s and still doing it," the source said. "You live by the sword, you die by the sword."

When Mr. Wiwchar was arrested, Detective-Sergeant Terry Browne of the homicide squad said he was carrying another person's identification. He said other police agencies, including the RCMP, were involved in the investigation, had come forward with information and took part in the arrest.

"This is a very extensive investigation we are conducting, we are at the very beginning of this investigation, and we have a lot of leg work to do," Det.-Sgt. Browne said.

Mr. Raposo was killed on Monday afternoon on College Street by a gunman disguised as a construction worker. A fixture in the neighbourhood whose mother lived around the corner, he was well known locally and police said he was targeted by the shooter.

Mr. Raposo lived in a home he had recently built in the Runnymede neighbourhood with his common-law wife. The couple was expecting a second child when he was killed. He also had a history of brushes with the law, including an arrest last year on allegations he beat up a man over a game of gin rummy at a Mississauga gambling den.

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